This is an opinion editorial by Hannah Wolfman-Jones, author of “System Override: How Bitcoin, Blockchain, Free Speech, & Free Tech Can Change Everything” and founder of We The Web.
Academics are not going to be early to Bitcoin; there are too many incentives baked into the university system pushing them to not be. These include the incentive to please their Keynesian colleagues and bosses, and the financial incentives of research grants, advisor roles — and a revolving door of paid positions at the Federal Reserve, IMF and other fiat financial institutions.
The bias in the university system against Bitcoin runs deep. At times it goes beyond whole departments failing to address Bitcoin — and overconfident, underinformed professors making strong statements against it — to exploration of the topic of Bitcoin being blocked on university IT systems.
I encountered this personally when I, a Bitcoin pleb, was suddenly unable to contact New York Law School (NYLS) Professor Emerita Nadine Strossen about my book on Bitcoin and free speech to which she had contributed. My emails to Strossen were sent as usual, received no replies or bounce-back messages, but did not reach her. A barrage of email tests showed all emails containing the word “Bitcoin” were blocked without the knowledge of students, faculty and staff from on or before Feb. 8, 2021 until April 24, 2021. The block extended to both incoming and (most puzzlingly) outgoing emails of all NYLS email accounts. Other cryptocurrencies and related words were not blocked.
I expressed concern directly to the NYLS president that this email block constituted “a serious breach of free speech principles” and was “an unusually broad and coarse security measure that unacceptably (though completely inadvertently) curtails academic inquiry and reasonable/productive communications.” I explained that bitcoin is “a critical tool for human rights” that’s highly relevant, but my arguments were apparently not persuasive. NYLS did not change the email block upon complaint, considering it a normal part of their email security. Instead they found Professor Strossen a work-around and continued blocking all email discussion of “bitcoin” for the rest of NYLS without their knowledge.
The email block was eventually lifted after I told NYLS I would be writing about it publicly. Students, staff and faculty at NYLS can now again freely email about “bitcoin.” Unfortunately, despite my repeated pleas that informing the NYLS community of the block was the right thing to do, NYLS has still not informed them of the block and not given them an opportunity to recover missed communications. Lawyers with basic knowledge of Bitcoin are well paid and in very high demand, yet NYLS denied its heavily indebted students the ability to pursue acquiring such knowledge or job roles via email without their knowledge for months.
Assistant Professor Craig Warmke has also encountered university IT restrictions around bitcoin. Warmke explained that his institution, Northern Illinois University, blocks access to some useful informational sites on Bitcoin such as “Bitcoin Wiki” and previously blocked access to many more, including Bitcoin Magazine. This included sites Warmke says would be directly beneficial to his academic work.
As a graduate student at University of Hawaii, Nathaniel Harmon received very strong pushback from many at the school for his desire to do research involving Bitcoin. After submitting a 17-page abstract detailing how Bitcoin can subsidize the development of untapped clean and renewable energy sources in the oceans, Harmon was summarily dismissed and insulted by Dr. Michael Roberts, a prominent professor there, who told him: “These are not new ideas. They are *tiresomely* old ideas, that are seriously wrongheaded. Read Paul Krugman on bitcoin… You’re wasting your time and others. Please stop selling your fools gold. Or, if you prefer, quit grad school and go work for Winklevoss twins or the Libertarian Party.”
Harmon recalls how pervasive the knee-jerk reaction against Bitcoin among academics was, recalling: “I learned to avoid talking about Bitcoin as much as possible, instead I talked theoretically about a buyer of last resort. Everyone liked the idea until you mentioned it was Bitcoin mining as the buyer of last resort, shrugging it off after that. Anything else but Bitcoin the idea would have been developed out five years ago… It kinda set me back.” While Harmon has many stories of being ridiculed and dismissed for his research in Bitcoin, there were also many professors and colleagues who were open-minded and civil.
Professor Bradley Rettler, an assistant professor at the University of Wyoming who researches the philosophy of Bitcoin, has had quite the opposite experience, with his Bitcoin research being encouraged and embraced by academics. “I haven’t myself experienced any bias in academia against Bitcoin,” says Rettler. “In fact, the university has been thrilled to have someone working on something that they admit they don’t understand at all but seems important and relevant.”
Do you have stories of Bitcoin research being discouraged, censored or embraced by your academic institution? We would love to hear them! If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your experience.
This is a guest post by Hannah Wolfman-Jones. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.
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