Crypto-Reward Tokens for Scientific Publishing
This is an unfinished piece written by me and Antoine Lizée in August 2014. We never completed the proposal, and it's now woefully outdated. Crazy how fast the cryptocurrency and blockchain space has developed! Sadly the criticisms regarding scholarly communication are still largely unresolved and topical.
Rather than let this draft linger forever, I might as well publish it now! You'll notice it's incomplete or outdated in many parts. But it's a refreshing flashback to the early days of altcoins and tokenomics, when it was actually possible to keep up with all the projects in the space.
Aside: This proposal envisions a journal named Satoshi's Village. Note that my blog, which does not apply a cypto-reward token as proposed below, is currently named Satoshi Village.
Note: Many of the original hyperlinks pointed to domains whose expiration lapsed and now serve spam or obscene content. When possible, I replaced these hyperlinks with Internet Archive snapshops.
Crypto-Reward Tokens for Scientific Publishing
By Daniel Himmelstein and Antoine Lizée
Written in August 2014, with minor edits for publication in October 2019.
The incentive structure underlying scientific publishing is misaligned and science suffers as a result. In the realm of academia, researchers are evaluated largely by the prestige of their publications. Therefore, the battle for primary authorship positions in high impact journals has become the main driver of scientific activity. The damage caused by this system is threefold: valuable contributions go unrewarded, journal impact becomes self-perpetuating against the greater good, and reproducibility and data availability suffer. We argue that introducing crypto-reward tokens into scientific publishing can overcome these pitfalls by incentivizing productive behavior and expanding journal stakeholdership.
The advent of distributed consensus through blockchains has reduced the barrier for issuing user-created assets. Several platforms — most prominently Counterparty, NXT, and BitShares X — allow individuals to issue tokens at little cost. Unlike most legacy token systems (such as airline miles, credit card points, forum points, or game tokens), ownership is trust-free and holders are free to transfer ownership. Therefore, the tokens are tradeable and price discovery is possible. The greater liquidity compared to legacy systems makes crypto-reward tokens far more desirable to possess. And the open source, already-implemented protocols make issuance trivial.
The Let's Talk Bitcoin (LTB) network pioneered crypto-reward tokens with their LTBcoin (LTBc). The LTB network is a content portal for all things Satoshi. Like all fledgling online communities they faced the chicken-and-egg problem of attracting new users. One solution was to pay users to encourage adoption, but the LTB network lacked valuable coins to reward users with. Instead, the LTB network issued their own crypto-reward token. The token is highly inflationary at first, but seigniorage declines by 1% per week until 2019 when a total of 510 million LTBc have been issued.
This scheme disproportionately rewards the valuable early adopters, who contribute to the young ecosystem when LTBc are presumably worth little. Sponsorship tickets are auctioned for LTBc giving an intrinsic value to the token. Users are rewarded for contributing content, participating in the forums, and browsing content. LTBc represents a revolutionary shift from pay-to-view to payed-to-view publishing. Through this token distribution, a stakeholder community and distributed workforce have been established with vested interests in the project's success. The token has proved successful with a current market cap of 68,687 USD. In the XX weeks of the token's existence, the number of registered users has grown from XX to XX.
Proposing Satoshi's Village and VillageCoin
We propose an online scientific journal based around a crypto-reward system. We name the hypothetical journal Satohsi Village and refer to the crypto-reward token as VillageCoin. All content will be published under the CC-BY license — the open access license that permits unlimited reuse with attribution. Like PLOS One or PeerJ publication is contingent upon technical validity and data availability.
Similar to the current open-access pay-to-publish paradigm, two separate crypto-rewards tickets will be auctioned off for VillageCoin. These tickets will be redeemable as the submission fee and as the publication fee for an accepted article. Funding agencies looking to support the project can purchase tickets and provide them to authors free of cost. A portion of token seigniorage will be devoted for system development, enabling the system to fund the majority of its own creation.
In addition to the auctioned tickets that grants access to publishing, other services may be sold by the platform, like advertising or data hosting. These services, exclusively traded in VillageCoin, will be the natural driver for the demand in the token. This demand confers endogenous value to VillageCoin, which can be used to reward contributors.
Authors are paid a small proof-of-publication reward and a potentially large proof-of-value reward based on article level metrics after predetermined time periods. Author stake is agreed upon and distributed amongst the authors providing a more precise measure of contribution than author position.
After submitting an article, authors select reviewers from a reviewer marketplace. Reviewer identities and comments are public, and authors offer reviewers a percentage of article proceeds. Once published, users are rewarded for reading and commenting with a built in reputation and filtering system to prevent spam. Users also rate articles, which in turn influences the reputation of the contributing authors and reviewers. This system encourages authors to select the most reputable reviewers and reviewers to select the most promising articles. Reviewers and authors rate each other setting the foundation for an informed marketplace. A parallel editorial marketplace can provide ESL authors with the resources to effectively communicate their findings.
Rewarding Valuable Contributions
We believe crypto-reward tokens will prove most beneficial for ecosystems whose success depends on involving a broad userbase. Until now, the absence of a value (currency) layer on top of the internet has favored centralized and gatewayed models of content creation. Sites such as Reddit and StackOverflow attest to the ability of distributed systems to filter high-quality content. However, without the value layer, distributed internet systems will struggle to create high-value content. Scientific publishing strives for both high-quality and high-value content and thrives from the inclusion of many vested participants.
The current publication system fails to reward participants at several vital stages. The system is founded on peer-review, but review, which is often anonymous, is mostly an altruism. Indeed, no credit nor responsibility is usually taken for reviewing a paper which raises two main issues. On one hand, recruiting competent reviewers is difficult, leading to delays and poor quality. The singular incentive to publish in a high impact journal delays publication and encourages fraud as authors must endure several failed attempts at publication. Article level metrics remedy the delays but are immature without a well-developed ecosystem with sufficient user volume to accurately assess quality. VillageCoin solves these issues as the incentive structure will be designed to incentivize each valuable behavior. Unlike the monolithic and immutable reward structure of the current system, incentives will be tailored to produce the best science.
Breaking the Self-Perpetuating Impact Factor Cycle
The impact factor is a self-perpetuating metric as authors select journals for their impact factor rather than their ability to improve, typeset, and distribute an article. Subsequently, journals with high impact factors are well-positioned to resist changes that would benefit science but harm their commercial interests. Despite being publicly funded, the most costly and important research often ends up shackled in subscription journals. These journals do not permit reuse, demand the transfer of ownership from the creators, and resist the federally-mandated push for accessibility with embargoes and preprint stipulations.
VillageCoin offers authors an orthogonal incentive besides impact factor. Since early adopters are disproportionately rewarded, VillageCoin provides a bootstrapping mechanism to hasten the migration away from subscription publishing. This may be sufficient to overcome the impact factor plateau that the PLOS line of specialty journals is currently experiencing. To cater to researchers who demand journal prestige, articles with high article level metrics after a time period can receive special distinctions. Articles achieving a distinction would then receive an impact factor based on all other articles that had achieved that distinction. Under this system, stakeholders are encouraged to develop a system that produces the best science to increase the value of their holdings. And unlike current publishers, the stakeholders are themselves the scientists and contributors.
Promoting Reproducibility and Data Availability
The primacy of the impact factor has created a reproducibility nightmare. Satohsi Village addresses the issue through its reputation system, enhanced community interaction, and data availability requirements. However, cryptocurrency enables a more potent evaluation of article veracity.
Research into trustless prediction markets is ongoing, but early attempts are promising. Satohsi Village could facilitate prediction markets for the reproducibility of an article's main findings. Under such a system, users would wager whether a finding would prove reproducible after a time period. The distributed consensus system would settle on one of three options: reproducible, indeterminate, or irreproducible. In the case of indeterminate, wagers would be returned. Otherwise, the winning bettors would collect the proceeds. Before the outcome is determined, the odds of the prediction market provide the community with an indication of the article's veracity.
Authors have a vested interest in achieving favorable odds to sustain the credibility of their findings. Transparency and data availability are therefore incentivized. A portion of the initial proof-of-publication reward could be wagered on the authors' behalves, exposing authors to risk if their findings prove irreproducible. Industry players or funding agencies interested in the veracity of a claim could contribute against the indeterminate outcome upping the reward unlocked by either proving or disproving the finding.
The scientific publishing system is suboptimal due to indirect, poorly defined, and immutable incentive structures. We advocate a distributed, incentivized, and community-driven approach to scientific value creation. Specifically, we argue that an effective crypto-reward token will the linchpin of such a system.
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