Orvium: A blockchain-enabled scientific publication platform
Academic publishing is in crisis. Though it has been crucial to the dissemination of scientific knowledge for centuries, lately it has become mired in bureaucracy and inefficiency. One reason as to why is that a small number of major publishers are completely dominant on the market, and exploit it more thoroughly than in any other sector of publishing. Another reason is that the number and the rating of one's publications have increasingly become the preeminent measure of one's success in the academic world.
With profit and reputation motives coming to the fore, considerations of scientific value have plummeted in importance, with predictable results. The speed of publication cannot keep up with the acceleration of scientific and technological progress. The way information is published is often suboptimal, with lack of transparency and omission of key data. Above all, it is difficult and expensive to get published or to acquire access to results. Low-quality journals with still worse practices proliferate, but plagiarism and retractions are common throughout the field.
There have been calls for drastic changes in the industry for years now, but the problems have yet to be resolved and in many cases have only gotten worse. Orvium is the latest effort to address them. It proposes to make science more accessible and efficient by moving academic publishing to a high-tech enhanced blockchain platform.
Users (whether individuals or organisations) will be able to register on the platform through the Orvium GUI, with authentication carried out by different methods. Researchers will be verified through their ORCID ID. Manuscripts, including both “proper” scientific articles and gray literature (such as white papers), could be submitted and published instantly and free of charge. Anyone (not just the authors) would then be able to stake Orvium tokens (ORV) to encourage peer reviews. Every researcher on the platform will be free to submit a review, and receive a reward (both tokens and platform reputation) if it is accepted by the author. Those reviews will be fully transparent and could be made at any point.
Authors on the platform will have full control over their copyrights and licensing, with the option of leaving their materials in open access or requiring some form of fees from all or some types of users (such as companies or government organisations) for access, reproduction and use. Users will have the option of creating Decentralised Autonomous Journals (DAJs) on any subject by staking ORV and paying platform fees, as well as paying authors for the right to use their work if necessary. DAJ governance and publication rules will likewise be fully customiseable and enforced through smart contracts. ORV could also be staked to set a challenge for members of the community to participate in a research program or tackle a particular problem. Orvium will include a social media function and enable the collective editing and discussion of papers.
The platform is designed to take full advantage of a number of cutting edge technologies. All transactions, published materials and authorship data are going to be stored on the blockchain with the help of decentralised storage technology. Manuscripts could be updated by authors, with changes being private until a new version is submitted and added to the history. Flexible authorship and ownership structures for papers, reviews or DAJs shall be fully accommodated. This fully transparent and unalterable record will be used for machine learning-enhanced big data analysis, accessible by spending ORV. Big data analytics would help authors by suggesting journals, reviewers and keywords for their texts and relevant topics or related articles in different fields; reviewers would benefit from algorithms pointing out areas of attention such as possible plagiarism. Analytics will also be used to calculate impact factor. Platform functions will be assisted by cloud computing.
The first direct beneficiaries of Orvium's model will be the researchers (individuals, teams and entire institutions) who will find it far quicker, easier and cheaper to get published, whilst also being much better rewarded for the use of their research. The platform's features have a number of less direct benefits for this group as well: full transparency, accountability, secure transactions and a number of other features encouraging widespread and effective scientific collaboration. Those who want access to research data (whether other researchers, companies or government organisations) should also find it much easier to get it through this system.
But in addition to remedying the problems of the academic publishing industry, Orvium also pursues another, even larger idealistic goal: that of streamlining and augmenting the scientific process, and thereby benefiting all of humanity. Everything that helps scientists share their findings and work with each other is a direct contribution to that goal. Those who are interested in stimulating scientific developments in general or in some particular field, for any reason from vested interests to personal enthusiasm, will receive the option to act as patrons by staking tokens on reviews and challenges.
The team behind Orvium has solid credentials for the project, as many of its members have been involved in the data management and machine learning aspects of CERN – the largest scientific project in history. That means they are both well-connected and clued in as to the technologies needed to make their platform a reality and also have the priceless unique experience of being directly involved in scientific collaboration. Currently, work on the project is still at an early stage, but there is already a functional prototype of the main platform software. The integration of so many useful services and functions could make it a unique and invaluable resource for the scientific community. Last but not least, tapping into the popular current of discontent against the academic publishing industry and offering a high-minded vision of fostering scientific progress ought to make it attractive to at least some important part of the academic community, whose support would be absolutely critical to the success of this project.
As scientific development continues to pick up pace, the issues that plague the academic publishing industry are only going to become more and more relevant. Orvium seems to offer an excellent solution based on an idealistic model of scientific collaboration and the integration of a vast array of technologies. However, the project as it stands now is not without some flaws. Some of the technologies it relies on could be more properly described as bleeding-edge, meaning they are still not fully ironed out and can run into serious and unexpected problems. Also, its model appears to be weighted heavily in the favour of the authors, which may turn out to be a form of overcorrection that would be detrimental to its mission (for instance, authors appear to have full power over whether or not any rewards will reach the reviewers of their papers, which seems like it would discourage peer reviews).
Like with all blockchain projects, the most important thing for its long-term success is the buy-in of the members of its ecosystem. In this case, the greatest asset Orvium could get is the active support of a large number of credible academicians. So far, its level of online activity has been discouragingly low, which could impede this. However, it is still fairly early in the project's existence, and there is still plenty of time to address those concerns. Assuming it gets the support it needs, it could start a long-overdue revolution in academic publishing and the whole process of science.
This review by Bonanza Kreep is all opinion and analysis, not investment advice.