Let's start by defining what DeSci is and why it is bringing life to scientific endeavors. Decentralized Science, or DeSci for short, is a rebellion that seeks to promote open access to scientific research through funding provided by Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, fair peer review, and various tools for distributed data storage. This goal is being achieved thanks to a multidisciplinary effort involving web3 tools.
Science, needing to be precise, becomes inefficient, biased, and manipulable under the rules and regulations imposed by funding institutions. This makes access to information and data from such research difficult. Publishers take ownership of the intellectual property of researchers, charge very high fees for publication, and for access by the public. Additionally, some of the data required for reproducibility and replicability are either unavailable or utterly ineffective.
And you might wonder, how does the lack of these two elements affect scientific research?
When you conduct a research study, you follow a method that allows your team to reproduce results multiple times using that methodology. The fact that it is well described allows a different research group to obtain those results by following your method. This constitutes the basis of a reliable scientific discovery. The problem arises when this data is controlled by small, closed, and centralized groups that play with the transparency of intellectual property.
Limited access to data has led to a revolution in the way science is conducted through web3, which provides storage tools that each network participant can access, modify, and validate every result on that network. An example is the generation of a hash for each file uploaded to the network, allowing tracking of even the slightest change in information or location since each hash is unique and available for verification by anyone who needs it.
Now let's address the most common fears presented by the scientific community when talking about the decentralization of science. Why would someone want to help me with my non-profit research? And what will happen to funding, as publishers tell me what to do but they give me money? What about the most sensitive information? Genetic information, vulnerable populations, diseases, etc. Don’t worry, there is an answer to this, and as mentioned before, being a multidisciplinary movement, many people are working to improve this situation.
In conventional science, the support of your research depends on the decision of a group of people, making the process very slow, and often biased in selection. Chosen works tend to have poor results, are of poor quality, and do not meet the important characteristics of replicability and reproducibility. This leads the community into an arms race where only the most experienced have the possibility of accessing the funds required for their research, putting those who are new to the scientific research world at a disadvantage.
On web3, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) are being created, allowing researchers to obtain financing for their projects. This alternative model is gaining momentum, and examples include biotechnology-focused organizations that direct and record member activity through blockchain. Existing DAOs have restored dignity to scientific endeavors. To mention a few examples, DAOs that have generated an IP-NFT (Intellectual Property Non-Fungible Token) include: VitaDAO, focused on longevity research; ValleyDAO for synthetic biology and climate change; and AthenaDAO for women's health, which recently held its second IP-NFT transfer ceremony focused on the role of the integrated stress response pathway in ovarian aging.
Protection of Data
If an article published on a decentralized platform has open access, how are scientific data containing confidential information protected from misuse? On web3, the goal is for the system operating with the data to be accessible by any decentralized organization that has the verifiable credentials or permissions for its use. In this way, those on that record are trustworthy and can safely use sensitive data, replicate it, avoid censorship, reproduce results, and collaborate to modify data.
The emergence of DeSci is addressing needs that have long hindered scientific research, and this effort is being achieved thanks to the use of blockchain tools that create shared and decentralized properties. The use of smart contracts, communities incentivized by tokens/NFTs, censorship resistance, blockchain-based funding models, verifiable reputation, and the creation of intellectual properties all contribute to solving problems such as the replicability of works. It offers the community the ability to track data from a particular research study, ensuring that the published information is real and reliable, and that there is a consensus providing the community with security against discrimination and bias.
DeSci is undoubtedly a humanitarian, innovative project with no personal agendas, aiming to generate intellectual assets for both scientists and the beneficiaries to whom the research is directed. It is a movement that makes great transdisciplinary efforts with the use of technology.
The DAO Community. Nat Biotechnol 41, 1357 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587-023-02005-1
Hamburg, S. (2022, February 9). A guide to DeSci, the latest Web3 movement. A16z Crypto. https://a16zcrypto.com/posts/article/what-is-decentralized-science-aka-desci/
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Koellinger, P. (2023, octubre 27). We need to decentralize science. Blockworks. https://blockworks.co/news/decentralize-science-research-data