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Blockchain Tools Can Democratize the Scientific Process

Photo: Coin Telegraph

Scientists can now leverage blockchain tools, such as smart contracts and tokens to improve collaboration in scientific endeavors between different stakeholders through the decentralized science movement, DeSci, for short. It combines blockchain and Web3 technologies, improving scientific research. 

DeSci aims for broader participation and funding when approaching scientific challenges and democratizing the peer review process. Steve McCloskey, an alumnus of the first class of Nanoengineering at the University of California, San Diego, says that a few journals dominate the peer review process.

He adds that with DeSci, standards for research storage with the proof of existing technology can be created. Moreover, whereas on financial blockchains such as Bitcoin, transactions are verified by a network of miners, research could also be verified by participants in a blockchain network of scientists.

Decentralization of science

McCloskey believes that blockchain-based peer review ecosystems can be transparent, explaining, “They can lend credibility to research contributed by even pseudonymous participants. Scientists might, for instance, receive a stake or ‘reward”’ for participating, incentivizing a wider community to contribute.”

McCloskey continues that DeSci can make possible the development of platforms that empower more people to work with the “source code of matter,” as coined by Dr. Benjamin Bratton, at a fundamental level.

Democratizing science through decentralized science would allow for a new interface layer for a modern Scientific Revolution, McCloskey says.  

“The way to do this is to decentralize access to scientific pursuits — in short, to allow citizen-scientists a role,” McCloskey explains in his article.

He continues, “We saw this happen with computers, and we believe it could happen with science generally. At the beginning of the computer revolution, software was difficult to work with. Very few understood the rarified technologies, which, over time, became increasingly intuitive and simplified — thanks to different levels of abstraction — and therefore allowed more people to become valuable contributors. Some of the technologies that made this possible include Javascript and helpful packages developed to make coding more efficient. At a lower level of abstraction, there is a technology like WordPress that allows people who don’t understand software or coding to set up their website.”

Blockchain tech for science

McCloskey says that blockchain technology, such as tokens, NFTs, and metaverses, all have the potential to impact platform economics positively. He says it may work in favor of democraticizing access to scientific collaborations.

“When you think of platforms, you generally think of Uber or Airbnb, which are world-changing projects, in and of themselves,” McCloskey writes. “But, the economics of platforms is a very new field of research and is indeed even pushing game theory as an academic discipline forward. This process began with Bitcoin (BTC) and has only been furthered by Ethereum (ETH) and the dozens, if not hundreds, of other blockchains since.”

Web platforms and apps have historically tended to be centripetal in their process of value creation—meaning, the more they are used, the more value the platform developer realizes. 

Blockchain creates a more equitable arrangement where, with the increase of people participating in any given platform and the more adding value to the platform, the more they are getting back from the platform. 

Proponents say that decentralized science (DeSci) is different from an IP platform, where the more it is used, the more the platform benefits, and the value consolidates. With DeSci, the people who generate the value gain value in line with the value of their contribution. The more other researchers and scientists use it, etc., the more value they receive.

McCloskey emphasizes this, writing, “The impact that this can have on basic research in science and math and other kinds of things could be enormously important. DeSci is creating new ways of contributing and collaborating which were not possible until blockchain technology came along. If you have knowledge or understanding that is valuable intrinsically and as a component of a larger project (you might not even know what that project is), someone else may make use of your contribution, and you can be recognized for it, and earn residuals from that contribution on into the future.

NFTs will play a big role in the future of the metaverse, for it is through NFTs that scientific research could be securely transferred. Academia has already used NFTs. The University of California, Berkeley, for instance, auctioned off an NFT pegged to documents relating to the world of Nobel-prizewinning cancer researcher James Allison for more than $50,000. The U.S. Space Force, a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, began selling a series of NFTs featuring augmented-reality images of satellites and space iconography. Biology pioneer George Church’s company, Nebula Genomics, plans to sell an NFT of Church’s genome. Church is a geneticist at Harvard University in Cambridge and helped launch the Human Genome Project. There are burgeoning use cases for NFTs in science, and surely there will be more.”

Blockchain is a high resolution of sensing, indexing, and calculating value. McCloskey believes that the potential is there. The challenge now is with DeSci organizations to prove their merits, scientific quality, and effectiveness toward the improvement of the scientific process.

Opinions expressed by Coin Week contributors are their own.