For a long time, the spread of scientific research has been severely restricted by what can only be called inefficient intermediaries that have created a subculture that is supposedly based on prestige, in which publishers have managed to position themselves in a central role.
In practice, much of this culture is based on traditional ways of doing things that impact on access to research funds (with scientists obliged to spend half their time writing proposals), to the development of reputation systems that often shape the careers of researchers or the prestige of the institutions where they work, as well as providing the wrong incentives for them, while limiting access to scientific publications to people who can afford to pay expensive subscriptions.
Movements such as Open Science, which promotes open access to publications, have resulted in many journals now demanding significant payments from authors and the institutions they work for if they want their work to be kept available (over $11,000, for example, in the case of Nature).
Decentralized Science, or DeSci, is the scientific output application based on the decentralization principles of the so-called Web 3, which uses tools such as blockchain, DAOs, NFTs or smart contracts to solve real problems in the research and publication process.
What are these problems? Firstly, the system used to obtain research funding, which is governed by inadequate impact metrics and calculated not just on the quality of papers or their authors, but on the supposed prestige of the journals in which they are published. This adulterated meritocracy allows certain publishers to position themselves in a position of absolute dominance from which they can dictate their own rules, while also taking advantage of the free labor of thousands of researchers who review the manuscripts sent to them.
In a decentralized system, researcher can retain the rights to their work, as well as objectively assess its significance, earn tokens for working as a reviewer, or use formats that allow, for example, data files to be linked by appropriate traceability to the research generated, thus enabling its replication.
A guide to DeSci by neuroscientist Sarah Hamburg, who sought to develop a methodology for wearable owners to retain control of the data generated by their devices while enabling its use for research — and who wrote a short letter to Natureto try to get more researchers to join this movement — accurately describes the basis of the idea and its possible problems or limitations, and adds at the end a list of resources that explain the idea in greater depth, as well as inviting people to join up.
Through the use of smart contracts, researchers can be rewarded for work ranging from publication to blind reviews, which generates incentives for these activities, in addition to a more objective system of metrics than the current “lists of journals considered prestigious”. This is an effective way of putting Web 3 protocols in to practice in the face of an activity, science, which should be considered an open access public good, instead of imprisoning it in a proprietary model under the control of publishers.
An interesting idea. We will see how much and how fast it gains traction within the scientific community, currently stuck in an isomorphism that, for fear of losing prestige or access, imprisons it within the confines of tradition.