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The DeSci Movement

Juan Benet
Protocol Labs

The innovation chasm is the disparity between the outputs of academia and industry's market incentives. While academia produces papers ever-increasingly, we struggle to incentivise the extensive work required to translate conceptual scientific breakthroughs into revolutionary technologies, new products, and services that create tangible value for society.

Juan Benet, Founder and CEO of Protocol Labs, talked about the innovation chasm in this seminar,  developing ideas for what it might look like if we closed the gap between industry and science. For Juan, Decentralized Science (DeSci) bridges these two worlds by restructuring the incentives for both of them. How?

Step 1: Collaboration

First - bring industry to science. Research should be versionable and collaborative. DeSci is working on bringing Git-like concepts to science. Second, how do you get people to come together? Structures like DAOs aim to bring together like-minded people who are excited about doing research and can support each other. Instead of lab mentors and institutions deciding on all research, these DAOs aim to make science more community-oriented. New formats like the focused research organization (FRO) model driven by Astera Institute and the Federation of American Scientists serve as a practical framework for managing scientific labs efficiently. This approach envisions the creation of smaller-scale labs, adaptable to scaling as they demonstrate success. Think of it like a research lab with the ethics of a startup. We've seen that industry has a powerful capability of bringing many people together towards a clear goal - academia's collaborative system are messy in comparison. We need to bridge that gap.

Step 2: Funding

Juan sees inefficient funding mechanisms for research as a core problem, both in industry and academia. This issue is the crux of the chasm - industry tends to incentivise marginal product improvements, and academia incentivises content quantity over quality. What if we instead incentivise a productive partnership between industry and academia?

There are several promising solutions here. For example, VitaDAO focuses on providing open intellectual property and credit attribution graphs that can detail a researcher's involvement in projects, giving us a more precise way to reward good work that leads to pharmaceutical inventions. GitCoin uses quadratic funding to bring researchers, citizens, and communities to the table as funders with much more say in the research that gets funded. Instead of bureaucratic selection procedures that tend to reward researchers who have previously done well, communities of experts and enthusiasts can make quick decisions on what research should be funded, giving non-standard ideas a higher chance.

Those are just examples of systems that have already been implemented. New ideas for retroactive funding models like Hypercerts create hope to cut bureaucracy and distribute funds more efficiently, prediction markets may help determine which replication efforts to fund, and tokenization can help reward scientists for all their work, not just the papers they publish.

Step 3: Publishing

Finally, publishing must change. Publicly funded research must be open and accessible to the public. And more than that - we should also share all the data, code, and other research artefacts. An open infrastructure for scientific publications is a necessary bridge between industry and academia. DeSci facilitates open data and open publishing by using decentralized identifiers (CIDs) like the ones built by IPFS and dPID to resolve challenges related to link rot, content drift, data sharing, storage costs, and monopolistic data silos in today's internet. These emerging open infrastructures that are accessible to all and controlled by nobody facilitate distributing data costs across a whole network and resisting data loss. Instead of formal publishing groups, cryptographic mechanisms could ensure persistent information linking, providing a verifiable and accessible record of scientific knowledge. This decentralised publishing model reduces barriers to information and enables new and better ways to evaluate and preserve scientific knowledge.

What is DeSci? 

For Juan Benet, DeSci is "an attempt by several people to move science from a world in which you need to walk through bureaucracy to contribute to one where you can change things more fluidly."