Pluto interviewed with Research Stash

This Seoul Based Nonprofit Wants to Make Scholarly Communication Transparent Using Blockchain Technology

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According to National Science Foundation, 4000 new papers are published within the scientific community every day and the number of annual publications has increased from 1 million in 2000 to more than 2 million in 2013.

On the other hand, the publication fees are skyrocketing in the past few decades, it has been estimated that researchers or universities spend $ 78 billion which accounts for 1/3 of total research-related expenses. This is mainly because of academic publishers demanding high subscription and publication fees based on their past influence or well known by the scientific community as impact factor.

Fake reviews and unreliable experimental procedures add up to these problems which makes the wasting of research resources and leading to ineffective communications.

PLUTO a nonprofit based in Seoul, Korea wants to address this issue by creating a Decentralized scholarly communication platform which makes the scholarly communication reasonable and transparent for the scientific community.

Q. Can you tell us about your founding team members and what inspired you to build Pluto Network?

We’re attaching a separate document describing the founding members. We gathered to develop applications using blockchain technology as we were fascinated with the emerging technology and the consequences it would enable. As most of us are graduates from POSTECH, a research-focused science, and technology university in South Korea, it wasn’t long until our concerns on the implementation of the technology concluded that we must integrate it with Scholarly Communication.
We further found it promising that our friends and colleagues who are pursuing science and research in various institutes and universities around the globe are much supportive of what we’re building. As the core properties of blockchain-backed solutions are decentralization and autonomy, it is not only the founding members but also the community of users that makes it powerful.

Q. Can you tell us in layman words about Blockchain technology and how your platform works?

We’d rather refer to this great blog piece explaining what blockchain is. To quote the essence of the article, “blockchain is a new way to keep track of who owns what.” Our platform when launched successfully will work as a decentralized, autonomous environment for academics to share, evaluate, and access their research works. The decentralized platform will record the track of who shared what and who evaluated which and how. Think of it as an online version of current journal systems where there’s no central middleman to make decisions on everything, but governed in a decentralized manner.

Q. What is the one big PROBLEM you are trying to solve using Blockchain technology?

Current scholarly communication is a lot centralized by commercial publishers. The publishers, in brick-and-mortar era, had significant roles since hard copying and distributing the academic papers around the world did cost a lot. Now the advancement of the internet made it possible to share the knowledge of academia to almost every single person in the globe with amazingly low costs, but the actual prices demanded by the publishers, to both the authors and subscribers, had ever skyrocketed.
The so-called paywalls, or the cost of knowledge, is one straightforward example of the problems that the centralization of scholarly communication hinders solving. There are many more problems such as opaque review processes, which takes too much time until publications, the contributions (reviews) being not properly motivated, surveillance and censorship on specific research topics, and so forth, to name a few of them. It is even argued occasionally that the peer review just doesn’t work.
That’s why we’re trying to bring the system back to the legitimate stakeholders, the researchers. The blockchain technology enables to make a decentralized scholarly communication system, where no single middleman owns or governs the entire system but instead the whole community does.

Q. Do you think the current traditional publishers going to embrace the blockchain based platform like Pluto or hate it?

Well, we don’t know. They might hate it as it would be disruptive to the existing system. But we’re not becoming the only solution to the space. We’ll always be ready to make interoperable environments to embrace both the existing systems and emerging new alternatives so that researchers aren’t exposed to potential career harms while the transition to the new paradigm.

Q. What are the greatest challenges you faced while pursuing the idea of pluto and how did you address them?

Since we’re dealing with something so huge and complex, it has been challenging in every aspect, even defining the problem itself. We’re still on-the-go, and one critical thing we’re so lucky in addressing them is that there are so many people who are advocative of our beliefs, in both the research and blockchain space.

Q. How is Pluto Network funded currently? And why did you choose S. Korea to launch your platform?

We’re being incubated under a crypto-fund in South Korea. And we’re not launching our platform here in Korea, but it will actually be international.

Q. What things you learned while acquiring the users from industry & academia? Do you have personalized services for these two sectors?

There are lots of advocates of open and transparent practices for research, and they HAVE been speaking out for a long time. But at the same time, there are still other academics who do not know or care about it. It comes to our mind that it is also important to make researchers aware of how the entire system works.
In designing our platform we had to keep in mind that researchers had the whole bunch of things bothering them. Many academics feel pushed to make more publications, while they have to cope with instructing and administrative roles. But their rewards mostly depend on the former, i.e. publications in prestigious journals.

Q. What are your achievements so far?

We’re currently in progress of building the Proof of Concept Prototype. At the same time, we’re building up the community on top of our friends and colleagues around the world.

Q. How the blockchain technology can impact the open science, open research data sharing scenarios?

The key here is transparency. With blockchain, transparency can be kept at 100% confidence without failure. A transparency-ensured environment for research will enable a whole another level of potential for improvements in the processes.
One important thing to note on why transparency is so crucial is that, if you don’t have a credible information, there are not many things that you could do about it. A transparent record on what is happening around a piece of research finding would enable, for example, an analysis on how many peers in the field has accessed that article, what aspects are hindering more outreaches, and so forth.
Science revolves around information and data. So does science of science. If the data around the science of science is hidden behind the opaqueness of publishers in the name of businesses and copyrights, how would we be able to advance the science of science, in a scientific way?

Q. What would be some of challenging tasks to convince the government institutions or research institutes to adopt the platform like yours?

Blockchain-based solutions are most disruptive in the ways it removes central bodies, governs itself by its community, resists to censorships, and so forth. These properties are probably undesirable to those institutions by their nature. Not only us but the whole crypto space will try to convince the world of it in the long run.

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