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Friday, February 25, 2022

Decentralized Science

 Decentralized science, new to me as a concept.

A Guide to DeSci, the Latest Web3 Movement   By Sarah Hamburg

A growing number of scientists and entrepreneurs are leveraging blockchain tools, including smart contracts and tokens, in an attempt to improve modern science. Collectively, their work has become known as the decentralized science movement, or DeSci.

Still in its infancy, DeSci lies at the intersection of two broader trends: 1) efforts within the scientific community to change how research is funded and knowledge is shared, and 2) efforts within the crypto-focused movement to shift ownership and value away from industry intermediaries. But what exactly does DeSci entail? 

I’m a neuroscientist and cofounder of a startup that uses the blockchain to provide users of wearables with full ownership and control over their biometric data (including brain data). I recently published a short letter in the journal Nature encouraging scientists across all disciplines to join DeSci. As the movement grows, so does the need for open public discussion. To that end, I’ve put together an introductory guide that covers how DeSci came to be, what its defining features are, what the major debates and open questions are within the movement, and where the greatest opportunities and challenges lie.

DeSci drivers

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. 

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.

Information access is another much-lamented problem. Despite the fact that science is the epitome of a global public good, a lot of scientific knowledge is trapped behind journal paywalls and inside private databases. Making all types of data more accessible is the main objective of the Open Science movement, which emerged over a decade ago.

Open Science initiatives have had far-reaching effects, including mandates by the National Institutes of Health and other funding sources to publish open-access findings. But the extent to which science has improved as a result is a matter of debate. For example, journals responded to these mandates with pay-to-publish business models. Now, instead of paying to read other people’s studies, publicly funded scientists pay to publish their own research. (Nature charges over $11,000 per paper.) Some academics have argued that open access mandates increasingly concentrate power in the hands of major publishers.

Where DeSci comes in:  ...

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