Guiding Principles for Ethical Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, and DLT Research
36 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2019 Last revised: 28 Aug 2019
Date Written: July 4, 2019
Over the last decade, Bitcoin and its offshoots have transformed from niche technologies into primary movers in global technology sectors. Research is an important driver of innovation for these technologies, yet this research ecosystem is poorly understood. This article investigates ethical research risks associated with cryptocurrencies and the related family of digital “value” technologies (blockchains, digital tokens, digital ledgers, and so on). It reconceptualizes theories of ethical contagion through an empirical analysis of technological innovation.
In this article, ethical research risks are identified through 1) an analysis of research methods and ethics disclosure practices in published empirical research and 2) a survey of academic research practices and researcher opinions. These data identified multiple research ethics issues. It was discovered that most researchers have extensive and undisclosed industry relationships, have undisclosed conflicts of interest arising from token ownership, and report low use of institutional review or ethics guidelines, among other issues. Three novel research risks — conflicts of interest, risky methods, and disclosure — are then introduced and compared to the risks of conventional research. It is argued that these technologies introduce risks of ethical contagion as they are integrated with existing information systems. These findings suggest a new class of ethical and normative research practice, comparable to fields such as bio- or nanotechnology ethics. Based on these analyses, eight principles for ethical research are described, with practical lessons for the researcher.
Keywords: research ethics, research policy, cryptocurrencies, blockchains, conflicts of interest, security disclosures, industry relations
JEL Classification: M15
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation