DeSci: Modern Science Enabled by Web3 Technology
|— From lack of funding to censorship of information, the modern science infrastructure has critical issues hampering research and innovation.|
— Decentralized science, or DeSci uses blockchain infrastructure such as DAOs and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to combat these issues.
— DeSci promotes a fair, collaborative environment for researchers, enabling them to publish and share their research, without intermediaries profiting off their research.
We often see science stifled by bureaucratic laws, intermediaries, and unnecessary friction for funds. Remove these hurdles, and innovation can be a lot faster. A classic example we’ve seen in recent times is the development of the Covid vaccine.
From performing research to the development of vaccines, speed and momentum are crucial factors in the success of science. DeSci is one of the movements that help accelerate these factors and bring them to mainstream science.
In this article, we take a deep dive into what is DeSci and how can it improve modern science.
What is Decentralized Science (DeSci)?
Decentralized science, or DeSci, is a Web3 movement that leverages blockchain tools to address the critical issues plaguing modern science, such as funding, publishing, and copyright ownership.
Although it’s still in its early stages, the DeSci movement has been slowly gaining momentum. One of the trends that power this movement is, of course, the shift to broader Web3 and crypto that eliminates intermediaries and gives power back to the user. The other one is the current state of scientific research and how data is shared.
Why do we need DeSci: Issues Plaguing Research
Research is a field that desperately needs innovation to address its slow-moving nature, bureaucracies and lack of access. Let’s take a look at the common issues that scientists face during their research process.
- Lack of funding
Modern science has a funding crisis.
Currently, scientists depend on grants or private donors to fund their research, and the competition is quite intense. To illustrate this problem in real terms, let’s look at how biomedical research is funded.
Most research funding comes from two main sources — the government (through universities and specialized bodies such as the National Institute of Health (NIH)) and biomedical corporations (through their research departments).
Historically, the NIH grant approval percentage has ranged between 20% to 30%, with a slow but consistent decline in recent years. This translates to researchers spending about half their careers writing grants and proposals which do not get approved, even when the research is critical.
Alternatively, relying on private external funding also comes with its own cons. Since companies typically look for a return on their investment, only the most profitable research gets funded.
Therefore, the way research gets funded directly leads to slow scientific advancement. This hinders progress for research that is not deemed profitable. It is also wasteful of resources, since scientists themselves spend disproportionate amounts of time on unsuccessful funding bids, rather than focused on potentially life-saving research.
2. Poor sharing of existing research
Research has historically been a monopolistic field — controlled by a handful of publishing journals.
Publishing journals are incentivized to increase their revenue by selling more journal subscriptions. Thus, they choose to pick positive or attention-grabbing research studies as ideal candidates for publishing.
Initiatives such as the Open Access Movement have tried to make scientific data more accessible, where readers and libraries don’t have to pay for accessing research.
Here, however, the publication overhead falls on scientists that want to publish their papers. Some reputed journals shifted to a “pay-to-publish” model where scientists are now charged upwards of 4 figures in processing fees to publish their research.
3. Lack of transparency
Science, by nature, is a collaborative process, where scientists need to rely on each other’s research to weed out dead ends and mistakes.
Yet due to the competitive culture in the scientific community, there’s a tendency for research groups to hide their findings, in a race to be the one across the finish line oOr take credit for a given advancement.
By hiding precious resources and data, the pace of scientific development is limited. And moreover, hiding results might mean millions of dollars wasted on doing the same research repeatedly.
This happens because there’s a clear misalignment between those conducting the research and those benefiting from it. Incentives for scientists to share their data could help unlock innovations faster.
How Does DeSci Disrupt Scientific Research?
The issues discussed above are major impediments to our progress as a human race. We can only move science forward when we pool our resources together — and decentralized science is the infrastructure that can make this a reality. In this section, we’ll talk about some of the ways that DeSci is being used across the world to help accelerate scientific progress.
1. Decentralized & Incentivized Peer Review and Publishing Process
Publishing a paper in a journal is a long and tedious process, where journals coordinate peer reviews, editing etc. Giving this power to journals means that we also hinder the ability to access research because publishers get to choose what they want to publish.
Using a blockchain-based peer review infrastructure can eliminate these hurdles. The blockchain has a unique technology called smart contracts, which are programmable pieces of code. When used in conjunction with a decentralized community of scientific researchers, they can be programmed to execute sections of the journal publishing process, such as peer reviews, autonomously.
Reputation systems are another key element of scientific research well-suited to the blockchain, because any information held there is verifiable and immutable. Every time a scientist successfully publishes or peer-reviews a paper, smart contracts will automatically update their metrics on the blockchain, increasing their credibility within the community.
VitaDAO is one example of a decentralized organization leveraging the power of blockchain for science. It has had some success in building an on-demand peer review and reputation system; through their platform, reviewers and authors are able to work independently of scientific journals and be recognized for their work directly.
2. Community Sourced Research Funding
Blockchain technology also directly lends itself to crowdfunding, which is another way it can contribute to research. We’ve already seen millions of dollars being raised for projects related to games, TV and cinema etc through NFTs and DAOs. The same logic applied to the scientific arena could mean the difference between spending years trying to get a grant and devoting time to their research.
For instance, Molecule, a blockchain-based grant marketplace, allows users to crowdfund drug development. The protocol directly connects patients, biotech companies, or investors to scientists, powering open marketplaces for research. People who have a vested interest can fund specific projects through Molecule’s VitaDAO.
Thus, interested parties can own a stake in the project instead of going through traditional routes such as publishers or big pharma companies. With this access, they can directly access crucial data and contribute to its development with their investment.
3. Data Credit & IP Rights
Minting research rights as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) can help scientists establish their intellectual property rights and help them get due credit for their work – thus enabling sharing between research groups, with no doubts over who will get the credit for the work.
For instance, scientists can directly monetize and be accredited for their work (with the date of publication) by tokenizing it as an NFT on the blockchain. This way, they can verify the date they completed the work (thanks blockchain) and get due credit for their contributions. They could even make royalties each time the research is purchased, meaning rewards from the research goes direct to those who conducted it, not to a journal.
Molecule’s IP-NFTs make this a reality. Pre-screened projects and IP rights are recorded through NFTs, making them liquid, transferable, and easily verifiable on the blockchain. Through this, we reduce any potential IP encroachment, while ensuring contributors are rewarded for their work.
4. Data transparency & censorship
Typically, research exists in siloed environments across different organizations. This directly hinders collaborative projects and research.
In contrast, hosting data on the blockchain brings transparency to the field of science. Opensci, a Web3 project, is actively working on powering an environment where scientists can collaborate with each other and unlock these data silos.
Through their platform, scientists can access and store a database of relevant research from any location at any time through the blockchain, leading to more accurate research decisions. Since these blockchain records cannot be changed or tampered with, we can also minimize scientific censorship.
Decentralizing science means faster innovation
Using blockchain technology to streamline modern science comes with numerous benefits. The blockchain removes central gatekeepers from the science field by allowing investors, individuals, and patients to build a digital community around a given idea, and fund research they are passionate about via that community.
Thus, scientists can access funding, research, and data faster. They also receive credit and incentives for sharing their work with the community while retaining ownership over their data.
Early projects in DeSci have already started proving their potential. Blockchain’s innate ability to bring together communities, unite around a single idea and incentivize them at the same time is the glue that holds this entire ecosystem together. Giving power and recognition back to the creators is at the heart of this revolution and can change the way we as a society function.