In a recent interview with Lex Fridman, Charles Hoskinson — founder of Cardano and co-founder of Ethereum — offered his views on Bitcoin (BTC). The 33-year-old was less than complimentary, calling it “slow” and in desperate need of an upgrade. Hoskinson also took issue with the recent Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami, comparing the whole thing to a ridiculous religious movement.
“I can’t for the life of me understand, what the hell is the point of Bitcoin?” asked Hoskinson.
But while Bitcoin has proven itself an adaptable blockchain with a decade of history, many within the crypto industry have significant questions about the “point” of Hoskinson’s own project, Cardano.
A week before this interview aired, Vitalik Buterin sat down with Fridman for a lively discussion. The Russian-Canadian programmer was asked about Cardano and whether he thought Hoskinson’s project had a future. Buterin criticized Cardano’s reliance on the peer review system. Instead of focusing on academic proofs, Buterin favors a more heuristic approach. This was a sly dig — a super-geek mic drop.
For those unfamiliar with Cardano, the idea of peer review is very much a leitmotif of the budding proof-of-stake blockchain platform. This, we’re told, has investors excited. And it should, in an ideal world. Peer review is the principal metric by which scholarly legitimacy is measured. For progress, the evaluative process is invaluable.
With Cardano, it has been suggested that the term “peer review” is little more than a clever marketing ploy, an ingenious way of giving the proof-of-stake blockchain platform an air of superiority. Yet Hoskinson is a staunch advocate of peer review and is fiercely defensive of any criticisms that come its way. He appears to be fully invested in academic proofs. But is this a smart investment?
Last year, David Rosenthal, a highly respected British-American scientist, wrote a blog post titled “Breaking: Peer Review is Broken!” As Rosenthal argues, peer review has been in a ruinous state for “more than the last decade,” with cases of fraud occurring on a regular basis.
As Science magazine warned back in 2018, there has been a disturbing increase in the number of articles retracted, often due to fraud. Three years on, things don’t appear to be getting any better. If anything, they are getting worse.
Across the board, from math to social sciences, the peer review system continues to be plagued by biases and sectarianism.
John Baumgardner asked the following: “Are there circumstances in which the scientific method ought to work, but for which the method does not provide ‘an accurate representation of the world’ — that is, a correct description of the way things really are?” Unfortunately, Baurngardner concluded, “The answer is yes.” To paraphrase Freeman Dyson, science is more mystery than truth.
What the hell is the point of Cardano?
If Bitcoin is nothing but an overzealous religious movement, what is Cardano? Fridman put this question to Hoskinson, who then proceeded to speak for nine straight minutes outlining the ways in which Cardano gives “digital identity” to people in developing countries.
Others, however, see Hoskinon’s brainchild as something far less noble. According to Galaxy Digital CEO Mike Novogratz, Cardano is a “cult,” and a “weird” one at that. By default, this would make Hoskinson a cult leader.
Whatever the pros and cons of the technology that underpins the Cardano blockchain, and whatever Hoskinson’s loyal followers may see that’s worth investing in, the concern is that the cult of science is very real — and that an over-reliance on the peer review process could prove to be highly problematic.
The irony of Hoskinson’s argument is that while Satoshi Nakamoto may not have jumped through peer review hoops to promulgate his white paper, the market itself has already passed judgment on Bitcoin. If peer review is “the evaluation of work by one or more people with similar competencies as the producers of the work,” then Bitcoin has been reviewed positively for a decade by some of the most talented developers in the world.
Certainly, it has its critics. Certainly, it has its flaws. But exposure to the real world forged Bitcoin’s resilience. And whether Cardano will survive in the heat of real-world usage is still a matter for some debate. As tech historians love to remind us, Betamax technology was superior to VHS, too.