Decentralised Science (DeSci)

At Cherry Crypto we share the view that web3 comprises a set of technologies that will ultimately underpin every industry. Smart contracts, fungible tokens, non fungible tokens (NFTs), DAOs, are new tools that founders can leverage when building the next generation of companies. So far, these tools have mostly been applied to financial services, collectibles and gaming. While there is still a lot of work to be done in those industries, we’re always on the lookout for whats next. In my view, the frontier at the moment is science. DeSci, short for decentralised science, is the field of applying web3 technologies to science.

Most of the current DeSci efforts are focused on solving problems at the early / mid stages of scientific development. The main problems addressed are the following:

Financing. Funding for early stage research is either lacking or misallocated. Scientists spend an exorbitant amount of time writing grants and applications while only 20% actually receive funding. Most early stage scientific research is government funded. A consequence of this dynamic is that the areas that receive the most funding are those deepest in the public consciousness. Diseases such as breast cancer and lung cancer consistently receive the most funding because they receive the most public attention. When allocating capital, governments make utilitarian calculations, which often leave minorities behind. Additionally, research that goes against the status quo doesn’t receive much funding either.

Replication crisis. 60% of published research cannot be reproduced by others. Replication is incredibly important in the sciences in order to verify that the results of a particular study are in fact correct. The replication crisis is in large part a result of the fact that scientists are under constant pressure to publish in order to further their careers and receive additional funding. “Publish or perish” is the motto, as scientists statistically skew studies in chase of significant and “correct” results. Negative results don’t get published. The current system creates perverse incentives that push scientists to maximise their chances of being published over optimising for empirical soundness.

Publisher model. The landscape of scientific journals is dominated by a few large players that have complete autonomy as gatekeepers to decide what gets published. Today, published research, including those funded by public grants, is paywalled and scientists need to pay publications to publish their work.

DeSci is an attempt to address these issues by creating new products leveraging web3 technologies. Some examples include:

Investment DAOs. I’ve previously written about how DAOs are a tool to more efficiently coordinate capital on a global scale.  Investment DAOs are investment vehicles that are community-owned, where each member has proportional or equal say in making investment decisions. Allowing “the crowd” and not just governments to fund research enables areas like rare diseases and studies that goes against the status quo to to get funding. We’ve seen several investment DAOs crop up to fund all sorts of research. VitaDAO is an investment DAO for research on longevity, PsyDAO funds research on psychedelics and HairDAO is mission-oriented towards researching hair loss.

NFT marketplaces. With a new set of funders such as DAOs on the market there needs to be a venue where the supply and demand for capital meet. NFT marketplaces such as Molecule offer a solution. On Molecule researchers can post investment requests and funders browse a marketplace of research that they can fund. Researchers sell their IP directly on Molecule, which is represented as an IP NFT.

IP NFTs. IP NFTs are NFTs that represent the legal IP rights to research. They are a new NFT standard developed by the Molecule team that allows IP to be held within NFTs and turns IP into a liquid and tradable asset class. Previously the transfer of IP was a laborious process that required mountains of paperwork and red tape. The transfer of IP is now as simple as sending an NFT from one web3 wallet to another.

Open libraries. Most research does not get published and is, as a result, not shared with the rest of the scientific community. What ensues is a lack of collaboration amongst scientists and a repetition of similar research, which slows scientific progress. Open libraries such as DeSci labs offer scientists a platform to share their manuscripts/data and openly collaborate with other scientists at all stages. DeSci labs is built as an open protocol that 3rd parties can permissionlessly access and build applications on. The result is an open ecosystem of shared knowledge, where a research isn’t gate-kept by a small set of publishers who decide on access rights. Web3’s native composability, which we have seen in the context of DeFi, can also be applied to the sciences.

There is still a lot to be figured out. We’re very much in the early stages of discovering how web3 technologies and incentive structures can improve collaboration, funding, replication and access to scientific research. What’s exciting is that a lot of the required infrastructure is starting to come together. L2 scaling solutions, decentralised storage networks, zero-knowledge proofs, new NFT standards are reaching levels of maturity that can support decentralised applications previously not possible. DeSci today feels like DeFi did in 2018/19. The stage is set for the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve the biggest challenges in science with these new tools.