Blockchain to fight the information inequality?

Alexander Kagansky, PhD

Director, Center for Genomic and Regenerative Medicine, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok, Russia, and member, RSE Young Academy of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK

What is the cost of the information inequality for public? Here is an example: major publishing houses such as Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, charge about 30$ for just reading one article while an annual subscription for their magazines costs starting from 4000$. In order to receive prestigious grants and pursue academic career authors are forced to place their publications exactly in these magazines. By conditions of contract authors are denied the right to publish their works elsewhere.

As a natural response to this unfair distribution a few pirate sites have emerged that download scientific papers free of charge and offer them for free. Just one of the most popular resources in this space, an automated script that downloads papers from the publishing houses sites if requested by a user, has been reported to retrieve over 20 million scientific papers, which caused multi-million dollar lawsuits.

To date, a few other attempts have been made to bypass monopoly of publishing houses. For instance, an internet community of scientists called ResearchGate decided to publish their own papers authored by participants of this community. Nonetheless, publishing houses did not tolerate even this attempt to question the monopoly and forced ResearchGate to remove all the papers from their site.

One of the solutions is to use blockchain technology for setting up an open storage of all the scientific information with rewards to publishing houses and authors themselves for most requested and popular papers. Here using crypto currency for dedicated purchases of subscriptions from major publishing houses would provide this content for those who really need it. Under this framework the cost of crypto tokens would be much less compared to the cost of downloading the same papers from the current publisher’s sites. Therefore, interests of all sides will be balanced out.

It is evident that sooner or later publishing houses have to give up their super profits and change to a fairer distribution of resources. At the same time all players in the market understand that unrestricted piracy in no solution at all. That is why blockchain seems to be a reasonable compromise that can level out a blatant distortion in distribution of profits between scientists who search for new knowledge and publishing houses who monopolized this knowledge.