DeSci: what if science switched to blockchain to gain efficiency?

This is called DeSci, the Decentralized science or decentralized science. This still emerging movement is of interest to a growing number of scientists. Thanks to the blockchain, the system of “smart contracts” and tokens (digital tokens), these are new collaborative working methods that are emerging. In short, Web3 could greatly facilitate scientific research.

According to cognitive neuroscientist Sarah Hamburg, DeSci stands at the crossroads of two main trends. On the one hand, there is a desire on the part of the scientific community to do so changing the way research is funded and knowledge is shared. On the other hand, we observe a fundamental movement for move ownership and value away from industry intermediaries. A movement that relies in particular on cryptography and blockchain.

Facilitate funding, shared and secure data storage, etc.

This British scientist co-founded a start-up, Phas3.io, which has developed a unique solution called Lynx. This uses the blockchain to allow owners of wearables (clothing or accessories attached). maintain full ownership and control of their biometric data (including brain data). In the famous magazine Naturepublished in December 2021 an invitation to scientists to join the DeSci.

According to Sarah Hamburg, this is the best way to democratize science. And make sure that research is no longer carried out in silos. Neither is blocked by bottlenecks in one way or another (lack of means, human resources, etc.). Going through the blockchain, we can set up:

  • of the efficient peer-to-peer data exchange and storage.
  • of the validation process of publications of scientific articles facilitated by the use of tokens.
  • news research funding methods facilitated by cryptocurrencies.

Blockchain tools used by DeSci

In an article published on the site of the American investment fund a16z (started by Andreessen Horowitz), Sarah Hamburg details the tools available. Here is a selection:

The Smart contracts or self-executing contracts

The neuroscientist points out that her counterparts spend a lot of time analyzing and validating the publications of their peers. AND, definitely, it is the scientific publications that make all the profits. To get around academic publishing, a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) called Ants review was created. Its operation is based on smart contracts (or “self-executing contracts”). These are autonomous programs, built on the Ethereum blockchain, which run automatically when predefined conditions are met. These may soon serve as mediate directly between authors and peer reviewersthat they would be rewarded with tokens for their work.

DeSci community with incentives

Digital tokens (tokens) and NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens) could be used to incentivize scientific communities to share, review and organize different types of information. These exchanges would take place in particular via secure exchange formats (“smart manuscripts” linking data and open source protocols). Could facilitate prepress (manuscripts published prior to peer review). These are essential for accelerating scientific research, as we saw during the COVID pandemic.

The permaweb to combat censorship

To avoid any political interference in scientific research, the solution could be permaweb. This is a “Immutable and decentralized network that puts power back into the hands of the masses“. In concrete terms, it is a blockchain-protected space where users, in this case scientists, can store their data and information permanently. These are accessible by anyone, at any time and only by persons who have received the authorization.

Blockchain financing

Various scientific DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) are exploring the multiple possibilities offered by blockchain to revolutionize research funding methods. Sarah Hamburg cites as an example:

  • Adaptation of public financing models such as quadratic funding and retroactive funding. To achieve this, they create platforms and protocols dedicated to science.
  • The use of DeFi protocols (decentralized finance or decentralized finance). They make it possible to establish sustainable and long-term funding for scientists.
  • Profits from the commercialization of scientific discoveries. But not only: for example by selling photos in NFT. The sale of a DNA sequencing or new molecule could help fund new research.

DeSci: real potential but rules to be put in place

While this DeSci movement is still in its infancy, the potential is clear. But this can only be done under certain conditions. Like a certain industry regulation (to avoid abuses in terms of commercialization of scientific discoveries). It will also be necessary to guarantee respect for ethical rules or find out how guarantee scientific quality. In the end, the community will also have to agree on the themes to be privileged in this DeSci. At the risk of getting lost on too many projects.

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