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For Whom The Bell Tolls
November 28th, 1967, Jocelyn Bell observes the universe and suddenly notices a “bit of scruff” recorded on paper. This she would discover was a beam of electromagnetic radiation emitted from the magnetic pole of a neutron star, otherwise known as a radio pulsar. This discovery, which contributed so much to our understanding of the universe, was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974. The only catch was that Jocelyn Bell Burnell was omitted, not receiving the prize handed out for her own discovery.
It is in her honor that GOSH is proud to present Jocelyn — a decentralized science project which aims to make scientific research more equitable, thorough, and immune to the injustices so many scientists suffer on a regular basis.
We are currently witnessing the birth, the very infancy, of Decentralized Science (DeSci); a researcher-led movement, designed to democratize scientific study for the public good. It is, in many ways, an organic evolution of the open science movement that has now been with us for over a decade. DeSci takes the stated aims of the open science community, and provides concrete instruments for how these can be realized — redefining practices, humanely; reinforcing standards, strictly; and discovering new paths for the evolution of scientific thought.
The issues faced by scientists and the instruments DeSci offers to solve them are many, and this article will outline them generally, as well as explain how Jocelyn can help and how it can fight the centralized, cumbersome, unjust status quo.
Scientia Est Rex
It is true that what we call Modern Science finds itself with a few glaring issues. Among these are the research replication crisis, the difficulty researchers often have finding funding for their work, and, of course, censorship. Let’s look at them in more detail:
Example A: He Says, She Says
It goes without saying that research that cannot be reproduced even once is the scientific equivalent of village hearsay. Or does it? All too often today findings cannot be replicated by another team. They cannot demonstrate the same result when the same methodology is applied. And methodology is not the only factor — data and its collection and embedded biases during the trial are all obstacles to reproducibility that require thorough revision. And yet these findings are nevertheless seen as significant not only by the general public, but sometimes also by the scientific community itself. There are simply too many such cases. The failure of the BCG vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infections is one such example.
Example B: Spare Some Change
Some scientists spend more time looking to fund their work than actually working. Searching for grants, it seems, is as important to a life of the mind as the mind itself. And success in this pursuit is neither guaranteed nor a guarantee. Surely this is for a reason? Surely this plays some vital role? Well, in most cases, work funded by these grants is what sponsors want, or the money is wasted. And this pressure can very well breed bias. In the end, such dealings in the scientific world are at the mercy of connections and committees, oftentimes leading to injustices such as those faced by Jocelyn Bell Burnell.
And those who do not want to spend time searching for funds, if possible, just do research for free. Students and unaffiliated researchers are often those that actually conduct the analysis, but are left out of the final article.
Example C: Silence Is Golden
Funding organizations often censor studies with, say, null results or topics that sponsors or governments are not interested in. Rare diseases are a common example of this: If just a tiny percentage of the population carries the disease, it is unprofitable to invest in such drug research. Same goes for research into common diseases which are seen as routine research topics. That’s why we often see vulnerable populations of patients that can be said to be ‘out of scope:’ There simply isn’t enough research.
The publishing process is a struggle of its own. It's expensive and not equally available to scientists. The sum of the publication fee depends on many factors, including journal status. The claim goes that the more well-known and trusted the journal, the more noticeable the article will be. But this is not actually the case; it depends in large part on media response.
For example: most people never read Nature Magazine, seeing as the content can often be high-level. Likewise, even non-peer-reviewed preprints can be better covered by journalists if it’s bombastic enough. As a result, these are often more noticeable than final publications. And researcher’s h-indices don’t grow because a citation of a preprint is not accountable. Now, ‘good’ highly rated journals that aim to hand over the best studies to the public can charge the scientist between $2000-$11,000 for publication. So what then is the point of paying Nature so much when a preprint can be equally well cited in the media. Arguments in the DeSci space wager that scientific publication should focus on research that is well reviewed and also widely read — these need not be disparate prerequisites.
An alternative, however, one analogous to open source software, does exist: open access. But it provides a challenge of its own: open science often lacks democratic responsibility towards the public and validation mechanisms for the quality of work, data, review, etc.
Example D: What Is It We Said, Again?
We’ll put it bluntly: Peer-review today is unfair and inefficient. A reviewer can be prejudiced, assessing the article based on personal preferences and putting aside the quality of the publication. The review process takes a lot of time. And review is an unpaid job where all the profit goes to publishers. The smaller the pool of reviewers an article has, the higher the likelihood of bias in the review process. Likewise, some reviewers are fraudulent — offering positive marks in exchange for cross-citation.
What Decentralized Science Really Means
There is more than one way to skin a scientist. What decentralized science does is unchain that poor terrified scientist and chase away the attackers with sticks. As decentralized science tends to their wounds and makes then a cup of tea, it says:
“Listen to me, you have to end this relationship right now!”
In short, the DeSci movement aims to create a research infrastructure based on Web3 and blockchain, to make the field more meritocratic and unbiased, and more independent from sponsors and regulators.
A few key value proposals offered by Decentralized Science include:
A lower threshold of entry and decentralized fundraising for studies
Another review system
Transparency and free access to data
And, of course:
Decentralization. Knowledge belongs to a community of people, is not concentrated in one place, and does not depend on affiliation, governments, and corporations; where journals do not artificially take on the role of gatekeeper to the ‘scientific elite’ and do not play on human vanity for money.
DeSci on GOSH affords these benefits to scientists in all fields. And we would like to showcase for you one solution currently being developed as part of the GOSH blockchain. A solution we mentioned in the introduction…
Jocelyn is the community for decentralized research initiatives in Health Sciences on GOSH. (Jocelyn isn’t exclusively a Health Sciences project, but this is the starting point).
The field of Public Health suffers the problems of traditional scientific institutionalism particularly acutely, especially when pandemics and humanitarian disasters call for action and thorough study. These issues affect not only scientists but patients and medics as well.
Jocelyn’s mission is to disseminate transparent and independent research in the field of Health Sciences. But this is just the first step. Going forward, Jocelyn aims to redefine the way research proposals are reviewed, funded, and conducted in various, more broad scientific fields, and contribute to more quick and adaptable Public Healthcare in which patients will have their vote to approve initiatives they are interested in.
Let us take a couple of examples of how DeSci can revolutionize Public Health sciences:
DeSci can improve vaccine efficiency studies across all regions, offering more alternatives rather than having to rely on those who have monopolies on these studies, as occurred in Europe during the last pandemic.
The flow of HIV-positive refugees into Europe as a result of humanitarian disasters is quite a resonant subject and research at times struggles to get funded — the results obtained can be censored due to few people’s wish to be responsible for the issue. It is imperative that this research be studied independently, and in a decentralized manner. In addition, DeSci growth can help non-profit NGOs provide healthcare to underrepresented and vulnerable people.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us how inefficient global healthcare can sometimes be. Public Health was late at every step, from research publishing to the media campaign for vaccination. A lot of research stayed unpublished due to insufficient funding or conflicts of interest and didn't reach either the general public or even a professional community. Some of it came too late to save patients' lives. Not to mention all the inappropriate and dangerous studies that were published.
DeSci provides an alternative space for many small research groups to get attention from the global scientific community quickly. That increases the probability of timely spotting and adequate assessment of coming pandemic threats.
The Climate Crisis
Environmental challenges represent the greatest threat to human health. And again, we see that global centralized initiatives are clumsy and slow. Predictably, one of the reasons is that the first regions to suffer from the consequences of climate change are the poorest ones.
DeSci helps focus on the fact that climate change prevention is advantageous: the faster we begin to solve climate change issues, the more we all benefit from it. There will be more possibilities for the public and scientists to contribute to climate research.
Microbes gain a gene pool for developing resistance and spread it across continents. Even if one region restricts antibiotic use, it will inevitably “catch” resistant strains. And those strains will naturally live on.
DeSci accelerates the research process, attaining the capability to answer specific real-time situations.
How Jocelyn Works
Step 1: Submit Study Proposal
Jocelyn is creating the first study proposals space in the Public Health area. Through a transparent review process, the science community will have more chances to avoid systematic errors in the early stages of the research planning.
Step 2: Communities voting
Each significant action, such as a posting of a study proposal or review resume, will determine the allocation of some amount of tokens from voters, to those who’ve done this action.
Step 3: Alternative Publishing
There is no prejudice against “unimportant” or “non-significant” results, nor fear of “too resonant,” “provocative,” or “unexpected” ones. The only thing — the commitment of the study report should be approved by the community as corresponding to not-fraudulent and enough transparency — truth, truth, and only truth about your study.
Step 4: Media Support Of The Research
While conducting the research, scientists can do a “study diary” (rewarding with reputational tokens) and post the preliminary results. Jocelyn will then assist the researcher with social media work, publication, and any connections they may need. In the case of development of a good open source research tool or unique methodology, Jocelyn will provide support for media response for revenue.
Some Final Words
We will be writing more on scientific topics in the near future — this post is here to present you, dear reader, with the reasons why this topic is so important to us. We invite everyone to participate in Jocelyn, so that scientific study need never again be subject to elite groups and interested parties.
In the words of Jocelyn Bell Burnell: “People from different backgrounds approach a subject in different ways and ask different questions.” May they all have their questions heard.
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