Aletheia: The Decentralised, Distributed Database
Kade (@cypath) is the founder of Aletheia and open access advocate. I first met Kade when he was volunteering at the Mozilla Festival 2016. Since then, I’ve gotten to know him through Mozilla Open Leaders where he’s been working on Aletheia and putting knowledge in the hands of everyone.
I interviewed Kade to learn more about Aletheia and how you can contribute June 1–2 at #mozsprint.
What is Aletheia?
In short, Aletheia is software for getting science published and into the hands of everyone, for free. It’s a decentralised and distributed database used as a publishing platform for scientific research. So, Aletheia is software. But software without people is nothing. To comprehensively answer the question what is Aletheia, Aletheia is software surrounded by a community of people who want to change the world through open access to scientific knowledge.
Why did you start Aletheia?
I watched The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz. It outlined the problems with paywalls in academic publishing, problems I didn’t even know existed when I went to university. I was only vaguely aware of paywalls as the university subscribed to many journals, you don’t realise not everyone has access. I also didn’t think through what that lack of access means, what the world is missing out on. Academic publishers have built a business model around denying people information, denying the entire human race scientific breakthroughs simply to turn an exorbitant profit. So you have the logical view of the problem, then you have the human story. Aaron came across something he felt was unethical, tried to change it, and powerful vested interests who benefit from the unethical status quo decided to make an example out of him. They tormented him to the point that Aaron killed himself. I finished the documentary, reflected on everything, both logical and emotional, and decided inaction wasn’t an option. I started sketching out an idea for a publishing platform that through further honing of the idea became Aletheia.
Why is decentralization important to you?
Decentralisation is strength. No single point of failure means it’s very hard for a system to collapse through neglect or to be taken down by a malicious actor. No single point of control means the system cannot be controlled by vested interests.
What problems have you run into while working on this project?
The biggest problem is law. A decentralised a distributed database that’s free to publish to and access could easily be used for illegal means if we aren’t careful. Aaron was seen to be breaking the law in what he did, though whether or not he actually broke the law is very debatable, but the vested interests wrote those rules, giving them an immoral but technically legal justification for coming down on him like a tonne of bricks. Similarly, the founder of SciHub, Alexandra Elbakyan, is the subject of an extradition order for pirating scientific research. I don’t plan on giving these vested interests an excuse to hamper Aletheia. We are taking great pains to ensure Aletheia complies with the law by instituting a takedown process in case something under copyright or something illegal is published through Aletheia. Sitting down with lawyers is time consuming and expensive but has to be done. Currently the paywall academic publishers can say Aaron and Alexandra where/are criminals, which comes with its own moral connotations, but by challenging the business model of paywalls legally, academic publishers lose the ability to spin the immorality of the situation away from themselves.
What kind of skills do I need to help you?
How can others join your project at #mozsprint 2017?
We will have a venue in Brisbane, Australia if you want to come along in person. You can also participate online. We will have a set of specially created tasks for people to work on for the Sprint, we are looking to improve our website, work on the GUI of the Aletheia app itself and create some blockchain smart contracts around community voting. Don’t feel boxed in though, if you want to contribute to Aletheia in a different way, like say around community management, we’re very open to that. Feel free to reach out to us on email@example.com or in our Slack channel if you want any more information.