DeSci Delights: Where Science and Crypto Collide
Crypto enthusiasts are passionate about discovering fresh use cases, which serve as the lifeblood of the crypto industry. With each market cycle, a new and promising vertical emerges, propelling both the market and the technology that underpins it. It's hardly surprising that people are continuously on the lookout for traditional sectors ripe for disruption through the application of blockchain technology, thereby ushering in a new era of prosperity. It's worth acknowledging that during bear markets, the most robust narratives are crafted in anticipation of the forthcoming bullish cycle, as soon as a hint of potential product-market fit arises. In this context, a new sector is currently emerging on the horizon: Decentralized Science (DeSci).
Before we praise a new sector, we must validate if the intersection of science and blockchain technology actually makes sense. To begin, our focus should be on addressing the challenges confronting scientific research today..
Most would agree that scientific research shall be a public good, and it probably is, however many researchers claim that the current scientific system is plagued by inefficiencies, lacks transparency and is under the control of a few major players: research institutions where most research and therapies originate from; publishers which have the power to decide what and when to publish; and big pharma companies that take the findings of academia and fully commercialize it being the biggest beneficiary. The current scientific landscape often prioritizes reputation at the expense of transparency and innovation. Albeit, the main challenges can be summarized as follows:
Publication Bias: Many scientific journals tend to favor the publication of positive or significant results over negative findings. This can lead to an inaccurate representation of the true state of knowledge.
Data Transparency: Researchers often keep their data and findings under wraps until they can publish them in prestigious journals, which can delay the dissemination of knowledge.
Poor Methodology: Some research findings are not easily replicable due to a lack of transparency in methodologies and data, leading to doubts about the reliability of scientific results.
Accessibility: Access to scientific research is often restricted by expensive journal subscriptions and paywalls, limiting the availability of knowledge to those who can afford it.
Centralized Decision-Making and Funding: most funding comes from either government grants or from big pharmaceutical companies, where only a handful of people decide what to fund and what not. Besides the fact that many processes in science are led by a syndicate of few powerful people and institutions with their own advantage in mind, this also leads to the dilemma that honest researchers have to tailor their research to those fields that are most likely to get funded.
This already resulted in a more open, collaborative, and inclusive approach to scientific research, which is known as the open science movement. Decentralized science, on the other hand, takes the open science concept even further by merging it with established incentive structures, coordination mechanisms and the inherent decentralization.
The DeSci stack, as it stands today, is straightforward. At the foundational infrastructure layer, we rely on well-established ecosystems such as Ethereum and Solana for settlement and execution, alongside Filecoin and Arweave for storage. It is the layers built on top of this infrastructure that bring innovation and enable customized use cases for DeSci.
The middleware stack, acting as an abstraction layer built on the previously mentioned smart contract platforms, has given rise to groundbreaking concepts like IP-NFTs. This innovation is based on the ERC-721 standard, which developers can leverage to store the metadata of intellectual property rights on Arweave.
However, the most substantial activity occurs at the application layer, where Funding DAOs claim the lion's share. These are communities that form capital through crowdsourcing for specific treatment areas e.g. VitaDAO, which concentrates on longevity research, HairDAO, dedicated to solving hair loss, AthenaDAO, committed to advancing women’s health research.
Funding DAOs share a common coordination mechanism: voting on research initiatives, funding the research, and ultimately capitalizing on the intellectual property generated from the funded research. Furthermore, pooling resources from these Funding DAOs often involves joining a value-added community comprised of other researchers and science enthusiasts who have a financial incentive to collaborate and expedite research efforts. For a comprehensive overview of the scientific research landscape, we recommend the ecosystem map by Messari.
Here is a glimpse of what we are most excited about:
Ensure privacy of sensible data
Where many teams and projects already work for years across all ecosystems and verticals, privacy is a topic that is especially sensitive to the DeSci world. No matter if patients data or clinical trials, not everything shall be accessible permissionlessly on-chain to anyone.
Open access to scientific knowledge
While there is widespread agreement that scientific discoveries should be made accessible to the public, not hidden behind a few powerful journals, big pharma companies or research institutions, information access is still a problem. Open science initiatives have made considerable progress, with many journals now granting open access to their findings. However, an unintended consequence of this shift has been that instead of a pay-to-read model, where readers pay to access studies and findings, scientists are now compelled to pay for publishing their own research, often at significant costs. This has led some to argue that the power of major publishers has only been further consolidated. Consequently, we advocate for innovative approaches to break free from this outdated and monopolistic position. We could think of building a marketplace around it that can drive prices down through the principles of an open market economy, or other methods that strike a balance between publishing research and providing open access to readers.
Removing the silos and encouraging collaboration
Beyond open access for everyone, we envision a world in which researchers and institutions are incentivized to break down silos and encouraged to collaborate. As of today, research labs are facing a negative flywheel effect due to the secretiveness of their data and progress, as well as the fact that negative results aren’t published nor communicated. Hence, researchers all over the world are reproducing negative experiments that have been done countless times before, just because they don't know any better, wasting precious time and resources. A world in which we prioritize the greater good of humanity over the individualistic and profit-driven motives of specific institutions would undoubtedly accelerate research progress while making it more cost-effective..
A financial layer to incentivize more activity
The probably biggest use case crypto has is the financialization of everything. Monetary incentives are always a way to attract people's attention, make them familiar with a new topic and ultimately draw them into a new sector. As we see in many other verticals, dominant applications are marketplaces (IPs, research studies etc.), launchpads (Funding DAO, research specific trails etc.), lending protocols (against IPs, DAO membership, etc.), prediction markets (against outcomes of IPs, clinical trails, etc.) and many more. From the perspective of researchers, these financial tools provide additional revenue streams and the opportunity to monetize their intellectual property at much earlier stages. This is especially beneficial, given the substantial gap between conceptualization and the actual clinical phases, which is often long and challenging to bridge.
In any thriving on-chain ecosystem, reputation systems are a recurring, yet unsolved challenge. The most prominent example to date is something akin to Degenscore, as discussed in our recent Web3 Social Article. We could imagine similar mechanics that would allow us to establish a “scientific trust score” among various stakeholders including researchers, reviewers, investors, and ideally, big pharma and academia. Furthermore, rather than requiring individuals like researchers to disclose their identity, we can explore the application of zk attestations to maintain anonymity while ensuring credibility.
The reading above provides just a taste of what currently excites us the most. But that doesn't mean we're not open to other sectors and venture ideas. If you're building something in this particular sector that you are extremely passionate about, don't hesitate to apply. We can’t wait to hear from you!