What Is Decentralized Science (DeSci) and How Can It Change the Scientific Field? (2024)

What Is Decentralized Science (DeSci) and How Can It Change the Scientific Field? (2024)

The emergence of decentralized science has brought about a revolution that harnesses the power of Web3 technologies to enhance scientific research. In this article, we will delve into the concept of decentralized science, explore its practical applications, and highlight the key differences that set it apart from traditional scientific practices.

What Is Decentralized Science?

Decentralized science (DeSci) is a groundbreaking approach to scientific research that unleashes the full potential of decentralized technologies to revolutionize traditional science (TradSci). Unlike the old-fashioned centralized approach that relies on intermediaries and institutions, DeSci implements cutting-edge decentralized practices for knowledge creation and distribution.

With DeSci, scientific data is made widely accessible, peer review processes become more transparent, and international collaboration among researchers is incentivized like never before. By harnessing the power of blockchain technology, DeSci ensures the integrity and immutability of scientific records while eliminating all barriers to entry. DeSci is the future of scientific research, and it's here to stay!

How Can DeSci Enhance Scientific Practices?

While DeSci and TradSci advance knowledge and solve real-world problems, they differ in key aspects.

1. Funding Distribution

One of the primary challenges scientists face is the unfair distribution of research funds. DeSci addresses this issue through novel funding mechanisms like quadratic donations and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). These systems promote a fairer distribution of resources, allowing more researchers to receive the funding they need to pursue their projects.

2. Accessibility

Another significant problem in TradSci is the limited accessibility of scientific data and publications. DeSci tackles this challenge by utilizing blockchain-based research repositories. Storing data and publications on a decentralized ledger makes them more accessible and transparent. Smart contracts can also govern access to data, ensuring its secure and fair distribution.

3. Reproducibility

Reproducibility is a critical aspect of scientific research, but it has been neglected in TradSci. DeSci introduces incentives for reproducibility, such as token rewards and reputation systems. Smart contracts facilitate transparent and verifiable peer review processes, encouraging researchers to produce high-quality, reproducible work. As a result, the reliability of scientific findings increases.

Decentralized Science Use Cases

1. Academic publishing

DeSci platforms have the ability to revolutionize the way academic publications are shared and accessed. By providing decentralized repositories, researchers can publish their work directly on these platforms, making it available to a wider audience and promoting greater accessibility to scientific knowledge.

2. Research funding

The current research funding system is often opaque and inefficient. Decentralized funding mechanisms, enabled by smart contracts, offer a solution to this problem. DeSci platforms can facilitate the transparent allocation of research funds, ensuring that funds are distributed fairly and efficiently. Additionally, decentralized networks can be used to crowdfund research projects, allowing contributors to be rewarded based on the quality of their work.

3. Data sharing and collaboration

DeSci platforms can potentially transform how research data and resources are shared among scientists. Researchers can collaborate more effectively and efficiently by facilitating secure and transparent data sharing. Additionally, DeSci platforms can enable researchers to tokenize and monetize their data while maintaining control over ownership rights.

4. Peer review

The peer review process is a crucial part of scientific research, but it can be time-consuming and prone to bias. Blockchain-based reputation systems offer a solution to this problem. DeSci can use blockchain technology to create immutable records of researchers' contributions and peer review activities, promoting transparency and accountability in scholarly communications. This helps to ensure that research is rigorously tested and validated, ultimately leading to higher-quality research outcomes.

The existing academic system: an overview and challenges

The term 'science' is overly general and encompasses various activities, disciplines, and knowledge, which can be divided into different branches based on the subject of study. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, science is any system of knowledge that deals with the physical world and its phenomena and requires unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. Science involves pursuing knowledge that covers general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.

The scientific enterprise can be broken down into stages and general tasks. The process begins with generating knowledge and securing funding. The primary products of science are knowledge, publications, and intellectual property. To apply knowledge to real life, the scientific idea must be verified in models or tested and finally brought to life.

The existing traditional academic system is an obstacle to researchers and their community. Many issues in this conservative field have been slowing it down for decades. The main problems are research funding, peer review and research publication, intellectual property ownership, access to research and awareness, reproducibility and replicability of research results, and communication and collaboration between researchers.

The commercialization of science is vast, yet the space is still unprofitable. Scientific research funding seems untouched, as only a few mechanisms exist. Those who begin to delve into this understand that financing science is extremely challenging at any stage.

Attracting funding is an especially acute pain point for scientists, as it is unbelievably hard, slow, and bureaucratic for them to raise money in the existing system. The process is highly specific and complex, distracting scientists from focusing on the research they conduct, as they need to spend up to half of their time writing grant proposals.

Moreover, the rewards system in academia does not always select the best work. Success in obtaining funding is closely related to indicators that quantify the impact of a publication, like the h-index. Peer review selects for consensus rather than risk-taking, and scientists feel pressured to publish for quantity rather than quality. The resulting “publish or perish” pressure stimulates a desire for research that is likely to make hype headlines rather than work that is critical for society but not so entertaining to read. Ultimately, inadequate and unreliable funding reduces the amount of scientific research and influences the choice of topics researchers choose, contributing to issues such as the replication crisis. As a result, many potentially important projects die in the early stages due to a lack of funding.

Finally, early-career scientists are usually disadvantaged since science is trending older and toward scientists with demonstrated experience. For instance, most NIH grant funding goes to older scientists, and the age of a Nobel Prize-winning discovery by scientists is increasing.

1. Peer review and research publication

The current pathways for scientific paper publishing established in academia are biased and slow. The peer review processes are problematic and complex, and to make matters worse, they are managed by academic publishing houses that rely upon the free labor and time of researchers, reviewers, and editors. These individuals work tirelessly without any incentives or rewards. Additionally, most scientific journals adhere to the pay-to-publish business model, requiring scientists to pay exorbitant fees, such as Nature's $11,000 per paper. This exploitative system makes the current peer review and publication methods inefficient and unacceptable.

It's important to note that numerous studies and systematic reviews have shown that peer review doesn’t reliably prevent poor-quality science from being published. This publication bias is further compounded by the financing pressures that influence the quality of published papers.

However, there is a silver lining. Even after a long peer review process and after an article is finally published, peer review may not stop. A “post-publication” peer review phenomenon on the web allows academics to critique and comment on articles after they’ve been published. Sites like PubPeer and F1000Research facilitate that kind of post-publication feedback, which can play a crucial role in ensuring the quality and integrity of scientific research.

2. Intellectual property ownership

Intellectual property (IP) is an essential legal term encompassing patents, copyrights, and trademarks. These legal rights protect inventors' and creators' ideas and expressions, and it is crucial to managing them effectively. Unfortunately, the current process for registering and managing IP is antiquated and inefficient, particularly for academic IP in its early stages. This outdated system often causes IP to get stuck in universities and academic institutions or, worse, left unused in tech and traditional science fields. Additionally, valuing IP is challenging, and many individuals and institutions do not clearly understand how to manage registration and management requirements correctly. This responsibility typically falls on the institution's Technology Transfer Office (TTO), which is often understaffed and underfunded. In many cases, TTOs opt to file provisional patents and then look for a buyer separately, leaving scientists with no ownership of their IP. Addressing these issues and revamping the IP management system to support innovators and creators better is essential.

There is much room for improvement in IP ownership management and protection using blockchain technology.

3. Collaboration and Communication

Scientists encounter difficulties collaborating and communicating effectively within their organizations and across institutions. This lack of transparency and coordination leads to duplicated efforts, missed opportunities, and delayed discoveries. Scientists rely heavily on institutional funding, creating conflicts of interest and hindering global cooperation.

Scientists use various communication methods to overcome these obstacles, such as conferences, emails, and social media. However, these methods have limitations, and real-time communication is often impossible. Moreover, sharing best practices and standards across fields is challenging, leading to reinvention and repetition of experiments.

Experience exchange is another area of concern. Costly equipment and limited resources make it difficult for scientists to conduct experiments and share knowledge efficiently. Public engagement and science literacy are also neglected, resulting in a disconnect between scientists and the general public.

4. Reproducibility and Replicability

The reproducibility and replicability crisis is a significant challenge in scientific research. Achieving consistent results through rigorous testing and validation is crucial, but this process is often slow and painful. Researchers face few incentives to replicate studies as funding agencies prioritize novel discoveries over confirmatory research. Journals also tend to favor publications with groundbreaking results, leaving replication studies undervalued.

Furthermore, replication attempts can fail due to opaque methods, small sample sizes, or poor study design. This 'crisis of irreproducibility' undermines trust in scientific findings and hinders progress in various fields.

5. Information Access and Awareness

Access to scientific information remains a pressing issue. Much scientific knowledge is restricted behind paywalls in journals and private databases, limiting its reach and impact. The Open Science movement strives to make data more accessible, while initiatives like SciHub provide free access to published papers, albeit controversially.

Improving public engagement and science literacy is essential to addressing this challenge. We can foster greater understanding and appreciation of scientific research by bridging the gap between scientists and the general public.

Decentralized Science vs. Traditional Science

While DeSci and TradSci advance knowledge and solve real-world problems, they differ in key aspects.

AspectDecentralized ScienceTraditional Science
FundingCommunity-driven, crowdfunded or supported by blockchain-based tokensGovernment grants, university funding, private investment
Peer reviewOpen, transparent, and community-drivenClosed, exclusive, and controlled by a select few experts
Data SharingEncouraged and incentivized through blockchain technologyDiscouraged due to concerns about intellectual property and data privacy
CollaborationGlobal, open, and collaborative research effortsLimited collaboration between institutions and individuals
IncentivesToken-based rewards for contributors, recognition within the communityPrestige, tenure, and financial benefits for individual researchers
AccessibilityResearch is accessible to anyone with an internet connectionResearch is often locked behind paywalls and limited to academic circles
SpeedFaster publication and dissemination of research due to decentralized natureSlower publication process due to traditional peer-review and publishing processes
ReplicationEncouraged and incentivized through blockchain-based verificationDifficult and time-consuming to replicate results due to lack of transparency
CreditImmutable and tamper-proof record of contributions on a blockchainCredit often goes to the first person to publish, regardless of contribution size
InterdisciplinaryEncourages collaboration across fields and disciplinesOften siloed into specific fields and departments
CommunicationOpen communication channels between researchers and the publicCommunication barriers between researchers and the general public
EthicsTransparent and community-driven ethical guidelinesEthical guidelines set by institutions and governments but not always followed

Closing Thoughts

Decentralized science has the potential to change the scientific landscape, fostering collaboration and increasing the pace of discovery. By embracing decentralized technologies, DeSci can democratize access to knowledge, promote transparency, and drive innovation across various research fields.