Creative destruction of scientific funding – a DeSci approach 

6 min read
> This is the second part of my 3-part series on Decentralized Science. Read my first intro piece, Decentralized Science – should Science be crypto-fied? 

The concept of money can be very complex. To some, it’s just means of commerce, or an association with social status and identities, or simply how we live and survive in this world. To me, most of the time, I see my dollars as voting rights. Every penny I spent is not only supporting a business, but also the values that the business holds. In my daily life, I consciously try, within my means, to align these actions to my personal principles. For example, a purchase of a fair-trade ethically-source organic vegan chocolate bar from a small local person-of-color- and queer-owned business is my way of supporting workers’ rights, environmental-friendly farming practices, animal rights, ethnic diversity, and LGBTQ+ communities. Of course, it is with the assumption that I did my research well through all the greenwashing and false labels to avoid unintended consequences in this complex world we live in. 

Imagine a world where your professional work is compensated in the form of exclusive voting rights that you can cast towards something that you believe in and are deeply invested in. What if this world already exists? 

How does it work?

A decentralized protocol fundamentally flattens the hierarchical decision powers of traditional organizations. 

The Decentralized Science (DeSci) approach to funding explores and experiments new incentive models and alternate funding mechanisms through science-focused Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), which is an ecosystem for open, transparent, non-hierarchical, and secured networks of communities with shared governance power. A key feature of such a framework is its operation without being controlled by a central authority, thus fully democratized.  

DAOs are community-owned and -operated digital collectives that consist of individuals from around the world. They are permissionless i.e., allowing anyone to participate, mediated by web3 technologies, and enable wide-ranging, diverse groups of people such as, but not limited to, researchers, enthusiasts, patients, to come together around shared goals and shared decision-making processes. Individuals within the specific science-focused DAO will contribute through completing tasks (for example, VitaDAO onboarding task list) that help support the ecosystem to earn governance tokens as voting rights in making decisions. One essential function of DAOs includes managing a treasury of assets and money by collectively and voting through proposals on how to invest funds in early-stage research projects.  

What is it trying to overcome? 

Project proposal marketplace 

Current funding systems for scientific research function according to capital allocation and how capital is allocated depends on the interests of the funders, be it driven by profits or even aligning with political strategies. Large, institutionalized funding engines such as the United States National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Swedish equivalent, Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) allocate funds to research projects through lengthy grant applications and time-consuming review processes. Such funding mechanisms are usually slow and highly competitive. Decision-making powers are generally in the hands of a few senior authorities. Yet, they are also the main arterial channels for academic researchers to get funded and survive.  

Instead of merely relying on traditional research funding agencies or philanthropic foundations, with the alternative DeSci framework, researchers can list their research projects or even ideas in the DAOs as means to engage with potential investors and gather funding for their projects, consequently creating an early-stage research project marketplace. Contributors can participate online within the DAO by voting on proposals and many other ways, including, but not limited to, scientific evaluation, incubation, and commercialization. In accordance with a communal sense, project proposals submitted in the DAOs are supported with feedback from the community as well as scientific advisory boards for improvements, undergo rounds of reviews and resubmissions with quick turnaround time, followed by voting, instead of harsh outright rejections in traditional settings.  

By nature of the DeSci community interests, such environment enables the creation of a supportive, transparent, and democratic culture, even in the governance of scientific funding. Since when does a system encourage people to be nice to you about your grant proposals? 

Translation – from bench to bedside  

The notorious ‘valley-of-death’ in scientific research is a term used to describe the major obstacle and loss in translation between basic research to human studies or commercialization. Present early-stage basic research mostly incubates in academia and relies on startups, biotech, or pharma companies to commercialize the discoveries. However, academics are not set up to build business, yet profit margins and asset development are the key drivers for companies to license new technologies and innovations.  

The mismatch in incentives for technology transfer between academia and companies may be overcome by bringing in core users of these innovations, such as patients for new therapeutics, and enabling individuals to participate in decision-making processes that they were disempowered before. A diabetic patient, for instance, would more likely optimize insulin innovations for healthcare outcomes rather than for profits. Therefore, by decentralizing and fostering the creations of incentives around user communities would be for the greater good than solely feeding the giant pharma.  

Intellectual properties  

IP-NFT, a term coined by Molecule – a Swiss-based web3-powered company, is the tokenization of intellectual properties (IPs) produced from research projects to unique digital assets i.e. non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on blockchain for shared ownerships. Decentralization of IPs permits any individuals to share IP ownerships. This can overcome market exclusivity of current patenting infrastructure and authorize access to cutting edge innovations that are previously locked up in patents. Profits generated from IP-NFTs will also be recirculated to fund other projects in the DAOs, creating a circular economy for scientific research.  

> More coming soon on my next post on the DeSci approach to publishing! 

Et cetera 

If you want to learn more about the DeSci approach to funding, below are some resources the I’ve referenced. 



Queer | Vegan | Scientist studying aging | Exploring writing | Curious about everything


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