Scientists, run off with blockchain!

Running a high impact factor journal is a lucrative business indeed. All participants of this knowledge dissemination chain pay money: authors for publishing their manuscripts and readers for the access to the published work of peers. All the money go to the publisher to cover the publication costs. Services provided by a publishing house include initial check for plagiarism and topicality, selection of reviewers, correspondence with the authors, and formatting of the manuscript. Usually, reviewers are not paid because it is considered as a social extra curriculum activity. Not really huge expenses, after all! Yet, to download a single paper big houses like Elsevier, Springer and Wiley-Blackwell ask 30$, while one-year subscription costs as much as 4000$.

Nowadays hardly anyone buys a paper print version of Science journal to read. Immunotherapy people have so little in common with fullerene people. Quite often researches do not need all this broad assortment of various articles collected in one issue. Scientists are egocentric and usually want just one particular article covering important breakthroughs in the field. Personally, my needs for high impact papers are at par with my needs for the low-impact but very specific ones. Often, I want to read an article that describes precisely an animal model I need, but I cannot have it because my institution decided for me that this low impact journal does not worth the subscription. May be, it is worth trying to let scientists pay small sum of money but let them decide for themselves what they need to read?

Moreover, the situation is not good for scientists that already published their research. They need more citations, and more citations come from more reads. So, if you want to share your proper achievement, you should pay for the publication with open access even more — 1500$. The funny thing is that at the moment of paying, authors lose intellectual rights for their own work. Imagine Joanne Rowling coming to publishing office and asking: « Please, I will pay you, but just print my brilliant story and keep all the profit to yourself! Really weird. But why even Nobel prize level scientists act like this?

So, we do see some points to improve: first, not all the scientists have equal access to published data; second, all profit from the scientific achievement goes to publishing houses. The researcher gets fame and vague possibility to apply for grants to continue their research. However, let’s face it — the first problem is not a real challenge now — existence of sci-hub provides an open access to most of publications. But it is a pure piracy — we do use things for free though they are not. This is just not fair! Furthermore, several legal processes have already been launched against sci-hub. A block chain technology might provide a legal solution that would suit everyone. In nutshell, block chain, a decentralized digital ledger, provides a unique platform for accumulation and sharing of information of any kind. Such a system makes knowledge accessible and immune to falsifications as all the data are traceable and the events are stored in chronological order.

There are several possibilities to enable smooth transition from current situation to the fair one. One approach is to share subscription on a common platform. Here, German Universities united to get one access to publications for all members (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00093-7?WT.ec_id=NATURE-20180111&spMailingID=55747347&spUserID=MjA1NzYzNTQ2OQS2&spJobID=1321808074&spReportId=MTMyMTgwODA3NAS2). An agreement can be made with publishing houses — if they place the papers on a common platform they will receive royalties from each downloaded or cited article. And what about the authors, the real driving force of publishing process? Block chain technology can reward an achievement of every single person. For example, musicians that share their songs via iTunes receive money once it is downloaded. Why not implement the same principles of reward to pay the authors of scientific publications? People are intuitively clever, they do not need guidance, they just need a reliable platform with the ability to react to changing demands.

In fact, attempts to build such a just system are being made. For example, Globex Sci (http://globexsci.io), a block chain company is planning to go for ICO to collect enough money to implement all these principles discussed. Just look at Airbnb network. The site provides easy interface and mutual evaluation of hosts and guests. If you are good — you are invited, if you are super host — you can get more money for your work. You are evaluated by people from all over the world. One person can be wrong, but not all of them. So, why pay 3–5 times more for the hotel brand if you can have everything for less? As the matter of fact, now the number of airbnb rooms in France exceeds the number of hotel rooms. If we expand this type of activity to the process of publishing the scientific data, then we reckon people would be able to choose papers exactly they need and pay for them directly to the authors. The latter will receive extra money if their work is in high demand.

This universal principle of cross-checking and sharing is used in emerging block chain platforms for scientific research. For example, the unification of medical records is highly demanded by physicians. One may doubt if it is ok to share your personal data with everyone? Surprisingly, up to 80% of patients agree to share their medical records. After all, solidarity is a touch of a nature that made us survive. As of to-date, a prototype system MedRec was created by the MIT Media Lab. (www.pubpub.org). It is a decentralized record management system that uses block chain technology to manage authentication, confidentiality, accountability, and data sharing. Medical community in this case contributes actively providing the “mining” necessary to secure and sustain the authentication log on a private, Ethereum-based network, in return for privacy-preserving, medical metadata in the form of “transaction fees.” Data sharing agreement should be digitally signed by investigators. In the scheme proposed by the Intel group, an investigator who collected clinical data (Collector) and data borrowing investigator (Borrower), agree, in writing, that Collector will be a co-author on any resulting academic paper published by Borrower. Thus, an example acknowledgement, according to Intel, will be looking like this: “This study includes data originally collected from the 125 subjects in Collector’s trial (citation), per the terms of agreement deposited in block chain box NCC.1701.” Now, to analyze the clinical trials data a researcher should cherry-pick dozens of publications. Unification of all data will enable global search with individual parameters needed for specific research. How age and smoking, for example, affect response to anti-cancer therapy? Are microbiota and diet involved? May be, parameters that seem not important now are worth to save for future analysis? Imagine the continuous process of the unified data collection for 50 years in a row. Such a wealth of clinical data will provide a wonderful playground to artificial intelligence programs of different kinds and make plenty of wet experiments simply unnecessary!