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:
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?
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.