Progressing meta-science through community and internet-native economics.
One of the primary goals of Prima Materia is to advance meta-science, making innovation in the lab more useful to society. This is the objective behind our investment in science translation. It is also an underlying theme within our broader push to use technology as a lever to rebuild society’s most important institutions for the internet age (our “Public Internet” thesis).
While science plays out in many venues – research is conducted in the lab and brought to life across government and industry – the incentives embedded in the publishing-industrial complex play a formidable role in shaping the arc of innovation.
There is ample evidence that today’s dominant publishing “bundle” has resulted in a significant mis-allocation of resources, inhibiting scientific progress through poor incentives, restricted access, and disjointed collaboration. Despite significant growth among open access journals and open source tools, the most important Jobs to Be Done for the ecosystem’s most important stakeholders – scientists and researchers – remain massively under-fulfilled by incumbent oligopolists.
Ideally, the academic publishing process would achieve (at least) four main Jobs to Be Done:
- Validation - Verifying the quality of a scientist’s work
- Attribution - Establishing a track record of productivity and collaboration
- Precedence - Trusted certification of discovery timing and IP provenance
- Distribution - Broad dissemination of scientific knowledge
In theory these would come together to unlock a number of second order benefits, that would shift the scientific value chain from a set of disconnected silos – where publishing exists apart from other areas like technology transfer, funding, and IP management – to a more integrated value network. This would unlock benefits like:
- Research Sustainability - Credibility with funders and institutional backers
- Accelerated Knowledge Loops - Ability to build on top of the discovery of others
- Empowerment Loops - Opening scientific participation to a broader audience
- IP Dynamism - More effective application and productization in industry and government
A quick view of the landscape shows that we are a long way from delivering on even the foundational Jobs to Be Done highlighted above. The replication crisis calls into question the merits of peer review in verifying scientific quality, attribution methods have failed to keep up with how contributions are actually made, and the broad dissemination of scientific knowledge is limited by inaccessible prices.
“Second Nature” is a high level concept for a Decentralised Autonomous/Automated Organisation, formed to develop a new type of community-driven, networked scientific journal. It is built on the belief that scientific progress is shaped by storytelling and by the evolution of who is empowered to be a storyteller.
The approach is inspired by the emergence of media DAOs like Mirror.xyz and intellectual property collectives like VitaDAO, marketplaces like OpenSea, and the increasing maturity of underlying web3 infrastructure (Arweave and The Graph, for example).
There is an opportunity to build a decentralised, user-owned, scientific publishing platform that allows us to address each of the core Jobs to Be Done more precisely, leading in time to a more integrated and aligned economic ecosystem around academic publishing.
- Validation - Tokenization, the ability of contributors to share in the upside of the platform, would allow for new forms of research verification to take place, replacing peer review with mechanisms to incentivize participants to optimize for long term quality and impact
- Attribution - Contributors can be compensated and recognized for their work, via tokenization as well as more collaborative tooling (Github for publishing, “Splits”, etc.)
- Precedence - Blockchain infrastructure can be used to validate contributions, establish permanence, and track downstream citations and IP utilization
- Distribution - Network value will rest in its ability to gain influence and drive impact over the long term, which will incentivize broad dissemination and utilization of research
A platform that solves for these Jobs to be Done will create paths to massively expand the market and impact potential for academic publishing. For example, the on-chain transfer and funding of IP via NFTs has the potential to create a more open source-like system for scientific knowledge. Discoveries can be remixed, built on top of, and applied, all while dynamically compensating various IP owners. This in turn compounds the knowledge loops that accelerate discovery, creates surface area for a much broader set of participants, and establishes a more liquid marketplace that will allow novel funding mechanisms to emerge.
The notion of a new scientific journal is not new. Many, including high profile founders like Brian Armstrong, have commented on the need for reform and proposed ideas. Recently, 1729 published an essay that highlighted dozens of projects aiming to drive open scientific progress. But with the rapidly increasing adoption and maturity of web3 services along with momentum around open science, we may be reaching important behavioral and technological inflection points.
Still, there is a cold start problem in getting researchers to shift to a new platform. Journals hold the keys to credibility in the marketplace, heavily influencing funding flows, research sustainability, and career advancement. The rational option for most scientists is to work within the existing system.
A unique wedge to market (and competitive advantage) may be finding ways to deeply integrate with the existing academic ecosystem. By working with a small set of labs and research partners at existing institutions via our translation program, we can create freedom from near term funding concerns that drive publishing decisions, removing some of the psychological barriers for scientists. It would also be valuable to develop frameworks for IP transfer that will feed the features of the platform as it grows. Investing in building this small can seed the ecosystem, which the central actor being its own first and best customer before opening up the network and tooling to the broader ecosystem.