What is decentralized science (DeSci): democratizing research funding for all

Have you ever wondered how certain research projects get funded? How about why some groundbreaking discoveries sometimes seem to take forever to materialize? With a lack of transparency and funding troubles existing, it's no wonder scientists are considering decentralized science (DeSci) to be a revolutionary movement that aims to shake up the traditional scientific landscape.

While still considered a niche among blockchain enthusiasts, the DeSci narrative is quickly picking up pace. So much so, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin regularly talks about how DeSci can benefit scientific research, and created a decentralized science industry tab on the Ethereum Foundation website.

Curious as to how decentralization could revolutionize science? From explaining existing pain points to highlighting notable DeSci projects, here's everything you need to know about decentralized science and the innovation it can possibly bring to the crypto scene.

What is DeSci?

DeSci is a movement that leverages blockchain technology to transform the scientific process by making research more open, collaborative, and community-driven. By applying a combination of tokens, NFTs, and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO), DeSci incentivizes and democratizes various aspects of scientific work, including funding, data sharing, and publishing. This approach seeks to address issues in traditional science, such as the 'valley of death' in research innovation, by offering a more transparent and fair distribution of resources and recognition. DeSci is part of a broader push towards open science, where knowledge is accessible to all, collaborations are global and dynamic, and scientific progress is shared freely.

Before delving further into the intriguing world of DeSci, let's take a step back and examine the current state of scientific research.

The current landscape of scientific research

Imagine a scientist that's conjured up a brilliant idea for a new drug or a groundbreaking climate change solution. To make this idea a reality, the scientist will need funding to conduct research, gather data, and publish their findings. Unfortunately, the traditional path can be riddled with the following challenges.

Gatekeepers and funding bottlenecks

Securing funding can be a daunting task. Scientists rely on grants from government agencies or private institutions. These often have strict application processes and favor established researchers or well-trodden research areas. This can create a project bottleneck that leaves innovative ideas from less-known researchers struggling to find support.

Lack of transparency and reproducibility

Many scientific breakthroughs rely on replicating previous research breakthroughs and published results. However, data sharing and methodology details are often kept confidential, hindering reproducibility in the scientific field. This ultimately raises questions about the validity of published findings and slows down the progress of scientific innovation since resources are wasted in reproducing findings.

Limited accessibility and collaboration

Scientific research can be a siloed world, with limited access to data and resources for independent researchers. While cross-border collaboration across geographical and institutional boundaries can be helpful towards sharing related findings and information, it can ultimately be complex and time-consuming to conduct a successful collaboration.

These limitations can stifle scientific progress, hindering the pace of innovation and ultimately impacting all of us.

How DeSci aims to revolutionize science as we know it

DeSci aims to shake up the research scene by leveraging the same system that underpins cryptocurrencies. Adopting the power of blockchain technology, scientists can address these pain points and create a more efficient, transparent, and inclusive scientific ecosystem. Here's how DeSci aims to address these targeted pain points.

Decentralized funding and incentive structures

DeSci introduces novel ways to fund research, breaking free from traditional gatekeepers. One such method of funding and incentivization would be through DAOs and tokenization. DAOs are internet-native communities governed by collective decision-making. In DeSci, DAOs can pool funds from interested individuals using crypto tokens. These tokens will represent overall voting rights and potentially a share of future research breakthroughs. This allows anyone with an internet connection to contribute to exciting research projects by making their voice heard through governance and voting in preferred proposals.

DAOs aside, DeSci platforms can also support crowdfunding campaigns for specific research projects. This allows the public to directly support research they care about via a form of community-driven research. Doing so bypasses the limitations of previous centralized funding models that caused bottlenecks in getting crucial research projects funded.

Open access and transparent data sharing

DeSci employs blockchain's inherent transparency for secure and immutable data storage. This allows researchers to share data openly, encouraging collaboration and independent verification of findings without being limited by geographic borders. A more open approach can also avoid issues where proper credit to scientific discoveries isn't recognized.

Imagine a world where research data is readily available for anyone to analyze and build upon, accelerating scientific progress. Through the security and tamper-proof record of research data stored on the blockchain, concerns about data manipulation are lessened, while the integrity of research findings is protected. Moreover, open data sharing platforms in DeSci foster collaboration between researchers worldwide. By easily accessing and analyzing data, researchers can efficiently replicate experiments, verifying the validity of findings and building upon established knowledge.

Exploring the benefits of DeSci

Expedited innovation and breakthroughs

By democratizing funding and facilitating collaboration, DeSci could contribute to a faster pace of scientific discovery. In an ideal world, brilliant ideas from any corner of the globe would receive the support they need to flourish, potentially leading to groundbreaking breakthroughs in medicine, technology, and countless other fields.

Democratization of scientific participation

DeSci empowers individuals to participate in the scientific process, not just as passive consumers of research findings. Anyone with an internet connection can contribute funding, data, or expertise to research projects they're passionate about. This fosters a more inclusive and collaborative scientific environment.

Increased trust and transparency in research

DeSci promotes transparency in research funding and data sharing. This builds public trust in scientific institutions and the research process in general. By making scientific data readily available, DeSci allows anyone to scrutinize and validate findings, potentially leading to a more robust and reliable scientific ecosystem.

The risks of DeSci

Risks of approving fraudulent projects

DeSci projects are often in their nascent stages, where they're pitching for funding. Given that the technology at this stage is usually still a work in progress, there's typically a higher risk of fraudulent or low-quality projects being encountered compared to established markets. Ultimately, there's a chance that such scientific projects fail to deliver on their promises. In worse cases, certain projects posing as legitimate scientific breakthroughs could turn out to be scams, like what we saw with the infamous Theranos scandal.

Regulation and legal uncertainty

The regulatory landscape surrounding DeSci is still evolving. This lack of firm guidelines can create uncertainty for both researchers and investors. Unforeseen regulations could disrupt DeSci projects or pose legal hurdles for participants. As such, DeSci platforms will need robust mechanisms to anonymize sensitive data while still allowing for meaningful analysis. Balancing data privacy with the need for transparency and research progress amid regulatory uncertainty requires careful consideration.

Technical hurdles related to blockchain technology

While blockchain offers DeSci a secure foundation to base research upon, technical hurdles remain. DeSci platforms ultimately need to be user-friendly and intuitive for researchers with varying technical backgrounds. Scaling these platforms to accommodate a surge in users and complex scientific datasets requires ongoing development. Furthermore, robust security measures are essential to safeguard DeSci infrastructure from potential hacks and data breaches, protecting the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive research data.

Ethical considerations in DAO-based governance

DeSci introduces a new paradigm for scientific funding and decision-making through DAOs. Although empowering, this shift brings ethical considerations to the forefront, particularly regarding governance and the allocation of research funds. This might be the case with whale voting, where a small number of wealthy individuals hold a disproportionate amount of voting power. This could allow them to manipulate voting processes and steer research funding towards projects aligned with their personal interests, potentially neglecting valuable research in other areas.

Examples of top DeSci projects

Here are a few examples of top DeSci projects that tackle diverse challenges in the current scientific landscape. As the DeSci space matures, we can expect even more groundbreaking projects to emerge across various scientific disciplines.


VitaDAO flips the script on scientific funding by empowering a global community to collectively decide which research projects addressing healthy aging and longevity receive financial backing. This innovative DeSci project operates as a DAO, meaning VITA token holders have voting rights on how the DAO's treasury is allocated towards its research. By pooling resources from a diverse group of individuals passionate about extending human healthspans, VitaDAO can support a wider range of research projects compared to traditional funding models, which are often limited by specific agendas or bureaucratic hurdles. Additionally, the community-driven approach of VitaDAO fosters a sense of ownership and shared purpose, potentially leading to more impactful research outcomes in the field of healthy aging.

Hippocrat (HPO)

Hippocrat is one of the more popular DeSci projects in terms of market cap, and achieved this reputation by gaining recognition for its role in secure and transparent clinical trial data management. Hippocrat brands itself as a decentralized patient network where self-sovereignty and personal ownership of health data enhance the quality of personalized medical care. By applying blockchain technology to create an immutable record of clinical trial data, the DeSci platform is secure and protected from manipulation.

This fosters trust in the research process and allows for independent verification of findings. Additionally, Hippocrat offers features like secure data access control and participant consent management, all designed to comply with evolving data privacy regulations. By providing a robust and secure platform for clinical trial data, Hippocrat plays a vital role in supporting the DeSci vision of a more transparent and trustworthy scientific ecosystem.

ResearchHub (RSC)

ResearchHub has established itself as a top DeSci project by tackling several key challenges in scientific research. First, it promotes open access to scientific literature by providing a mobile and web platform where researchers can publish and access findings freely. This dismantles the paywalls present in traditional academic journals that often hinder the sharing of scientific knowledge. Second, ResearchHub supports collaboration by offering researchers tools and integrated social networking features to connect, share data, and co-author papers. This streamlines the research process and encourages interdisciplinary approaches to scientific inquiry. Finally, ResearchHub integrates DeSci principles by exploring the use of reputation-based tokenized incentives. Through activities like peer review and data sharing, researchers can earn Researchcoin tokens for high-quality contributions to the platform, potentially leading to new funding opportunities or recognition within the scientific community.

Overall, ResearchHub stands out as a DeSci project by promoting open access, collaboration, and introducing novel tokenized reward systems to incentivize valuable contributions to scientific progress in DeSci.

Ocean Protocol (OCEAN)

For a DeSci project to be considered popular, it has to address the pain points faced in the traditional scientific research field. That's where Ocean Protocol comes in, as it tackles the critical challenge of data silos with its decentralized data exchange model. Pegged as an open-source protocol for data exchange, Ocean Protocol lets businesses and individuals exchange and monetize data and data-based services. This is achieved through innovative tokenization methods, where Datatokens act like access keys granting permission to specific datasets, and Data NFTs represent the core data itself.

This system empowers researchers to share valuable data, like climate change or marine conservation datasets, while controlling access and potentially earning rewards. By dismantling data silos and fostering a transparent and secure marketplace, Ocean Protocol incentivizes data sharing and fuels scientific progress by making critical insights more readily available for researchers worldwide.

OriginTrail (TRAC)

While OriginTrail isn't strictly a DeSci project in the same vein as Hippocrat or VitaDAO, it supports DeSci by creating verifiable and transparent supply chains for research materials, as it allows for tracking of the provenance of research data. This ultimately aligns with DeSci's emphasis on open data and trust as researchers demonstrate the exact origin and methodology used to generate a specific dataset. Provenance tracking aside, OriginTrail's technology also encourages data reuse, reproduceability for clinical trials, and greater open collaboration among researchers. It's this open-source nature that allows for seamless integration of OriginTrail with other DeSci tools, creating a more interconnected ecosystem for DeSci to thrive. By laying the groundwork for trust and transparency in DeSci, OriginTrail effectively protects the traceability of research materials and data — a crucial aspect for the success of DeSci endeavors.

Final words and next steps

DeSci presents a compelling vision for the future of scientific research. By leveraging blockchain technology, DeSci offers solutions to longstanding challenges in traditional science, such as limited funding opportunities, data silos, and a lack of transparency. Through DAOs, tokenization, and open-access data sharing, DeSci empowers researchers, fosters collaboration, and accelerates the pace of scientific discovery.

Despite still being in its early stages, various promising DeSci projects are active today, diligently tackling diverse challenges in various scientific fields. As the DeSci landscape evolves, addressing challenges like regulatory uncertainty and the ethical considerations of DAO-based governance will be crucial for ensuring long-term success. Overcoming these hurdles could also encourage widespread adoption of this transformative movement that promises to accelerate scientific breakthroughs and improve the lives of all.

Keen to discover other new and exciting crypto narratives? Check out our guides to real world assets and DePIN.

FAQs about DeSci

What is DeSci?

DeSci leverages blockchain technology to create a more open, collaborative, and community-driven scientific ecosystem. It applies tools like tokens, NFTs, and DAOs to democratize various aspects of research, including funding, data sharing, and publishing.

What problems does DeSci aim to solve?

Traditional scientific research faces several challenges, including limited funding, data silos, and an overall lack of transparency. These challenges can all be addressed in DeSci thanks to tokenized crowdfunding and the security and immutability of blockchain technology.

How does DeSci work?

DeSci makes use of DAOs, which are online communities that pool funds and vote on research projects to support decision making. Here, tokens can represent voting rights for the holders. DAOs support a democratized approach to research projects. Blockchain technology is used to give researchers access to data in a secure way. Meanwhile, NFTs that represent unique datasets or research findings can be minted, offering ownership and control to researchers. This decentralized approach removes many of the barriers to progress faced by research projects today, especially those from smaller organizations with fewer resources.

Is DeSci replacing traditional scientific institutions?

DeSci isn't a complete replacement, but rather a complementary force. It aims to address limitations in traditional research by offering alternative funding models, fostering collaboration, and promoting open data. Traditional institutions can leverage DeSci tools to enhance their research efforts.

What are the ethical considerations of DeSci?

DeSci raises ethical questions surrounding DAO governance. "Whale voting" by a small number of wealthy token holders could skew funding decisions. Additionally, protecting data privacy while maintaining transparency in research requires careful consideration.

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