How Blockchains Could Fix Science

in steemstem •  8 months ago

blockchain-science.jpg

I began this series by saying: I have a dream for science on Steem. If you haven’t already guessed by now, my dream is for a decentralised, blockchain-based, scientific journal run democratically by scientists for scientists with the profits going back into science. It would have no paywall and everyone would be rewarded for their input, from the scientists submitting work to the scientists reviewing it both before and after publication.

Science is badly broken in a way that blockchains are perfectly designed to fix. Science is now a minefield of paywalled journals that are inaccessible to most of the world’s researchers. Even those scientists lucky enough to be at universities that can shoulder multimillion-dollar per annum journal costs are stuck fussing around with paywalls whenever they need to look up a reference, rather than simply clicking on hyperlinks to the relevant graph, chart, dataset, study or line in a page, as the rest of the world has ever since the conception of the internet.

Science needs to last forever, but right now much of it gets lost “in the filedrawer” or in a digital graveyard of derelict institutional repositories and journals with hiked prices that the public will never see and universities can no longer afford.

I recently interviewed a senior librarian in the collections and acquisitions department at my old university library, which happens to be a very wealthy western university. This is what they had to say about their journal offering:
We’re diligent about weeding out and getting rid of content.PNG
For scientists, that “dead wood” could be your paper of today in a few years time if you’re publishing within paywalled journals. If this is you, it’s time to seriously ask yourself if you want to place your life’s work in a system this precarious.

Every day, when science get published in these journals, scientists are effectively locking millions of dollars worth of publicly funded work up in the hands of private profiteers and throwing away the key. After fellow volunteer researchers have reviewed and edited the work for free, the private companies that own these journals then charge the same universities that spent millions of dollars creating the work, millions of dollars a year for access to it and if they can't afford access their researchers must resort to piracy just to do their jobs, as is now the case for huge swathes of the world's researchers from Russia to Europe. It’s the greatest scam ever conceived.

Typically, the money for-profit journals earn doesn’t make it back into science. Instead, it goes into the pockets of companies which have profit margins that make even top tech CEO's eyes water. No, I'm not exaggerating. We're talking 40%+ annual profits off work towards which the journal contributed nothing and gives back nothing, they merely happen to own the rights to the titles of journals that researchers believe they need to get on their CV if they want tenure.

All of this is toxic for scientific progress. Within science, everyone wants change, but no one has figured out how to do it. Blockchains might just be the solution.

On a blockchain, study data can be stored permanently, cryptographically and verifiably, preventing data from being lost after publication. Changes to data or study protocols can be tracked in an immutable trail made from study conception, through review and into publication. Blockchains could allow work to be peer-reviewed anonymously, as is currently the case, but also enable those reviews to be rewarded, an incentive that is currently missing resulting in papers often waiting for months before being reviewed, holding back science for years. If reviewers were rewarded it would incentivise cooperation and could help speed up scientific progress.

If the idea that blockchains will make inroads into serious scientific communication sounds unrealistic to you then you're not paying attention. I’m not the first person to suggest this. If you’re sceptical, a good critical take is a recent article in Nature by Andy Extance. One ambitious early stage project to keep an eye on us is Scienceroot:

While this concept is beginning to be discussed in wider and wider circles, the Steem blockchain is the only blockchain so far to make anything similar already actually work in the wild. For example, take a look at Utopian.io - a platform running on the Steem blockchain that’s already serving a similar function for the open source software development community:

I’m keen to work with anyone who wants to make this happen for science and I’ll be sure to cover the progress of all developments that are made in this area on this Steemit blog.

While a journal platform could still be a few years away, in the meantime, I'll soon be launching the world's first peer-reviewed blockchain-based blog. This will be aimed at researchers who have something important to say to the wider world but don't have the time to build a personal public-facing blog following of their own, a process that is not only challenging, but can take years. Publishing will not only free, but paid.

Contributions will be open to academics in all fields from climate scientists to neuroscientists. All submissions will be reviewed by carefully selected experts in the same field and all profits will be divided between the author, the reviewers and the editor. This isn't going to be a journal but it isn't going to be any old blog either. It's going to be a free and open, peer-reviewed space for important scientific conversations that warrant discussion on a shorter timeline, with more openness to the wider community and with less formality than journals can offer.

Posts will follow the rule that all data cited must be published openly, unless there are privacy or ethical implications that prevent doing so. The blog can also serve as a public record for promoting important negative results that would otherwise languish in the filedrawer, unwanted by top journals, but equally valuable to science.

If you’d be interested in either contributing or reviewing, get in touch. Contributions don’t have to be long, but they don’t have to be short either and you are free to embed images and video. As soon as I have enough contributions to get the ball rolling, I’ll launch the blog here on Steemit. Don’t expect to earn a fortune publishing on it, but I have high hopes that the community here will value, support and reward it. Something is better than nothing and you could go down in history as the first scientist to publish a peer-reviewed publication on a blockchain! So don’t wait around, if you have data or thoughts that the world needs to see, start writing.

Perhaps one day, publications published on blockchains will take over from the role of papers published in privately owned, paywalled scientific journals entirely. We can dream, or perhaps together we can make that dream a reality.

That’s my dream folks, who’s with me?

PART 1: I Have a Dream for Science on Steem
PART 2: What Is Steem and Why Do I Think It Could Be Revolutionary?
PART 3: Why Science Blogging Needs Saving
PART 4: How Blockchains Could Fix Science

You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to weekly email updates on my posts.

Full Disclosure: I’ve made what seems to be ballooning into a substantial investment in Steem Power so I can help encourage and reward the best science content on here and earn curation rewards for myself in the process. I’ll be using some of that investment to promote this series however that’s something I won’t be doing in future. I’m going to promote each post a few hours after it’s released to give you hard working science curators out there a good shot at the curation rewards. If that was gobbledegook to you, then read this post where I explain how this all works.

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What you say is probably right, but slightly too general. I don't know whether you have information on what is going on in particle physics. But to summarize:

  • we have the arxiv platform where articles are posted before even being submitted to journals.
  • all our major journals are open access thanks to the scoap3 initiative mainly driven by CERN.
  • We even have the scipost platform that is an open access journal where everything is open, including the peer-reviewing.

Those examples should serve to other fields. In particular the last one. So much money is spent for these publishers... I am not so sure about what a blockchain could bring on top of something like scipost, but I am more than happy to read ideas :)

Don't hesitate to contact me on discord if you want to discuss further! This is a topic very important to me. I could tell what I do, but I guess this is not the place :)

[upvoted for visibility]

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When I think about blockchains, the major strengths they have over other networked data sources are decentralization, cryptographic verification, and (depending on the tech) anonymity and smart contracts.

There's a lot to be said for decentralization as a 'probably a better idea than letting Elsevier run the show', but it's kind of vague in my head still. The examples you point out from your own field solve a lot of that pain point without a blockchain, albeit not completely. (I feel I must note I have serious discipline envy, my field's leading journal finally said that arxiv-like prepints don't count as prior pub.)

The big thing for me are smart contracts. I keep returning to the idea that there's eventually going to be more public support of science and it's going to be directly, democratically funded through these. Not as a replacement to grants, SBIRs, etc, but as an additional cool source.

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I am not sure anonymity is mandatory here. Actually, it is more the opposite: we need to know who writes what, potentially including the referee reports too. These reports should be public for sure. I am however not too sure about releasing the name of the referee. That is maybe the only place where anonymity may be necessary.

The grant issue is important as well, but this is not connected to publications. Although if I would be a funding agency, I would impose everyone to publish in open-access journals. Science should be freely accessible to anyone. Period. No discussion. :D

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Oh yeah, I was a little unclear there. I think anonymity is a strength of some blockchain technologies. I don't think it's a strength relevant to a science-blockchain.

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Anonymity could serve in reviewing papers without being biased knowing who and where made the research.

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That is impossible in my field. We always know authors as every single paper is posted on the arxiv before being submitted to a journal :D

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Bias in physics may be not that important, but with social sciences it can be pretty strong. I know that the best papers have this system of review, that the reviewers don't know in which country the experiment took place, who conducted it etc, they also don't know other reviewers. The other big problem is publishing papers that PROVED something and not publishing the ones that didn't prove anything extraordinary, which also distorts the overview of the field. So I heard the best journals 'order' the research and is going to publish it regardless of the results. I don´t know how spread are those kind of practices, but this is a way to make (social) sciences better and more accurate. Blockchain could be a mediator in that for sure.

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Unfortunately, I can't speak for social sciences, for obvious reasons. Having everything public (papers + reviews) may be good, IMO, regardless the field. At least, this will remove some biases.

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I think the main thing the blockchain can bring is not necessarily financial, but social. It would be difficult without primary and centralised investors to consistently fund projects, but as a little extra side incentive for the individuals - a big deal in poorer countries where they depend on sci-hub just to get the citations they need, for example - by encouraging them to simplify and popularize their content in a social media environment.

The problem I see as it stands is that people are becoming alienated to science because it's just not accessible to the regular layman. A bunch of equations come along and people have already moved on to the next pop-sci video about how avocados can revolutionise the car industry.

If scientists are incentivised to make their personal work more appealing to the masses, it could really pave the way to a more informed society, and I think blockchaining is the best way to do that. Not sure how with the details yet... still working on that

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I think you actually mix two things here. You have scientific research on the one hand, that may be cryptic for anyone external to a given field, and communicating about it (that could go through a social medium). What is true is that scientists are very bad with communication. Very few actually communicate at all with the general public, and this is a real problem. I am belonging to a class of people who really think that this is a part of our jobs. This is also the reason why I write a post on steem about most of my papers (without any single equation;) ). I am trying to convince others (from my field) to do it, start blogging, etc... but this takes time. In my case, it is true that I may publish one paper less every year. But I think the counterpart is worthy.

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You are one of the good guys =D

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Thanks :D

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Upvoted because I can

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Yeah, we know! :P

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:p

Agreed:) Blockchain could both makes science data more accessible, and could also be used to monetize the data, to help fund science projects, via the token and crowdfunding, for example to donate Steem or upvote a project.

I'll soon be launching the world's first peer-reviewed blockchain-based blog.

Interesting. So will review happen publicly? In other words, the author posts a draft of the blog and solicits feedback. Or will review be done behind the scenes and then released alongside the final post?

all profits will be divided between the author, the reviewers and the editor

Nice! You could use Steem's beneficiaries feature to achieve the payout in a trust-minimizing fashion.

Posts will follow the rule that all data cited must be published openly, unless there are privacy or ethical implications that prevent doing so.

Most data will not be usable, if you adopt a rigorous definition of open. But I like this bold policy to see how the world of purely open data is maturing.

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I have a lot of thoughts on this that I want to put together in a proper post, but I'll be consulting lots of researchers like yourself before making any firm decisions. Would be great to hear more of your thoughts on this!

Nikola-Tesla-Quotes-with-Photos.jpg

As a non-academic researcher, the paywalls behind most journals is quite an annoyance. The community has moved more towards open access in the past couple of years and hopefully your efforts speed things along.

blockchain brings the creative industry, from journalism to music, and we will see how many of the companies are contributing to the evolution of society with blockchain.
blockchain will create applications that, as happened with the internet, will also change our lives. There are many who synthesize the revolutionary character of blockchain in the field of finance, comparing it with the effects produced by the network in the information sector. Blockchain is the second generation of the internet.

This is simply just brilliant
A sort of blockchain library would serve way more purposes than one. It's an awesome idea, I would love if the community could bring this to life.

The blockchain technology could be utilized to fight suppression of information and therefore serve true justice and freedom. Just imagine what this world would look like if Nikola Tesla and so many other great scientists had access to an account on some blockchain based social media website before passing.

Let's hope this will be the case for future bright minds.

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I couldnt agree more to this.

Actually had goosebumps reading thru the post. Eversince i graduated from univeristy and had no access to science journals (my user and pass to science direct expires after graduation)...its always been a struggle to find peer reviewed journals 😭

Your ideas seems huge but yet feasible, all we need to do is consistently keep this platform growing, through quality post and seemless interactions.

Perhaps one day, publications published on blockchains will take over from the role of papers published in privately owned, paywalled scientific journals entirely. We can dream, or perhaps together we can make that dream a reality.

Yes, at current exponential growth, it is people. More people are adopting technology especially blockchains due to its offer of decentralization. We can achieve this as you inferred but even if its a dream, it's within our reach.👍

I go off by quoting john lennon, "you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"😁😁

Great post as usual... I'm one of the lucky few to have read all your works.

I love your ideas here. Even before this blockchain phenomenon, I thought that education could be spread more democratically through the internet (not exactly your focus, but closely related I think), especially in a world where public education is being purposely starved for resources and higher education is becoming purposely unaffordable, except for the super rich.

A few years back, I made a few simple YouTube videos to test that concept, and although I've had hundreds of thousands of views, I've never made a dime. Education should be affordable, and even free when possible, as the entire world benefits from a more educated populace (except for those who profit from wrangling stoooopid sheeple, I suppose). But for it to be a viable system, those providing education must be able to receive something for their work too. We all gotta eat, right?

So, I'll be watching your progress with great interest. I'm very new to this Steemit/Blockchain/Crypto world, but it seems that I've gotten involved early. Maybe not the ground floor, but at least at a level low enough that I don't mind taking the stairs…that'll do for me!

One question I have though is about long term earnings for content makers. Are there long term residual earnings, or are earnings closed after 7 days? It seems that it is bad form to boost or promote posts after 3.5 days and then the system says that earning are paid after 7 days. But what happens after that? Let's say you publish a book through Steemit…would you only earn during those initial 7 days? Anyone who could enlighten me a bit on that would be much appreciated.

Thanks again, Simon. I look forward to watching your project progress!

I really like this idea, and I know of a couple of smaller universities that can't afford the fees for journal databases and are making the decision to stop payments on any that are not used by many different researchers.

This is a huge problem, and one that is great for blockchain, but it is not the largest challenge to science. In my opinion the largest problem is the teaching of science to the youngest of us, and teach that the limitation of scientific learning is exactly the its strength. If you can't develop a test that will disprove the theory, it is no longer science.

Having a truly open and distributed journal system is a great first step for those that are working diligently to make the world better for everyone; however it will do little to teach the layperson the importance of that work.

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Great point! This is where the second part of the idea comes in. The peer-reviewed blog part of the project will be aimed at a broader audience and posts will be designed to be as accessible as possible, so hopefully, it will help serve to educate the wider public about science.

Well said, and I share your vision. I've already published several short papers as posts. I'm retired, they were on backup disks, and otherwise would never have been available to anyone.

I’m with you man, happy to be a guinea pig if needs be.

I spend a considerable amount of time reviewing social science papers for the journal Vaccine. I do it because ultimately it makes me a better researcher and writer, but it would be nice to have something to show for what is often hours of careful cognitively demanding work. I also have a paper I’m planning on resubmitting for the third time now, methodologically fine (imo) but not that exciting. If it gets batted back again there’s a good chance it’ll be file drawed, so this could be a possibility (not that I want to dump off my rejects that is!).

I’ll send you a confirmation email and link you to my work profile.

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That's great to hear. Promoting people's understanding of the importance of vaccines is a subject that's close to my heart too, its so important people are properly informed based on reliable evidence in this area. It's a perfect subject for a project like this! Will look forward to your email.

it seems that this idea is so unprofitable for huge corporations that it will be silenced for a long time. all is important only the commercial part, but we will fight with you!

It is really sad to hear about the current situation of scientific journals. I do believe in science. It is science that made possible the world we see today. People and organisations that have nothing to do with any research done by hard working science enthusiasts, making loads of money is unacceptable.

Hope your dream come true asap. We can work together to change the modus operandi. All the best!

I think the blockchain and I will be eagerly following along. I have a theory about the human visual system I will write a blog post and see if I can get some professional opinions. I come at this as an artist and I hope that as you said in you previous post that it will be a great forum for non scientists to get involved.

Really sad how rotten the whole thing is right now.I do hope that blockchain will be revolutionary and will change a lot of things.But this process wont be lightning fast for sure.It will propably take quite a bit of time.Really interesting thoughts as always🤓

You know, I think your idea will be huge.
Although Steemit is a great place for a scientist to publish their work, get paid and still preserve 100% of the rights for their research, it also requires so much time to grow within the community. They would need to dedicate so much time writing articles pretty much on a daily basis as well as interacting with the people around here, and to be honest, I prefer they weren't wasting their time on that but on their own investigations.

I can't wait to see when this project takes off! Best of success.
This is the kind of things Steemit should base its foundations on.

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This is a very good point that demonstrates exactly why it would be useful to have a shared account for scientists to submit high-quality articles through. I hope that this account will garner enough followers that everything it publishes will be fairly rewarded.

It's also worth remembering that scientists are currently paid nothing for work they publish, indeed they frequently pay fees to publish work, so anything earned here will be a bonus. It will be especially valuable for scientists doing outreach work into the wider community where researchers currently struggle to get their voices heard.

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Yes indeed!

Entertainment makes this much money nowadays because masses are into it. Could you imagine a world where it's science what everyone adores to the point that scientist were treated just like movie stars?

Such an amazing dream.

Blockchain can't fix science, but Science can fix blockchain. Otherway around, blockchain technology is a product of science/ Technology. The scientists are still working to improve it and being modifications. It would not be wrong if we say that the incumbent blockchain technology is like the old computers back in 1930's and it needs alot of RnD.
I expect that blockchain technology will reach to a mature phase in next 3-5 years time. At the moment it is in the emerging phase.

That is a tall order. Science is huge, and the blockchain is just a piece of it. Now if you could stop the anti-vaxxers, that would be impressive.

Hii..your ideas are great., good article.

All it depends who is doing that science.
I mean if the community is the same then it wouldn't change anything
Most of the academic community is completely retarded

good post...but make it short

I think the main thing the blockchain can bring is not necessarily financial, but social. It would be difficult without primary and centralised investors to consistently fund projects, but as a little extra side incentive for the individuals - a big deal in poorer countries where they depend on sci-hub just to get the citations they need, for example - by encouraging them to simplify and popularize their content in

I agree with this post! Science is a very important thing on Earth. Blockchains can help! I am with you Mr. @Simoxenham!

Blockchain can't fix science, but Science can fix blockchain. Otherway around, blockchain technology is a product of science/ Technology. The scientists are still working to improve it and being modifications. It would not be wrong if we say that the incumbent blockchain technology is like the old computers back in 1930's and it needs alot of RnD.
I expect that blockchain technology will reach to a mature phase in next 3-5 years time. At the moment it is in the emerging phase.

Good and very important post Thanks for upvote for me Brother 😁🤩

Important post. Thanks for sharing this.

Very timely information, thanks

Again visiting your space and it is nice to get up with this kind of content.

I appreciate each line since they take years to meditate on this matter from observing the behavior of the world around us.

I support your position and in effect the blockchain presents us with the paradigm that can solve our current situation, with the sole purpose that tomorrow is a better world.

Since we will be better the more we advance intellectually causing better conditions for society in general, and contrary to what many think that we will be better the more money there in circulation. However, it would be unreal to recognize the value of money, since with it is a means by which we develop our life.

So with the current panaroma the blockchain would put things in their proper place; I hope that this initiative is maintained, it is viral and I managed to make our world

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Have you ever heard of the Lunyr? It's an open source peer review Wikipedia on the ethereum blockchain. It might be even more suitable for your endeavor than steemit. The just started in open beta and the founder Team seems open towards the idea to challenge peer reviewed journals. (I asked this question a few months ago on reddit https://www.google.de/amp/s/amp.reddit.com/r/Lunyr/comments/6p1e51/might_lunyr_be_able_to_shake_up_scientific/)
Perhaps you can reach out to them. Best of luck. I followed you now and will pay close attention on what might come, I am in the beginning of my PhD and really don't want my research work only helping CEOs to get richer.

I like the idea of open journals. They should at least open up after a certain amount of time (say 10 years) so they don't rot on a digital shelf somewhere.