Professor Aggelos Kiayias is the Chair in Cyber Security and Privacy at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests are in computer security, information security, applied cryptography and foundations of cryptography with a particular emphasis in blockchain technologies and distributed systems, e-voting and secure multiparty protocols as well as privacy and identity management. Read more about Prof. Kiayias here.
In the latest video from IOHK, he speaks on the process and importance of peer-review. Here is a summarized transcript of the video:
The objective of peer review is to choose what papers represent genuine advances in the state of the art in a certain scientific field.
For an example, Professor Kiayias uses cryptography. In the field of cryptography, there is a body of literature that already exists. The peer review process tries to evaluate whether a certain contribution is a substantial step forward given the existing body of scientific work that has already been documented. Therefore, peer review is really the core process that scientific cryptography uses to advance forward.
There are several dimensions that make this process what it is. The most important, as it is manifested by the conferences of the International Association for Cryptographic Research (Crypto Europe and AsiaCrypt being the flagship conferences), is that is follows a double-blind reviewing process.
So what does double-blind mean?
Basically if you want to submit something to the conference, you have to produce a detailed manuscript that has to be complete in a number of ways:
It has to have full substantiation of all the claims, complete proofs, theorems and lemmas that are necessary to support those claims. It must have a complete description of all the necessary material that is needed to test the veracity of all the claims. And then it must be packaged into a document that is submitted without any indication of who the authors behind the manuscript are. This is then submitted to a committee of experts, which is selected by the community, and every year is a different set of experts for each conference.
The experts may range the numbers from 40 to 50 and they are selected by a team of two program chairs which are appointed by the board of directors of the IACR. The experts that are selected to review a particular manuscript that has been submitted are also anonymous to the authors so when the final decision regarding the particular manuscript is made, the names of the experts are not revealed. So this double-blinding is what typifies this process.
The purpose of this double blinding is to ensure that there is as little bias as possible. The important thing here is to keep in mind that the process tries to be as neutral as possible when deciding whether a certain paper is a substantial advancement forward and this has to be done on first-principles only.
In other words, biases that have to do for instance with marketing with the fame of the authors, with personal connections potentially between those that are reviewing and those that are producing those manuscripts - all that has to be removed from the process as much as possible. And this is what is achieved by this double-blinding reviewing process.
Participating in peer review process can happen in two ways:
1.Submitting a manuscript for peer review:
- This is done by finding a conference or a journal that solicits papers
- There are solicitations for papers called “call for papers” that are available online.
- In these “call for papers”, there is a description of what the particular conference is looking for and what the group of experts that are evaluating the submitted work will be as well as specifics on typesetting that the manuscript submitted should satisfy in order to be evaluated.
- This is an open process so anybody can submit a manuscript for peer review.
- Participating as an expert:
- This is something that is done by invitation only and this only comes after many years of commitment to advancing the scientific research in a particular area.
- For example in cryptography, the people that participate as program committee members are people that have done research in universities and research centres for many years, have taught cryptography courses, have produced a lot of important results in the area that have been recognized by their peers.
- After this type of commitment to the scientific area of cryptography - an invitation typically comes for participation in a program committee of such a conference.
- This event is a distinction and is something that people are proud of to serve as members in a program committee of a conference like Crypto, EuroCrypt or AsiaCrypt.
Peer review is important for cryptocurrencies because it enables the area to mature and lay solid foundations upon which protocols that are implemented and that carry value for their users can actually be trusted. It is very important to produce systems that are robust and resilient. Just the fact that a certain system is working at the present time is not necessarily a proof that it will continue to do so in the long run. It is very important to have proper assurances that are provided by scientific cryptographic work that these systems are resilient to attacks. For this reason, it is important to build models within which we can analyze the security of cryptocurrencies and distributed ledgers, and have proofs that they operate within the proper bounds for safe and fault-resilient operation. By using these tools that are provided by this scientific process, we can be certain that the systems will not be attacked and the assets that they record are not going to be at risk.