Allowing access to knowledge to all researchers has always been a significant struggle. The fight for Open Science, a movement to make scientific research and its dissemination accessible to all levels of society, amateur or professional, has been ongoing for years.
Some public figures have emerged in the past years, trying to lead the movement, such as Alexandra Elbakyan, that has created Sci-hub, a website permitting to bypass paywall, making research papers accessible to the mass. I can also think of Aaron Swartz, an MIT student that fought this industry of research papers' resellers by illegally uploading millions of articles online.
Unfortunately, the intermediaries, which we could compare to modern mafias, are fighting hard not to lose their position in the scientific industry.
Alexandra is now in Russia, facing multiple trials, and Aaron has been pursued by the FBI and killed himself under pressure.
These icons have pushed forward a whole movement but can't fight alone against such powerful institutions. For DeSci to reach a whole new dimension, there's a need to have fundamental changes in approaching the problems. Through DAOs, Social Tokens, and NFTs, Crypto seems to be a viable solution to explore.
1 - The problems researchers are facing today…
Before jumping into the potential solutions crypto might help with, it's crucial to understand the current situation and the processes that researchers are going through today, helping understand the problems they're facing better.
Today, most research papers, once finished, are going through a proofread mechanism organized by private companies, as researchers need volunteers to evaluate the quality of their work, the methodology etc.. Scientists send their drafts to editors (Elsevier being the more famous - with a profit of 3 billion in 2017), that take care of sending these drafts to other (volunteer) scientists and publishing them once done.
The process seems fair, you might think. Scientists end up with a better article and don't lose time finding volunteers. Well, not exactly…
Editors are not doing that for free and are publishing the research papers behind a paywall. Concretely, that means they receive new articles for free, make them proofread by volunteers (again, for free), and end up publishing them on their platform, making other scientists pay to access the paper.
The problem is that the scientists writing papers are being paid by public money, volunteers scientists as well, and scientists wanting to pay to access the newly released research papers are doing it with public money (our taxes). The government is paying three times for a research paper, while private companies take this money and profit.
What's even more problematic is that, with less government budget for research, scientists end up not being able to pay to access these new research papers, and the whole situation limits innovation and progress.
I think it should be an affair of State. Everyone should be outraged by the situation and join the DeSci movement. Sadly, most people aren't aware of these processes, and it demands a lot to raise the awareness of a mainstream crowd.
2 - …And why they can't escape them.
Unfortunately, given the current context of this whole system, scientists can't do much to boycott these editors.
The reason being scientists are struggling to get funded and have to think about their careers.
In the life of a researcher, publishing essays in publications such as Nature or Science is critical. Some journals beings more prestigious than others, researchers fight to get a paper released on one of those, often resulting in promotions, better jobs, and honors.
This hierarchy between the publications, and the fact that researchers worldwide are all competing for the same publications, has an enormous impact on the research world and causes mainly three problems.
First, as every researcher is trying to publish in those publications, they make their results a bit "sexier" for their career. As these publications only highlight the most impressive results, and scientists' careers depend on these publications, they are biased to manipulate some of their results.
Second, those publications mainly want to publish impressive discoveries. This system disincentives scientists to do further research on past experiences, as there are often much fewer merits attributed to the second discovering things and have less chance to be published.
Third, this system results in researchers rarely publishing failed experiences, which is extremely important for other researchers to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
This system continues to happen for the sake of scientists' careers. And we can't blame them. When recruiters are looking to hire, the first thing they do is to check the "Impact Factor," a measure of the frequency with which the average article in a journal has been cited in a particular year, of a scientist on Scopus.
The whole system is unfair because incentives are misaligned.
Researchers depend on those publications similar to that creators depend on social platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. This system gives scientists and researchers no choice but to continue using these intermediaries, as these publishers are selling prestige and have the power over the credibility and reputation of scientists.
This creates a situation where researchers who actually produce the content are underpaid and don't fully capture the value they are making. With this broken model, researchers don't have much choice but to continue to give out their papers for free.
As you can imagine, this model is unsustainable for everyone, and we need to give back scientists ownership over their content and ways to monetize it more efficiently.
3 - An DeSci Media DAO - the path to a new economy?
To overcome this situation, some solutions have already been explored, such as convincing thousands of scientists to run up against Elsevier's paywall, an effort that the community of researchers hasn't really respected, or creating new publications to compete with Nature or Science, but which struggle with the discoverability dilemma.
The real problem today is the lack of cohesion within the scientific community, and there's currently no solution to help them collaborate and make decisions together. Researchers face the prisoner's dilemma, where they know that if they don't play the game, some other will, resulting in a lose-lose situation.
To help the whole Open Science movement grow, researchers need to create a strong community with values, culture, and a space to coordinate.
It doesn't require technical skills, but social ones.
And this is why I think researchers would benefit from adopting Crypto and DAOs specifically.
Indeed, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, or DAOs for short, have proven to be an efficient structural model to create momentum around an ambitious project, gather a community worldwide quickly, and facilitate collaboration, with recent successful examples such as Constitution DAO or FreeRoss DAO.
DAOs are virtual places where people wanting to work toward the same goal decide to join forces to achieve high-ambition goals. Basically, a DAO is a group of people that leverage Web3 tools to create trusts, collaborate in a decentralized way, meaning with no proper hierarchy, and share governance power. This new model of organizations, compared to traditional companies, is open, global, and transparent.
Exactly what the researchers' community needs.
Through a Media DAO, the researchers' community could create a whole new economy that replaces the one created by publishers such as Elsevier. They could create a group to share the best resources, fund new projects and initiatives, or collaborate on research.
Through a Media DAO, researchers could create a publishing platform, where writers would get paid in community tokens ($NAME), the virtual currency of the DAO, created easily through Coinvise, for example. Writers would be incentivized to publish in the DAO rather than on traditional publishers as they would earn tokens and wouldn't give out their content for free anymore. Proofreaders would also be paid in community tokens and stop providing work for free as "volunteers."
You might wonder, ok, one would get paid in tokens to publish essays and help them with the operations of the DAO, but those tokens don't have any financial value, they are just virtual currencies created by a few people. And you would be wrong.
Any token can get a social value by having a Liquidity Pool. Liquidity Pools (or LPs) are pools where DAO leaders can bond their token with another crypto that already has financial value. Put simply, anyone can pool some community tokens with another crypto (providing liquidity) and facilitate trading by being willing to buy or sell a particular asset at any given time. By doing so, liquidity providers allow anyone to trade some crypto in exchange for the community token for a specific price, giving the community token ($NAME) a value.
With a token that has financial value and a DAO to facilitate collaboration, a whole new economy is possible.
Indeed, the Liquidity Pool (and therefore the token) could be funded since day one by crowdfunding through an NFT as it has already been done in the past, or by better monetizing researchers' articles, keeping their work under token-gated channels ( paywalls), and pushing back the money earned directly to the LP, making the value of the token grow.
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The latter would reward researchers more fairly by paying them and keeping only a tiny portion of the sales to fund the DAO.
The more researchers help the DAO grow or publish articles on the DAO's platform, the more tokens they earn and the more essays they can access. This is a win-win situation and a sustainable business model.
With a token gaining value over time, more researchers would be incentivized to post on the DAO's platform instead of current publishers, to get paid fairly for their work, creating a positive feedback loop. Ones would also be attracted by the possibility to access token-gated articles in exchange for their time and effort, not money.
Actually, many Media DAOs are already thriving with this exact model in place. I can think of Global Coin Research, a decentralized community of learners and investors in Web3 (join the community here) that pay writers in $GCR when they publish on their platform, or BanklessDAO, a DAO that acts as a steward of the Bankless Movement progressing the world towards a future of greater freedom, also paying writers and contributors helping the DAO grow.
4 - Leveraging Web3 tools to foster collaboration
More than creating a DAO for the new structural model it allows, the researchers' community could also leverage all the Web3 tools at their disposal to make their organization work better and more efficiently.
The community could, for example, create a proper treasury to fund initiatives and provide grants. While extremely complicated to do so with people worldwide that you don't know, DAO's members could create a Multi-signature Wallet using Gnosis safe to ensure trust. A multi-sig is a crypto wallet that allows you to manage your community crypto assets (tokens), with the option to require a predefined number of signatures to confirm transactions. As it is necessary to have multiple team members to execute every transaction, it prevents unauthorized access to the funds in this wallet. No one can leave with all the money as it would require the authorization of the majority of other members.
Contributors in charge of distributing the tokens would also provide voting power proportional to the number of tokens they hold, meaning proportional to the value they've brought to the community, allowing the most engaged researchers to vote on future strategic decisions. 1 token = 1 vote. Thanks to tools like Snapshot, it's fairly easy to implement such a voting system and makes the whole process trustworthy and scalable.
Finally, researchers being part of the DAO could create a more efficient reputation system by using tokens as a reputation score. The more engaged members have been (by publishing essays or helping DAO operations), the more tokens they hold, and therefore, the more skin in the game they have. It's pretty easy to measure participation in DAO thanks to tools like SourceCred, and even incentivize collaboration through Coordinape or by implementing a tipping system with Collab.land.
The possibilities are almost endless, and the power of a DAO to foster a community worldwide is yet to be discovered. To accomplish their high-ambition goal of bypassing the current industry of research papers' resellers, scientists, and Open Science believers will need strong community leaders to pave the way and create the infrastructure for others to join the movement.
As seen in this essay, a DeSci DAO would create an entirely new economy and bypass the current intermediaries, organize a whole movement better, foster innovation, and facilitate collaboration between researchers worldwide through tokens.
Crypto mechanisms, Web3 tools, DAOs, and Tokens could result in solutions far beyond what the Open Science movement and Web 2.0 for science have achieved in the last decades.