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Publish-and-Flourish: Using Blockchain Platform to Enable Cooperative Scholarly Communication

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  • Neutrino8, Inc.

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Scholarly communication is today immersed in publish-or-perish culture that propels non-cooperative behavior in the sense of strategic games played by researchers. Here we introduce and describe a blockchain based platform for decentralized scholarly communication. The design of the platform rests on community driven publishing reviewing processes and implements cryptoeconomic incentives that promote cooperative user behavior. The key to achieve cooperation in blockchain based scholarly communication is to transform today’s static research paper into a modifiable research paper under continuous peer review process. We introduce and discuss the implementation of a modifiable research paper as a smart contract on the blockchain.
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Article
Publish-and-Flourish: Using Blockchain Platform to
Enable Cooperative Scholarly Communication
Emilija Stojmenova Duh 1,2, Andrej Duh 1, Uroš Droftina 1, Tim Kos 1,3, Urban Duh 1,
Tanja Simoniˇc Korošak 4and Dean Korošak 5,6,*
1Infinitcodex, Ltd., Maribor SI-2000, Slovenia; Emilija.Stojmenova@ltfe.org (E.S.D.);
andrej.duh@infinitcodex.com (A.D.); u.droftina@gmail.com (U.D.);
tim.kos@infinitcodex.com (T.K.); urban.duh@infinitcodex.com (U.D.)
2Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana SI-1000, Slovenia
3Institute of Mathematics, Physics and Mechanics, Ljubljana SI-1000, Slovenia
4TSK Studio, Maribor SI-2000, Slovenia; simonic.tanja@gmail.com
5Institute for Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Maribor, Maribor SI-2000, Slovenia
6Faculty of Civil Engineering, Transportation Engineering and Architecture, University of Maribor,
Maribor SI-2000, Slovenia
*Correspondence: dean.korosak@um.si; Tel.: +386-2-2294-323
Received: 17 November 2018; Accepted: 24 April 2019; Published: 5 May 2019
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Abstract:
Scholarly communication is today immersed in publish-or-perish culture that propels
non-cooperative behavior in the sense of strategic games played by researchers. Here we introduce
and describe a blockchain based platform for decentralized scholarly communication. The design
of the platform rests on community driven publishing reviewing processes and implements
cryptoeconomic incentives that promote cooperative user behavior. The key to achieve cooperation
in blockchain based scholarly communication is to transform today’s static research paper into a
modifiable research paper under continuous peer review process. We introduce and discuss the
implementation of a modifiable research paper as a smart contract on the blockchain.
Keywords:
scholarly communication; open science; blockchain; decentralisation; smart contract;
continuous peer review; publish-and-flourish
1. Introduction
The Internet and social media in particular are the enablers of media convergence, a phenomenon
characterized by flow of content and migration of users, linking together content, communication
and computation [
1
,
2
]. However, besides positive effects of convergence such as the rise of collective
processes of information consumption and consumer-generated media, we are recently witnessing
the emergence of fast traveling fake news influencing collective human decisions [
3
,
4
], helped
also by spreading of automated content generation [
5
]. Even reporting on results of scientific
discoveries in traditional academic journals is not immune to overhyped or even fake claims that cause
irreproducibility and distrust [6].
At first, fast migration and automation of content, and trust seem orthogonal to each other.
However, the application of blockchain technologies [
7
] hold a promise to profoundly change and
decentralize scholarly communication [
8
,
9
], bringing together spreadability, migration credibility
and trust, based on open science principles [
10
]. Blockchains, in short, are digital ledgers of
cryptographically validated transactions distributed in a network of nodes that validate each new
block of transactions through some consensus mechanism before that block is immutably appended
to the ledger [
11
14
]. Blockchains are architecturally and politically decentralized: there is no single
point of failure in the infrastructure and there is no single governing body of a blockchain. All nodes in
Publications 2019,7, 33; doi:10.3390/publications7020033 www.mdpi.com/journal/publications
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the blockchain network must, however, with a consensus agree on one state of a blockchain, therefore
making blockchain a logically centralized system [12].
Like blockchain, science is architecturally (research infrastructures do not have a single point of
failure) and politically (research is not governed by a single scientific authority) decentralized [
15
].
Science is, however, logically centralized (the scientific community must agree on one state—scientific
truth) through “a process that does lead to a broadly shared consensus. It is arguably the only
social process that does” [
16
]. In science, this consensus is reached through scholarly communication.
Though “The goal of science, moreover, is to achieve the maximum degree of consensuality” [
17
],
we see the consensus in science as a temporal, dynamic process that also influences peer review
and its outcomes [
18
]. There are variations in the level of consensus and different approaches to
confirmation [
19
] and reproducibility [
20
] across scientific disciplines. We find the broadly shared
consensus at the core knowledge, while at the research frontier [
21
] there may simultaneously exist
several (many) research consensuses.
Building of a truly decentralized and trusted scholarly communication model “prompts the
articulation of the functions that academic publishing provides and how, if these are still required, they
might be provided in decentralized models” [14].
Academic publishing (in print and electronic form) is a prevailing medium of scholarly
communication that in the current form suffers from inefficiencies including slow, incomplete,
inaccurate and unmodifiable communication [22].
Today, there exist three high-level models of academic publishing: paywalled (peer reviewed,
free or fee for authors, readers pay to access the papers), open access (peer reviewed, fee for
authors to publish, free access to published papers), and preprint repository (self-archiving or
centralized archives of preprints, no fees, but no peer-review either). Scholarly publishers provide,
from an economic point of view, rivalrous or non-rivalrous goods (research papers in the form of
physical or digital texts) that can be excludable or non-excludable (behind paywall or free to access).
However, a more careful analysis shows that a journal, as an instance of scholarly communication,
is better understood as a knowledge club [
23
] where members of the community both produce and
consume knowledge under voluntary and non-anonymously crowded participation, with exclusive
access [
23
]. If scholarly publishing “works best as a club good” [
23
] and is “better understood
as a social production technology” [
24
] then any innovative technological solution to scholarly
communication problems must primarily focus on providing support for communities and their
governance structure. Blockchain technologies are promising in this respect since at the core they are
peer-to-peer networks governed by consensus mechanisms. Yet, despite technological advances in
communication and publishing technologies that can provide efficient infrastructure governed by
researchers [
25
], the journal structure of scholarly communication is still prevalent. We agree that
“scholarly publishers need to shift their attention from products to communities; from journals to
knowledge clubs” [24].
Consolidation of the academic publishing industry resulted in a market with limited competition
and with ever increasing profits for a few large players [
26
28
]. Large profits are possible because
the marginal costs of electronic publishing have no lower boundary (practically zero), and because
paywalled or open access academic publishing stands on non-compensated work of researchers in
three-fold roles: authors, reviewers and editors. Academic publishing was described as a coordination
game (Bergstrom 2001) where users (authors, reviewers and editors) coordinate at journals and are
stuck in one of the equilibria where they “continue to pay huge rents to owners of commercial
journals” [29].
Large publishing companies have positioned themselves as centralized authorities, as gatekeepers
of the quality of published research and providers of reputation for authors whose academic careers
in turn depend on the products these same publishers provide. Academic life is immersed in
publish-or-perish culture, the growing pressure on researchers to keep rapidly publishing scholarly
content to survive in academia, resulting in fast-growing volume of published papers [
30
,
31
].
Publications 2019,7, 33 3 of 15
Such accelerated growth of published scholarly content slows down the progress in large scientific
fields [
32
] and affects science trustworthiness when the quantity of published work is used as dominant
metric for evaluation of researchers [
33
]. Trustworthiness in science is further eroded by arrival of
predatory journals [
34
] the existence of which “is only the most pathetic facet of a much deeper cultural
problem within science—a form of comic relief on the backdrop of a tragedy, which we should all take
as a reminder of how far from our goals we have strayed” [35].
At the core of scholarly communication is peer review, a recommendation process underlying
publication decisions that should guard the trust and guarantee high quality of published work.
However, under publish-or-perish culture, peer review became flawed, non-transparent, inconsistent
and biased [
36
38
]. The current situation in the academic publishing market where the scientific
journals operate without the transparency of peer review process [
39
41
] is harmful to scientific
progress [
42
44
], limits the participation of researchers from developing economies, is biased against
young researchers, and creates wrong incentives for authors [4548].
Are there ways out of the current scholarly communication paradigm? In terms of a coordination
game, can the community of researchers move from the current publish-or-perish equilibrium into
publish-and-flourish equilibrium?
Suggestions to change the current paradigm include morphing the self-archiving preprint
repositories into the arXivs of the future [
49
], using disruptive technologies such as peer-to-peer
applications changing distributions of financial resources between researchers and institutions [
50
],
and decentralized blockchain solutions [
8
,
9
,
14
,
51
] by creating platforms for open science [
10
] on
the blockchain.
Following the analysis of inefficiencies of today’s scholarly communication, a six-stage process
approach of modifying the current system into an open science platform was proposed [
22
] with the
implementation of open, continuous peer review as the last stage of the transformation process. Key to
the shift from publish-and-perish to publish-and-flourish academic culture is a profound change in
incentives for authors: “... the scientist’s ultimate objective is no longer to get published, because
everything is published. The objective is to influence future ideas and investigations, that is, what
should be the key incentive in the first place” [22].
Here, we suggest that for such a shift a radical change of the concept of research paper itself is
necessary—a change from unmodifiable to modifiable published scholarly content that by definition
demands open and continuous review process. We show that distributed ledger technology (i.e.,
blockchain technology) based platform solution tailored to support open scholarly communication
provides users (teachers, researchers, students) with mechanisms for building trust and reputation,
protects privacy and operates with transparency and access through a decentralized peer-to-peer
network. In particular, we propose a design for a platform that supports the implementation of
encoding scholarly content into smart contracts—a code that runs on a blockchain. Such encoding
allows the content to function as a computable autonomous entity that can interact with other
computable autonomous entities on a blockchain and with human users on the platform.
2. Theoretical Motivations
An interesting set of experiments [
52
] explored how blockchain technology as a new medium
could change storytelling by considering stories as currency—in this case as cryptocurrency, and
noticed that both competitive and cooperative modes of user actions are induced by the distributed
organisation of the blockchain. This opens up an intriguing possibility to explore the role of
blockchain technology in strategic games [
53
] and in resolving social dilemmas occurring in scholarly
communication set as game theoretical problems [5459].
Let us consider two core processes in scholarly communication: publishing (making information
available to public) and peer reviewing (recommendation process to publish/reject a paper) as games
played by rational agents acting in both roles: as authors and as reviewers.
Publications 2019,7, 33 4 of 15
The quality of published works and therefore trustworthiness in science critically depends on the
social norms of peer reviewing process [
56
]. Diligent, responsible and honest peer reviews constitute a
valuable resource of the scientific community—the scientific commons [
60
]. Under publish-or-perish
pressure a researcher will prioritise her/his own publication output over providing quality reviews of
other researchers’ work, getting the benefit
B>
0 (obtaining a review from the commons) without the
effort (cost)
e>
0 (contributing reviews to the commons). Each researcher can then play a strategy
C
(cooperate), contributing reviews with the pay-off
Be
or can play a strategy
D
(defect) with the
pay-off
B
if enough other researchers (for instance more than
N
) in the community cooperate. If there
are not enough cooperators in the community, the pay-off of a cooperator is
e
, and the pay-off of a
defector 0. The game structure is given in Table 1.
Table 1. The tragedy of the commons game structure.
#C>N#C<N
C B ee
D B 0
With the pay-off structure:
B>Be>e>
0, a rational, strategic choice is to play
D
with the
pay-off 0, thus exhausting the commons and causing “the tragedy of the commons” [
61
,
62
] in this case
the scientific commons.
Social mechanisms like indirect reciprocity [
63
] built on reputation of community members
were shown to be able to resolve the commons dilemma, sustain cooperation (and thus preserve the
commons) in certain repeated games and help overcome the “tragedy of the commons” [
64
]. More
generally, for a successful resolution of social dilemma the interventions in strategies should focus on
four key parts: information, identity, institutions and incentives [65].
The key principles of blockchain technology as enabler of decentralized scholarly communication
are perfectly aligned with these foci of interventions and their core motives: understanding, belonging,
trusting and self-enhancing [
65
]. Blockchain, a distributed immutable database with equal and
full transparency of information to all users without centralized authority, reduces uncertainty and
increases understanding. Transactions based on pseudonymous peer-to-peer communication, with a
choice for a user to opt for proof of identity to others, induces a strong sense of community with
mutual trust between communicating parties in contrast to groups with completely anonymous
communication where it is hard to imagine that consistent and reliable reputation systems might
emerge. The questions of anonymity, pseudonimity or disclosed identity in blockchain technologies
are currently important legal and regulatory issues related to General Data Protection Regulation
(GDPR) [66].
Integrity of the blockchain is protected with algorithms and rules defining consensus mechanisms
that create decentralized trust and provide social and (crypto)economic incentives to reward honest
work (proof-of-X) and increase reputation of users. Blockchain technologies implement on one hand
institutions via coding rules and constraints [
67
], while on the other they still need institutional
governance that must rely on design principles similar to commons [
68
] such as credible commitment
and mutual monitoring [
69
]. This is especially true here, in our case of I8X platform (described
in the next section), where the blockchain technology is of federated or consortium type (the
blockchain is governed by the consortium of institutions) so that “the ultimate impact of blockchain
in systems of governance and regulation will be felt, not just due its innate characteristics, but its
implementation” [70].
The ability of the blockchain—“the trust machine” [
71
]—to act as a generator of decentralized
trust without any central authority is in our view key to promote cooperation between users, to serve
as a indirect reciprocity enabler and reputation builder with perfect memory accessible to anyone.
Cooperation is possible even in games with defection (cheating) as the dominant strategy in community
of users which frequently interact such as prisoner’s dilemma [
53
,
62
,
72
]. Discounting future payment
Publications 2019,7, 33 5 of 15
in repeated games [
53
] can maintain cooperation if players are patient and value future earnings
enough. Consider an example of a similar game between two players as before with benefit
B=
2 and
loss e=1. A two-person variation is then given by the following structure shown in Table 2.
Table 2. Prisoner ’s dilemma game payoff structure.
C D
C1, 1 1, 2
D2, 1 0, 0
A repeated game in which each player adopts a strategy is played in consecutive rounds with
payoff uA,kfor player A(the row player in Table 2) in round k.A’s average payoff in infinite game is:
<uA>= (1δ)
k=0
δkuA,k, (1)
where
δ= (
0, 1
)
is a discount factor—a simple measure of player’s patience for future payments and
trust, or a measure of how the players value reputation [
73
]. Figure 1shows a “grim” strategy of the
row player
A
who plays
C
(cooperation) as long as the other player cooperates. As soon as the column
player Bdefects (plays D), the player Aswitches to Din the next and all following rounds.
Figure 1. Grim strategy and transitions in repeated game as finite state machine.
With such a strategy and with the payoffs given in Table 1, the players will cooperate if average
payoff for cooperation is greater than the average payoff for deviating (defecting):
<uC><uD>. (2)
Average payoff for cooperating is:
<uC>= (1δ)(1+δ+δ2+...) = 1, (3)
while for defecting after player Adefects in the first round we have:
<uD>= (1δ)(2+0δ+0δ2+...) = 2(1δ). (4)
Therefore, a sustained cooperation requires sufficient patience with discount factor
δ
1
/
2.
In large populations of players with random matching, maintaining cooperation requires larger values
of discount factor (Ellison 1994) than in the two player games. If reputations (histories) of players in
population of
N+
1 players are known but cannot be communicated or publicly shared in population
then cooperation will exist when
δ
1
1
/
2
N
[
73
]. However, in situations where players start with
and keep good reputation if they play (using a version of grim strategy as before)
C
against players
with good reputations and play D against players with bad reputations, cooperation is maintained
again with δ1/2.
We assert that even in one-shot games describing the situation in scholarly publishing as social
dilemma, the blockchain could, as a generator of trust, act as a promoter of cooperation. Let two
players
(A
,
B)
compete for priority in publishing a paper describing their research [
54
]. Each can either
honestly report their research without additional effort
e=
0 (choose to play
C
) or can spend an effort
e>
0 to hype up the paper to make it appear more attractive (choose to play
D
). The expected payoff
Publications 2019,7, 33 6 of 15
for researcher
A
depends on the reward for publishing
R
, the choice of effort and a function describing
the probability to publish that depends on the choices of both researchers:
uA=P(eA,eB)ReB. (5)
We interpret
P(eA
,
eB)
as the ability of the scientific community as a collective to discern between
honest research reporting and hyped up or even fraudulent papers. In publish-or-perish culture,
papers that appear more novel and exciting tend to get publishing priority over honest reporting.
This is modeled with
P(eA=e
,
eB=
0
) =
1 and
P(eA=
0,
eB=e) =
0 for player
A
, describing
publication bias found in peer review practice [
38
]. When the effort of both players is the same,
publishing probability equals a coin flip:
P(eA=e
,
eB=e) =
1
/
2, reflecting difficulties in recognizing
honest research reporting in the current pre-publication review system with small number of reviewers
involved in the recommendation process. Choosing
R=
4 and
e=
1, we have the following structure
for this game shown in Table 3.
Table 3.
Example of prisoner’s dilemma game capturing social dilemma in publish-or-perish
academic culture.
C D
C2, 2 0, 3
D3, 0 1, 1
This game portrays a social dilemma since even though mutual cooperation
(C
,
C)
offers better
payoffs to players, mutual defection—publish-or-perish behavior—is the dominant strategy for both
players, and therefore (D,D)is the game’s equilibrium.
Blockchain based solutions for publish-or-perish induced problems in scholarly communication
must include mechanisms and incentives that promote cooperation between researchers to, in the
sense of “publication game”, move the game equilibrium towards publish-and-flourish state
(C
,
C)
.
For instance, incentives for the community and mechanisms for lowering the publication bias so that
P(eA=e
,
eB=
0
) =
1
/
2 would lead, ceteris paribus, to the following game structure shown in Table 4.
Table 4. Example of a coordination game capturing social dilemma in publication game.
C D
C2, 2 0, 1
D1, 0 1, 1
The game with the structure shown in Table 4is an example of a coordination game [
74
] that
has two pure equilibria:
(C
,
C)
and
(D
,
D)
and a mixed equilibrium where both players choose
(D
,
D)
with probability
p=
0.5. Obviously,
(C
,
C)
publish-and-flourish equilibrium is the preferable
outcome for both players, but without communication between players prior to choosing strategy,
coordination failures (i.e., choosing
(D
,
D)
) occurs in these types of games [
75
]. However, using mutual
perfect communication prior to playing always leads to
(C
,
C)
equilibrium, while in games with noisy
communication the selection of strategy
C
by both players depends on the communication signal [
76
].
In blockchain supported scholarly communication, such signals are encoded in immutable memory of
past events visible to all members of the community.
To promote and maintain users’ cooperation and trustworthy publishing and reviewing
blockchain supported processes, the key elements—research papers and reviews—of these processes
must not be static objects. A continuous (non-static) nature of research papers and reviews refers
here to post-publication comments, reviews and curation that take place after the paper has
been published, shifting “curation from before to after publication” [
77
] keeping a research paper
Publications 2019,7, 33 7 of 15
“alive”. Research papers must, therefore, become modifiable entities under persistent review process.
A research paper is, in a sense, a contract between author(s) and the community (depending on,
for instance, strategic game rules as discussed before). It is an element or outcome of a social contract
between science and society under which researchers are expected to communicate their research
results to society. A while ago a call for for a new social contract that “will require more open, socially
distributed, self-organizing systems of knowledge production that generate their own accountability
and audit systems. Under the prevailing contract, science was left to make discoveries and then make
them available to society. A new contract will be based upon the joint production of knowledge by
society and science” [
78
] was made. Implementation of a research paper as a smart contract [
79
]
on a blockchain as discussed in the following section might be one possibility on how to imagine
knowledge production under new social contract.
3. The I8X Platform
In this section we introduce and describe the INFINITCODEX (I8X) (https://dev.infinitcodex.
com), scholarly publishing and reviewing blockchain based technology platform (Figure 2).
The I8X platform enables and supports entwining the two core processes of scholarly
communication—publishing and reviewing—by representing scholarly content as smart contracts
and incorporating cryptoeconomical incentives for building reputation in a trustworthy community
of users. Here, our intent is to introduce the idea and overview of I8X as a platform supporting
various functions of scholarly communication and not to go into implementation details and particular
use cases. We are well aware that practical challenges are huge when thinking about disrupting the
current models and major players in scholarly communication business. Our goal is to build the
platform infrastructure “that enables different providers to offer diverse services—publication of
versioned articles from preprints to the final version of record, quality controls before publication,
peer review, copy editing, post-publication curation, etc.” [
77
]. There are two processes embedded in
the protocol and services layer of the I8X technology stack to support development of applications in
the application layer. The infrastructure layer provides compute, storage, database and virtualization
support, the protocol layer defines blockchain network participation requirement and rules, method
and protocol of consensus, while the services layer contains blockchain services to enable development
of applications and connections to other technologies.
Figure 2. Technology stack of the I8X platform.
The two core processes were designed with three key principles in mind:
- transparency,
- integrity and
- engaging the members of the community.
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Transparency, particularly in blockchain technology context, “is not simply about revealing
information or keeping secrets but continually deploying, configuring, and resisting platforms,
algorithms, and machine learning protocols that manage visibility” [
80
]. We agree that it is important
to “to differentiate between technical transparency—the ability of a technical solution to make
information available and/or accessible—and democratic transparency, an ideal of information
availability, accessibility, and actionability meant to serve broader social purposes, including public
actor accountability and citizen self-efficacy” [
70
]. Transparency of the I8X platform is in this sense
technological and allows members of the community to overview all blockchain transactions and
platform data. On the infrastructure and protocol layer (Figure 2) it is guarded by the consensus
mechanisms and network governance. However, we expect that on the application layer level the
community will develop solutions on top of the I8X platform that will support “social production
technology” [24] of scholarly communication.
How do these key principles of the I8X platform map to scholarly communication functions:
registration, certification, legitimization, dissemination, access, preservation, and curation [81]?
Registration is crucial for establishing precedence for scientific claims and attribution of results [
81
].
Platform functions based on blockchain protocols and governance (consensus rules) provides
users/authors with registration function by writing crypotgraphic hash of authors and paper metadata
(including the possible link to other preprint or self-archiving servers) on the blockchain following
consensus protocol. Immutability of the blockchain record also supports the legitimization function.
The certification function is provided by the reviewing process consisting of comments by the
community in the early phases of publication process, and of open peer review process that ends with
the decision. Both processes: publication and review are on I8X platform coupled by the community
engaged in these scholarly communication functions. This interaction of both processes integrated into
I8X platform helps to establish a workflow that “would allow the chaining of specific implementations
of the registration, certification, etc. functions into a pathway that could be followed by a unit of
communication” [82].
Dissemination and access functions are provided through platform functions and open APIs with
different privileges depending on user status, and curation through review process and publication
flow. Preservation of digital content is on I8X platform supported by peer-to-peer distributed file
systems (such as IPFS—InterPlanetary File System [
83
]) and in addition by uploading to open preprint
servers and self-archiving by the members of the community for redundancy. In a similar way, we can
map the I8X key principles to other descriptions of scholarly communication functions such as control
and moderation, certification and reputation, incentives [
84
], or registration, archiving, certification,
awareness [85]).
I8X blockchain protocol and developed services such as smart contracts contain incentives
(cryptoeconomic as well as social through reputation mechanisms) to stimulate community
engagement in all platform activities performed by community members. The functional overview of
the interdependence of processes, user interaction and community is shown in Figure 3.
The main function of the I8X platform is to translate user generated content—scholarly
communication (research paper, research idea, project proposal, etc.) into curated and reviewed
content. The output of the publishing and the review processes are curated reviews, a curated list of
trusted reviewers and open data access supported by I8X database of over 150 million metadata points
on research papers and high quality index of keywords, authors, organisations and citations. The data
on authors, reviews, reputation indices are stored and generated in a decentralized network and
accessible to everyone through Open APIs or interaction with smart contracts provided and supported
with our I8X technology stack.
There are three types of community members, each with specific roles in I8X platform:
- users,
- peers,
- developers.
Publications 2019,7, 33 9 of 15
Users are members of the community that interact with I8X platform through the application
layer that provides WebUI access and functionality. User actions include claiming existing research
articles and other published content, adding new content, reviewing and commenting on the content.
Figure 3. Functional overview of the I8X platform.
Peers are trusted members of the community that form and secure the blockchain network,
execute transactions through consensus mechanisms and connect applications with the blockchain.
Developers are community members that use and/or build open APIs, data models and
applications using I8X services. I8X applications are decentralized curated content collections. Some
examples of applications are: a single research paper, decentralized journal, journal issue or book,
decentralized conference proceedings, decentralized research project call.
One of the key parts of developing the I8X platform is the representation and encoding of content
(paper, report, abstract, data, code) as smart contract on the blockchain. We take a two-step approach
here: first we represent publishing phases of a research paper as a finite state machine, and then encode
the process into a smart contract [86].
Consider the process of publishing a research paper as an example. The process is started by the
user announcing the intent to publish a paper by submitting the (possibly yet unfinished) content to
the platform using one of the applications. The subset of content data (for instance authors, institutions,
title, abstract) is hashed and written to the blockchain to secure authorship to authors. The review
process (described below) is initiated by the author(s). The outcome of the review process can transition
the paper into a published one or return the paper to author(s) for further revisions and development.
The community can act also on already published content by raising an objective and proposing the
retraction of the published content.
To stimulate good behavior of users, to foster integrity and transparency of the network and to
engage community members into actively following publishing and review processes, we integrated
several socio-economic incentives and deterrents into the publishing and reviewing processes.
As an example
, users can use the I8X platform token for depositing in publishing and review processes.
By successfully performing certain tasks on the platform such as publishing content, writing reviews
and comments, users can earn tokens. The reputation of the user on I8X is a function of number of
tokens the users hold at each instant of time. Since the number of tokens reflects the reputation of a
user, they can exchange tokens only with I8X platform and not with other users. The internal token
economy on I8X for performing functions on the platform serve in this phase as a starting use case for
rewarding (and punishing) mechanisms for work done by researchers in scholarly communication
Publications 2019,7, 33 10 of 15
context (reviewing, commenting, curating, writing, etc.), and for building a community of peers.
However, we are well aware that building a trustworthy and sustainable academic reputation system
cannot be done in isolation from academic institutions and community.
A finite state machine (FSM) representing the paper has the following states (Figure 4): Active (
A
),
Under review (U), Published (P), and Retracted (R).
Figure 4. States and transitions in publishing process.
The FSM can change states with the transitions that are initiated by the community members.
There are the following transitions in the publishing FSM:
A=A
In this state transitions are initiated by community comments which preserve the state.
Community comments reflect expectations of the community about the research paper. There is
no deposit required to submit comments in this state.
A=U
This transition is initiated by the author when the paper is completed and ready for review. The author
deposits NA>NA,MI N tokens and this transaction triggers the start of the review process.
U=U
While the paper is in this state the review process is in progress. Community members can submit
comments about the paper which preserve this state. Commenting in this state works like a prediction
market [
87
90
] where users buy or sell shares for the outcome of the review process (revise or publish).
U=A
Initiated automatically by the platform as a result of reviewing process (with consensus by the listed
reviewers), decision = revise. The author loses the deposited tokens, users that have bought revise
shares receive reward.
U=P
Initiated automatically by the platform as a result of reviewing process (with consensus by the listed
reviewers), decision = publish. The author is rewarded for successful publication by
NP>NA
tokens,
and users that have bought publish shares receive reward.
P=P
In this state users can submit community comments without token deposit and reviews through review
process (see below) that can influence reputation of the reviewer and authors.
P=R
Publications 2019,7, 33 11 of 15
Usually an exceptional transition initiated by community member with “raise an objective”
mechanism followed by a dispute/challenge. The outcome is decisioned by consensus of the peers
(trusted community members).
R=R
Ris a final state, users can submit comments without depositing tokens.
We base our infrastructure and protocol layers on the family of Hyperledger technologies licensed
under the Apache 2.0 license and hosted by The Linux Foundation (https://www.hyperledger.org/).
Using these technologies recently proposed to be applied also in the academic publishing field [
91
],
we are building a community blockchain infrastructure and protocols that will support the services of
the platform and allow the development of applications.
4. Conclusions
Blockchain is a disruptive solution for scholarly communication that “can potentially transform
the current socio-technical stasis of moral and market crises associated with academic publishing” [
92
].
The current scientific publishing system relies on trusted third parties (journals, editorial boards,
editors) that provide interactions between authors and reviewers, and there are conflicting incentives
and lack of trust among participants. There is definitely a need for an objective, immutable history (or
memory) of research results, and for a fair attribution and recognition of authorship that is verified
through peer-to-peer consensus mechanisms.
We have presented our implementation of a blockchain based platform for scholarly
communication that stands on community driven publishing and reviewing processes and we
introduced a research paper as a modifiable entity. Using a strategic game setting, we presented
some of the social dilemmas occurring in academic publishing and showed that building the
trustworthy scientific community is key for changing the current publish-or-perish culture into a
publish-and-flourish one.
Building a trusted peer-to-peer community requires transparency and right incentives for all
participants. Various propositions for token-based economy and reward systems in decentralized
scholarly publishing have already been advanced [
14
], including incentives structure in peer review
processes based on external cryptocurrency markets [
51
]. However, what should proper incentives
in scholarly communication really achieve? As we have argued here, we believe that whatever the
mechanism, the goal must be to establish “a fair game for staking our reputation, so that on questions
of interest to funders, we converge as fast as possible to the “right” answer [89].
Author Contributions:
All authors contributed equally to this article. The individual contributions of the authors
according to the specific tasks in researching and preparing the article are as follows: Conceptualization, A.D. and
D.K.; Software, A.D., U.D. (Uroš Droftina), T.K. and U.D. (Urban Duh); Visualization, T.S.K.; Writing—original
draft, D.K.; Writing—review & editing, E.S.D., A.D., U.D. (Uroš Droftina), T.K., U.D. (Urban Duh), T.S.K. and D.K.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Conflicts of Interest:
Authors of this paper are affiliated also with the company Infinitcodex, Ltd. that develops
technological solutions for scholarly communications partially based on ideas presented in this paper.
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article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution
(CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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See full text here: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/14352/
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