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‘Ledger’ Becomes First Academic Journal Dedicated To Blockchain – The Technology Behind Bitcoin

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 fm WESA
University of Pittsburgh Assistant Professor of Chemistry Chris Wilmer has launched an academic journal focused on his passion, blockchain technologies.

Nearly every subspecialty seems to have its own academic journal, from one dedicated to "Positivity” – it’s a math thing – to one for engineers working in the packaging industry.

But until now, there has never been an academic journal for research into blockchain – the technology behind Bitcoin.

“It is part economics, part finance, part law, part math, part cryptography, part engineering,” said Ledger founder and editor Chris Wilmer.

When not editing the peer-reviewed academic journal, Wilmer is an assistant Professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. The first issue of Ledger was published in March.

Wilmer pointed out that blockchain has evolved over time.

“First people just said Bitcoin, then people started saying cryptocurrencies,” Wilmer said.

But the term cryptocurrencies still gave the connotation that it was limited to the financial world, he said.

“So now people call it blockchain technology,” he said. “But who knows what people will call it in 10 years.”

Many people know Bitcoin as an internet-based currency that allows people to buy and sell online goods anonymously. And there are many other cryptocurrencies in circulation including Ethereum and Dash.

Some early adopters of cryptocurrencies were those engaging in illegal activities and who did not trust centralized power such as governments and banks. Since then, their use has become much more wide spread. It’s estimated that there are nearly 800 active cryptocurrencies worth more than $28 billion.

All of them are based on a computer science technology known as blockchain, which was first written about in an academic journal in 2008.

“Like the Internet, it will touch all aspects of life,” Wilmer said. “It will change the way we do scientific research … it will change the way that we practice law and it will change the way we practice filing patents and going to concerts and trading stocks and so forth.”

The blockchain can be used anytime you want to publicly record a transaction down to the fraction of a second and without a central authority like a bank, stock exchange or government.

But Wilmer said, until now, there has been no single place for people passionate about the technology to publish their research.  That’s why he created Ledger.

Wilmer said researchers in the past tried to shoehorn their writing into other journals that might not have been very accepting to their works.

At the same time, the lack of a central repository for their work made it very hard for others interested in cryptocurrency to find scholarly papers, he added.

Wilmer said the first issue reflects the diverse nature of the subject.

“Ranging from very technical, focusing on the cryptography – ways of sending payments even more privately,” Wilmer said. “And just talking about a sociologist’s view of blockchain technology and Bitcoin and its effects on society.”

The journal is already generating interest, according to Wilmer, and he does not expect it to slow.

“Bitcoin has been described as the largest socioeconomic human experiment,” Wilmer said.  “So it definitely has social and political dimensions, so there is a lot there for people to study.”

Fidelity Investments recently announced it had joined the research and industry group The Initiative for CryptoCurrencies & Contracts, making it the first financial institution to do so.  The auditing firm Deloitte is seen as a leader in integrating blockchain technology into more traditional financial tools.

Ledger is funded by the University of Pittsburgh and outside sponsorships, which Wilmer said can be made with U.S. dollars or Bitcoin.

In this week’s Tech Headlines:

  • The University of Pittsburgh has created a new position that will “lead the University’s strategic vision for research and innovation.” Rob A. Rutenbar was named to the post. He previously worked at the University of Illinois where he headed the Department of Computer Science.  He previously held a post at Carnegie Mellon University. Pitt chancellor Patrick Gallagher said Rutenbar is uniquely qualified to support faculty research and innovation efforts and to champion Pitt research on a local, national and global scale.
  • Google says it will expand the use of "fact check" tags in its search results. Search results worldwide will include conclusions such as "mostly true" or "false" next to stories that have been fact checked. Google has been working with more than 100 news organizations and fact-checking groups including NPR to add the tags. Multiple organizations may reach different conclusions and Google says it will show those separately. However it still expects to get complaints.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.