SSRN – a scholarly research repository owned by scientific, technical, and medical information publishing company Elsevier – concludes that FinTech "is the fastest growing area of research on [its] platform." Data from a recently released study by the company reveals that the most popular papers on SSRN deal with blockchain- and cryptocurrency-related topics, such as bitcoin and initial coin offerings (ICOs).
The study analyzes the platform's download data between August 2016 and August 2018, as well as its search data between March 6 and August 21 of 2018. Within the two-year span, the topics "bitcoin," "blockchain," "cryptocurrency," and "ICO" garnered more than half a million paper downloads. Further, FinTech-related preprints (or non-peer-reviewed, non-formatted research write-ups provided by authors) exceeded 660,000 paper downloads within the same timeframe.
Other popular research topics on SSRN have been eclipsed by blockchain within the last couple of years. For example, big data research only accounted for 160,000 paper downloads, and scholarship related to fake news lay below 50,000.
Broken down by continent, North America was the most prolific in terms of FinTech research, responsible for 43 percent of 1,468 related papers uploaded to SSRN in 2018. North America also saw the most uploads of cryptocurrency-related research during the year, contributing 50 percent of all ICO papers.
Europe trailed slightly behind, though the continent has seen considerable research into these topics as well. Asian researchers, however, accounted for 8.1 percent of blockchain-related papers uploaded to SSRN during 2018 – with only 1.2 percent of that chunk originating from China.
Gregg Gordon, managing director of SSRN, commented on the study's results:
"Looking back at the research environment in 2018, we have seen that fintech research is in a league of its own: no other areas of research have matched the rapid growth of topics like bitcoin and blockchain. This explosion in research has coincided with the much-anticipated implementation of the MiFID II (Markets in Financial Instruments Directive 2) regulations which could explain this rise."
The MiFID II, which took effect on January 3 of this year, is a legislative framework within the European Union to regulate financial markets and provide protections to investors. Accordingly, cryptocurrency-related financial products, such as crypto derivatives, are subject to this new set of regulations.
SSRN's recent analysis demonstrates blockchain's foothold within the realm of academia. Not only are enterprises attracted to the cryptospace – academic researchers are as well. This trend is unsurprising considering the scholarly nature of blockchain development: Teams publish white papers to describe their research and proposed systems, then those teams go on to experiment with their ideas. The development pipeline, from white paper to proof of concept, is a familiar process.
Whether we look at white papers for Ethereum, liberal radicalism, or any other project/concept, there is an academic thread woven throughout all of them. Indeed, many of the authors behind these papers hold PhDs or are otherwise heavily engaged in the realm of research.
The SSRN study, then, serves more as a reminder that academia is just as welcome in the cryptospace as enterprise-focused projects are. Although pleas for practical, adoption-driven use cases are understandable (and arguably necessary to promote further investment into the technology), technological development is still partly borne from scholarship – and is thus affected by the vagaries of academia. This crypto winter, let us remember that progress, especially when it relates to the upending of an entire societal structure, takes time.