Being a scientist you often see the trendy words “Open Science” and hear something about its benefits. OpSci promises transparency, equity, quick access to information, collaboration, and resources. OpSci lovers say it will make research faster, more effective, and more agile. Is it really so? If not exactly, then why, and what is to be done about it?
Open Science is a number of practices
OpSci emerged several decades ago as an antidote to the traditional science model which did not meet the challenges of the time. It appeared to be too slow and hierarchic. Scientists all over the world discovered they need a more democratic environment, and began to build it up by means of the Internet.
In general, the main thing about OpSci is that you can make your research open by yourself. As a scientist, you want to be transparent to other researchers in your community. Therefore, you can follow several practical principles and share them with other OpSci lovers. People in the OpSci community are motivated by their eagerness to serve the public good, even if it does not give them immediate benefits. That is because they share common values and understand that on a long-distance run, such behavior will bring them more.
Sounds good? Let’s see how these principles show themselves in practice.
Principle 1: Preregistration
Expectation: You publish your research plan before conducting your research. Your plan may include research questions, hypotheses, various methodological details, first experiments, descriptions of some data, etc. You do so to motivate other scientists in the field to question your methods and goals, your formulation of the problem, and the supposed methods and ways of conducting the research. Thus, you can avoid mistakes in the early study of your path, and save money, time, and effort.
Reality: You open your research, but it is not enough. Nobody wants to discuss your research and correct your mistakes, because they simply don’t know it exists. Besides, experts have no motivation to do it in their free time, and even if it will be, they have no reliable tools and spaces for that.
Principle 2: Open data and code
Expectation: You make your data and code open if it is possible. You desire that other scientists could test your research on reproducibility. You kinda say: “Take my data and do your own research: will you get the same?”
Reality: Nobody can download your data, because different users are comfortable with different data formats. Other researchers can not reproduce anything because of the difference in methodologies by which data is received. Various systematic mistakes pop up and add to the complete mess. Pretty damn hilarious!
Principle 3: Accessible preprints
Expectation: You publish your pre-print on an open source and make it accessible to everybody. People see you are the first. And you also solve the problem of replicability: ”Take my findings and apply them to your own data: will you repeat what I have got?”
Reality: People steal your ideas. Or (which may be even worse) quote your preprint before your final publication. So, the world sees your intermediate, unfinished, imperfect results. And your h-index doesn’t grow when preprints are quoted. Besides, a preprint has few chances to be published as a final paper, so we just can not tell if it was serious research or some trash.
Principle 4: Accessible resources
Expectation: You make all the resources you use accessible to other members of the community. These may include servers and software, educational resources, and other goods. Crowdfunding can also be a part of the process.
Reality: Paywalls and statuswalls for those who have no affiliations. And again: nobody is really incentivized to crowdfund your research. Why would they?
Principle 5: Speaking up
Expectation: You collaborate, communicate, and share information not only with other scientists but also with the general public and media. Thus, you communicate your research beyond the traditional scientific community, speak and assess its vitality, adjust your further goals, etc. The general public becomes more educated and mindful.
Reality: Media people just can’t tell good research from bunk science, they don’t know why a preprint is not an article, and how to interpret your results, so they go on speculating and hyping.
The picture below shows what values the OpSci lovers share, and what goals they strive to achieve.
Source: UNESCO recommendation on Open Science
So, Open Science is a research framework in which you follow specific principles and strive to achieve common goals — but too often they appear to be unreal because of the very nature of human society. Is it sad? Yeah, no doubt.
What are the problems of OpSci?
There is only one: it doesn’t bear any necessity. It is all about goodwill and enthusiasm.
That is why it doesn’t work as we would like it to. And that is why wonderful as it might be, the OpSci environment has not been able to conquer the traditional system through all these decades. It continues to exist in a parallel universe and does a lot, but not enough, to make the science world a better place.
Moreover, years of the OpSci practices resulted in a sort of inflation of scientific publication in open access, which made traditional scientific journals demand high payments for the authors to be published ($11000 in Nature).
OpSci did its best to pose the question of the democratization of science, but it had no power and no means to really democratize it.
But the solution is coming to boost up the OpSci ideas and to make it really effective. This solution is called — Decentralized science, or DeSci.
What does Web3 bring to OpSci?
DeSci emerged when Web3 tools arrived to support the principles of Open Science. Web3 brings new and more powerful mechanisms to incentivize the members of scientific communities to do all these aforementioned good things. Now you can not only participate, but also benefit.
What mechanisms are these?
With it, you can distribute ownership of the project among all members of your community. Thus, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are created. They have no central government, and their rules are written in smart contracts that are followed automatically. That guarantees fair resource distribution inside DAO.
They incentivize people in the community to read and assess research, to peer-review it, vote for it, crowdfund, or directly fund it (here we write about the DeSci technologies in more detail). There is both financial and reputation economics in DAOs which provides full-cycle work inside it. Some tokens can be exchanged and you get real money for your commitment.
An NFT (non-fungible token) is a cryptography certificate of any digital object. In DeSci, it can be used to confirm your ownership or use of any object, e.g. the result of the research, and in many other ways.
All in all, Web3 tools give the OpSci principles real leverage to conquer the traditional mechanisms of reputation growth, research conducting, its funding, and publication. It gives “the base” to “the superstructure” of the OpSci practices and ideas. Open Science is a number of practices and principles organized in an ideology. Decentralized Science is an economics and, prospectively, an effective and sustainable biosystem of science.
How can an OpSci lover benefit from DeSci?
Now we return to the beginning and see how all the OpSci points turn into real benefits in the DeSci environment.
- Preregistration. DAO’s smart contract may include the point that when you publish your research plan and make it visible to all community members you get tokens for it. That may be “reputational” tokens which are similar to the h-index in the world of traditional science, or voting tokens which are like equities in traditional corporations. Other members of the community also get tokens for reviewing your research plan and commenting on it. Thus you are encouraged to use mechanisms that help the community correct your research at the early stage.
- Open data and code. Smart contracts, IP NFT, timestamps and immutability of public blockchains allow your intellectual property to remain safe and accessible at the same time. Moreover, every commitment is incentivized. In a traditional world, if you code for some medical research, you may not take part in IP. Here, you surely will.
- Accessible preprints. The same is with your preprints. No more conflicts of interest, and no choice between being “solid” and “open”.
- Accessible resources. Besides crowdfunding, there are several mechanisms of financing research in the DeSci environment, and there are fewer barriers to getting it (especially in terms of status of traditional h-index).
- Speaking up. Collaboration and communication with the community and between the communities are way easier in a Web3 world. Media and investors are already interested in DAOs, though most of them are still in their childhood; there are many projects financed and loud transactions made. Media gets already evaluated ideas and more evidence-based results, because they are reviewed thoroughly. That is why there are less chances to speculate.
Summing up everything, if you are an Open Science enthusiast, you will likely be fascinated with DeSci possibilities. Try entering this world, and you will see!
We thank ETH.TLV conference, the DeSci meetup, and personally Michael Fischer, founder of DB DAO. We also recommend you read the book Michael advised in his lecture: Michael Nielsen. Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science. This book argues for the benefits of applying the philosophy of OpSci to research.
PS We have written a brief DeSci FAQ for those not familiar with blockchain and other Web3 instruments. See here.
More from Jocelyn DAO
Decentralized Research Initiatives. Independent review of study proposals (your vote is valued). Space to report & protect your voice. DAO on GOSH #Web3https://medium.com/@phs_dao/open-science-and-desci-same-goal-different-means-91bd7d47d3a