Financing Science: a Hot Button for Discussions

Research funding is one of the eternal questions in scientific world. Over the years, science has moved forward with the financial help from different patrons, politicians and just rich businessmen who believd in progress and new ideas. For example, Alexander Bell when needed money to develop his “harmonic telegraph,” got some support from the wealthy father of one of his students. Nikola Tesla received some financing from several businessmen like J.P. Morgan, Charles F. Peck, etc.

Nowadays this issue remains a hot button for discussions. Which scientists should get money and which should not?

The considerable part of scientific research is funded through the system of grants. Well-known government agencies, like National Science Foundation in the USA, European Research Council in the European Union and others operating in almost every country are responsible for grants distribution.

How does this system work?

In simple words, the process is the following. Scientific groups or just a single scientist submit an application with a description of a research project. Then, among the number of these applications, special expert commissions select the most perspective ones and allocate funds for them. The winners use money for their research. By the end of the grant term the scientists provide the agency with the report on the project results.

But as the world is constantly changing and the progress is moving forward with big steps, the number of research studies is boosting up. With more and more people applying for each grant, an individual’s chances to get it decrease, so scientists must submit even more proposals. With the growing competition, the process of getting funding becomes more complicated. It can take months to create a good proposal for scientists. Meanwhile, funding agencies, spend more and more time and money reviewing growing bunches of applications.

Moreover, there arises another challenge, particularly for young researchers. The system possesses many biases. The more experienced the scientist is, the more chances he/she has to get the grant. Thus, a few scientists get lots of grants, whereas many others, especially young scientists, get few or nothing. From the one hand, it’s how things should work: more experienced scientists should easier get grants, but from the other hand, it leads the system to just review grant application from perspective of expertise of the research group, not the value of a research.

Let’s get some examples from different statistics generated by some science institutions. Between 1997 and 2006 the National Science Foundation in USA made an investigation and discovered that the average applicant had to submit 30 percent more proposals to get the same number of awards. This puts a lot of pressure on young scientists especially: the success rate for first-time National Science Foundation applications fell from 22 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2006. [1] At the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the overall success rate for grants applications has dropped from 30% in 2003 to 19.1% in 2016. [2] In the latest round of European Research Council Starting Grants, the rate was an insignificant 11.3%.[3]

The curious reader would now ask himself a natural question: is there any way to make the funding of scientific research more effective considering the growing number of applications and giving equal opportunities both for experienced and young scientists?

The answer can be found in the decentralized models.

First, let’s see what meaning the word ‘decentralization’ reveals. The term ‘decentralization’ goes along with its opposite ‘centralization’.

Decentralization and centralization are the two types of structures that can be found in organization of different spheres. Centralization is the hierarchy, the power of planning and decision making are exclusively in the hands of the top. It means the concentration of all the powers at the highest level. On the other hand, decentralization is based on the distribution of power by the top to the middle or lower levels. So to say, if something is decentralized, there is no dependence on a head centre that makes final decision.

The system of grant distribution is purely centralized, the decision is taken by a special expert commission. With the fast pace of science development and the number of research projects held the current system becomes inefficient and considerably slows down the progress.

How can the decentralized models be efficiently implemented in our fast moving world? Evidently, we need a technology that should allow this effective and trusted implementation. Luckily we already have one and its name is “blockchain”. [4] The decentralized power of blockchain produces a new kind of business that may completely change some industries. Blockchain helps to create the systems with the focus on potential of each individual rather than on management of such individuals. The technology does not receive profits of its own, nor does it make decisions based on personal emotions or beliefs. What is more, the decentralization creates connectivity between users in a way that makes sharing of information simple and ongoing.

How can DEIP get together the grants distribution and decentralized models?

DEIP uses the blockchain technology which provides a decentralized model for scientists, granting agencies, investors and communities’ interaction. This gives the opportunity not only to make it easier for scientists to carry out their research but also simplify the process of getting resources for the future projects.

The new technology helps to make the process of resources distribution allocated for a research more efficient. One of the key mechanisms of research funding on DEIP platform is based on the distribution of the internal cryptocurrency. It enables to make this mechanism automatic, when distributing the emission in accordance with the expert assessment of each research. Economic and reputational incentives that blockchain protocol includes, allow avoiding introduction of centralized regulators, who takes decisions on budget distribution among researchers. The DEIP researchers receive profit from their investigation activities according to the expert assessments.

The economic model is based on the system of tokens, which enables to create an independent process for research funding. With the system of expert tokens, it will be possible to reflect the contribution of researchers and scientists. Thus, it will help to avoid biased funds distribution. The scientists and researchers will be finally relieved from the necessity to perform best-selling research to obtain financing for other significant projects

The open question for now: how long will it take for the existing system of grants distribution to accept the revolutionary approach of decentralized models and make the first steps towards the up-grade of the current system? Time will show the answer.

Marie Mulyarchik, Editor, DEIP

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