Is DeSci the Future of Research? by@lucidsamuel

Is DeSci the Future of Research?

Decentralized Science aims to build public infrastructure for fairly and equitably funding, creating, reviewing, crediting, storing, and disseminating scientific knowledge using the Web3 stack. The DeSci movement advocates for real decentralization, rejecting institutional influence, and supporting citizen research in the quest for truth. The movement aims to enhance scientific funding; eliminate reliance on profit-hungry intermediaries such as publisher conglomerates, and increase collaboration across the field. DeFi aims to promote transparency, enhance security, and expand community-driven approaches to how our society functions.
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Samuel Akinosho

Hi, I'm Samuel Akinosho a software engineer building great developer experiences.

The DeSci movement advocates for real decentralization, rejecting institutional influence, and supporting citizen research in the quest for truth.


The most amazing aspect of innovations is that they often bridge across various industries, and Web 3.0 (the decentralized web) has so many use-cases aside from DeFi; its major goal is to promote transparency, enhance security, and expand community-driven approaches to how our society functions.

What Is DeSci?  Just Another Buzzword?

DeSci is simply an acronym for Decentralized Science. It is a movement that aims to build public infrastructure for fairly and equitably funding, creating, reviewing, crediting, storing, and disseminating scientific knowledge using the Web3 stack.


The newly coined DeSci movement advocates for real decentralization, rejecting institutional influence, and supporting citizen research in the quest for truth.

Why DeSci? - Problems Facing Today's Research World

Science is failing to meet modern-day needs because the systems that have guided serious research for millennia no longer provide all of the essential advances. Over the years, science has become a monolithic institution, an altar to which contemporary society offers its brightest and finest, an altar to which world governments lay innumerable tithes, and an altar to which humanity lays its faith in order to address and avert critical global challenges.


To avoid further capture and entrusting the world's faith to a select few, we must decentralize these organizations and their modes of operations in order to maintain transparency and accountability.


The DeSci movement aims to enhance scientific funding, unleash knowledge from silos, eliminate reliance on profit-hungry intermediaries such as publisher conglomerates, and increase collaboration across the field. Research is hard and problematically peer-reviewed.


"Crypto disrupted finance; NFTs disrupted culture; DeSci will disrupt knowledge"

Decentralization Opportunities and Use Cases

Funding is a nightmare for scientists, and the system does not always reward excellence. Scientists spend a significant amount of time drafting grant applications.


"Funding is an especially acute pain point for scientists, who spend up to half their time writing grant proposals. Success in getting funding is heavily tied to metrics such as the h-index, which quantifies the impact of a scientist's published work. The resulting pressure to 'publish or perish' incentivizes the pursuit of novel research over work that's critical but less likely to grab headlines. Ultimately, inadequate and unreliable funding not only reduces the amount of science being done, but also biases which projects scientists choose, contributing to issues such as the replication crisis." - Sarah Hamburg (Co-Founder phas3 & LYNX)


With a growing population of scientists entering the field, there are more ideas than available money, and it's no secret that scientific research is becoming less of a priority to the government, so there's an incredibly competitive and more rigorous process for scientists to get grants from the government, allowing organizations with biases and monetary/political interests to make more decisions on which research gets funded.

Exploring the DeSci Approach to Funding


  • DAOs: Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) have proven to be an efficient structural model to create momentum around ambitious projects. Most researchers already have experience working with communities, so DAOs are typically just reinventing the same system but this time with a decentralized approach meaning there would be no hierarchy, and governance power would be shared.


This new model of organization, compared to traditional companies, is open, global, and transparent, and based on these merits, researchers can list their research projects in the DAOs as a means to engage with potential investors and secure funding for their projects.


Since the inception of the movement, a few initiatives have emerged to demonstrate that DAOs for researchers are more than simply a fad, such as VitaDAO, AntidoteDAO, and LabDAO among a host of others.


  • DeFi Protocols: Adapting emerging DeFi (decentralized finance) protocols to create sustainable long-term funding for scientists, which might resemble traditional tenure. Adapting blockchain-based public good funding models, such as Quadratic Funding and retroactive funding, by setting up platforms and protocols dedicated to science.


  • NFTs: Images/IP derived from scientific research can now be sold/traded as NFTs, with the proceeds used to fund other research or self-sustaining research projects. A good example is the IP-NFTs biopharma research, where the intellectual property was funded as an NFT by a DAO, which now owns the rights to future data IP.


By experimenting with new incentive models produced by DAOs and Web3 broadly, Web3 has the ability to disrupt this dysfunctional funding model.

Collaboration, Publishing & Peer Review Process

Science publishing has a reputation for being rigorous and problematic as it is mostly managed by publishing firms who have accumulated profits and global reputations from utilizing the free labor of scientists and reviewers to publish articles.


The most worrisome part is that with less government budget for research, scientists end up not being able to pay to access these new research papers, and the whole situation has an enormous impact on innovations and the research world.


Just as this has been a problem for a pretty long time, there have been numerous open-research advocates such as Aaron Swartz, an MIT student who illegally uploaded millions of articles online to oppose the research paper reseller industry, and Alexandra Elbakyan, who founded Sci-hub, a website that allows users to circumvent paywalls, making academic articles available to the public.


There have also been "almost successful" initiatives advocating for open research in the past, such as thousands of scientists attempting to boycott Elsevier's paywall, but as you might expect, these platforms have already amassed so much authority that the campaign's impact was insufficient to solve the problem and regulating bodies consistently trying to shut down most of this advances like in the case of Alexandra, Sci-Hub currently faces tons of persecutions while Aaron died by suicide while on trial for his advocacies.

Exploring the DeSci Approach

Since the advent of Web3, there have been various DeSci initiatives attempting to fix these issues, such as:


  • Everipedia is a platform that seeks to "bring blockchain knowledge to the world and knowledge to the blockchain" by establishing a web3 version of Wikipedia. Users on the platform can also obtain IQ tokens, which then allow them to vote on which articles need to be edited and which can be added to the on-chain knowledge base.

  • OpScientia is a community of open scientific activists, researchers, organizers, and aficionados that have united together to address the issues of data sharing, reproducibility, incentive alignment, coordination, and intellectual ownership that now hamper knowledge production.

  • ResearchHub aspires to be the "GitHub of Science" by developing a contemporary app that allows scientists to collaborate on research more effectively. The community is powered by ResearchCoin ($RSC), an ERC20 token intended to incentivize platform contributions, with rewards dependent on community members' perceived value of the contribution.

  • Molecule is a decentralized scientific research financing platform that functions as a marketplace for academics seeking funding and individuals interested in investing in scientific research initiatives. They "connect leading researchers to funds by transforming intellectual property and development into a liquid and easily investable asset."

  • Fleming Protocol provides users with the infrastructure to store all of their personal health data, generated from patient-owned devices (i.e., smart watches, remote monitoring sensors, etc.), in one place using IPFS, giving patients full custody of their own data. This will enable users to use this data to develop "automated and personalized systems for self-management" while opening the door for a new "personalized healthcare economy in the metaverse."

    Security & IP Proctection

    The most common types of intellectual property encountered in research are copyright, patents, and trademarks. Intellectual property (IP) has always been a major issue in conventional research, ranging from being trapped at universities or underused in biotechs to being infamously difficult to value.


    Patents and other types of intellectual property protection frequently concern scientists and researchers since it is seen to be counterintuitive to promote scientific growth through exclusive rights to earlier findings. As a result, scientists believe it is completely comprehensible that, while safeguarding intellectual property, scientists would progress more swiftly if they had unrestricted access to earlier information.


    With these processes in place, two parties may develop extremely comparable datasets while remaining unaware of the other, thereby tripling R&D expenses. Furthermore, present data-sharing mechanisms are opaque, data gathering methods are unclear, and data is frequently not replicable.

Exploring the DeSci Approach

If you're familiar with the Web3 ecosystem, you'll know that proper ownership, data protection, transparency, and security are just a few of the many things that Web3 excels at. Here's a list of ways DeSci is approaching the issue of Security and IP Protection front-on:


  • NFTs: Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) appear to have proven themselves over the years to be more than just a medium for the creative economy (art and music), but also to be highly valuable in other areas, such as the Intellectual Property domain in this case.


Although I discussed IP-NFTs previously in this article, it is also necessary to emphasize their significance for scientists dealing with Intellectual Property issues.


Molecule (a decentralized scientific research funding platform) has been exploring a use case for combining IP and NFTs with DeFi since 2018, and sometime last year in August, that use case was fully realized and they announced the first biopharma IP-NFT Transaction.


Source: Sample of Molecule NFTs

Source: Sample of Molecule NFTs


To summarize the impact of NFTs on intellectual properties: In the same way that NFTs could indeed transfer revenue for future transactions back to their original creator, transparent value identification chains can be created to reward researchers whose data are being collected.


  • DAOs: NeuraDAO is a community-governed, decentralized platform for neurotech research and intellectual property. Its main objective is to support and finance new research, and in exchange for their support, NeuraDAO will hold IP and data rights in the early-stage research that they support or fund. This will allow them to build a portfolio of IPs and data assets which can then be monetized to support further NeuraDAO operations. With this new infrastructure, they believe they can create a world where new research and innovations can be governed, funded, and owned by the creators or in this case scientists; the core stakeholders of the problem.



Web3 decentralized storage principles can improve access to scientific data, while the distributed storage system would allow research to endure apocalyptic catastrophes.


In order to achieve this, the initial point must be a system that can be accessed by any decentralized identity with the necessary verified credentials. This enables trustworthy parties to safely copy sensitive data, providing redundancy and censorship resistance, reproducing results, and even allowing many parties to contribute and add new data to the dataset.


Confidential computing approaches, such as compute-to-data, provide Trusted Research Environments for the most sensitive data by providing alternate access channels to raw data replication.


Web3 data solutions enable the scenarios outlined above and lay the groundwork for fully Open Science, in which researchers may develop public products without the need for access permits or payments. IPFS, Filecoin, Sia Tech, and Arweave are examples of these public data systems built for decentralization.


To learn more about DeSci: The DeSci Wiki by Dr. Jocelynn Pearl is a great resource for people to learn about existing projects in DeSci and how to get involved in them.


The Decentralized Science Landscape figure is by the UltraRare Bio

The Decentralized Science Landscape figure is by the UltraRare Bio

Conclusion

Web3, DAOs, NFTs, DAOs, and Tokens have the potential to create a new economy, resulting in solutions far beyond what the Open Science movement or other strategies have attempted in the past, and this movement has the potential to foster innovations, improve research funding, and greatly facilitate collaborations between researchers and the scientific community.


Will this be the transformation we’ve been hoping for?


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