The Nature science journal recently published an editorial in its Nature Bioscience section lauding the use of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) as a revolutionary new method by which researchers working in underfunded scientific fields can create communities around their work and raise funding which, otherwise, might not be available.
In a DAO-based research scheme, a project’s organization, fundraising, feedback, and pipeline from discovery to product/industry can all be handled by the same decentralized governing body.
Per the Nature article, the general workflow would also be streamlined compared to the status quo:
“Project proposals are sent to the DAO, and each DAO member is able to vote on whether a particular project should be funded. Members have tokens … to provide support and feedback to new project proposals. Research results are also provided to the DAO as projects continue, leading to further feedback and engagement. Eventually, the project will (hopefully) end up in an IP-NFT (intellectual property non-fungible token) — something like a patent, which is owned by the DAO and governed by all token holders.”
Funding can vary wildly from one scientific endeavor to another. During boom and bust periods, research into areas such as AI and quantum computing might receive huge boons from big tech, government, and follow-on investors while sectors which may have been well-funded previously, such as longevity, or those that have been traditionally underfunded, women’s health issues for example, may find funding increasingly difficult to secure.
DAOs are built on blockchain technology. This allows them to function on a digital ledger that is transparent and decentralized – meaning it isn’t controlled by a single entity or institution. In the science world, this means that project funding and community interaction can be democratized.
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Traditionally, those scientists working at or with the most prestigious institutions — major universities in countries with high GDPs, government institutions and contractors, big tech and big pharma companies — not only receive the most funding, but also have access to the most potential funding.
The distinction is important because, as scientists leave geographical areas with less funding to pursue research in wealthier areas, the “brain drain” associated with emigration is compounded.
And, because DAOs don’t necessarily have to respect borders (though the legalities surrounding their operation can vary by location), they can be governed by the needs and wishes of the scientists performing the research, not the country, university, or company sponsoring it.
Ultimately, the Nature editorial staff concludes that DAOs could become a crucial platform for underfunded researchers, but adoption will require further education.
“Part of this challenge is helping possible members realize that the DAO is not just a funding body,” the staff writes, “but also a community of people who care strongly about supporting a particular scientific cause.”