The DeSci movement claims the process of publishing scientific research papers through peer review is often slow and exploitative. Academic publishing houses manage the pathways of scientific paper publishing, relying on the labor and time of researchers, reviewers, and editors. To add to this, the majority of scientific journals follow a pay-to-publish business model, requiring scientists to pay for their research to be published. DeSci argues that these practices render current peer review and publication methods inefficient, and there is a need to streamline and reform the process while compensating peer reviewers for their time.
Despite the existence of peer review, numerous studies, and systematic reviews have shown that it does not reliably prevent lesser-quality science from being published (Liu, 2022). Publication bias remains a concern, and the quality of published papers may be influenced by the pressure to secure financing (Joober et al., 2012). The resulting “publish or perish” pressure stimulates a desire for research that is likely to make hype headlines rather than work that is critical for society but not so entertaining to read,” (Shilina, 2023). However, this statement is not true across every country, particularly where science is heavily financed by the state e.g. the CNRS in France pay researchers not based on results but for their work. Traditional peer review has suffered multiple criticisms, and yet only a few alternatives have gathered success (Ware, 2008). "Over time the most successful people will be those who can best exploit the system," (Belluz et al., 2016)
What must be acknowledged, is that the nature of peer review is already very collaborative. The greater the prestige of the research journal, the more reviewers. High-quality publication outlets regularly demonstrate three characteristics: they are rigorous, discerning, and critical in their evaluation; they exert influence on others in that they are read and cited; they bring prestige to the works and institutions they publish (Rich et al., 1970). Furthermore, some researchers are indeed paid for peer reviewing, and the Open Science movement has made significant progress in unrestricting access to knowledge normally hidden behind paywalls. Additionally, what is critical is how the research parameter is defined. If all articles are peer-reviewed for free, it becomes a zero-sum game, where the system is more efficient and becomes cost-effective.
DeSci claims that Web3 technologies are actively addressing the issues with the current peer review system. Blockchain seeks to provide transparency as a decentralized immutable public ledger, allowing for recorded exchanges to be freely accessible. Incentives in the form of tokens and NFTs could encourage the sharing, review, and curation of information, leading to new models of knowledge-sharing and rapid research publishing and review. Smart contracts can incentivize genuine reviewers with tokens, instead of biased publishers. These advancements aim to further enable rapid science and create a more equitable and open scientific community. However, it is important to note that transparency is not always desirable
However, DeSci also introduces new concerns regarding the detection of fake identities and fake peer reviews that could break the integrity of the reviewing process, and damage the quality and fairness of academic publishing. In addition, the rapid speed of science facilitated by Web3 can also lead to research errors - as scientific research is a complex process involving multiple steps which must be treated carefully. Furthermore, the limited inclusivity and user-friendliness of current blockchain technologies are important drawbacks. Simplifying the complex decentralized systems for users remains a major design challenge to make blockchain solutions more accessible. Ensuring data availability and proper stewardship of decentralized information systems presents another challenge, as inadequate policies could result in the loss of crucial data.
It is important to note that across many fields, particularly in niche disciplines, despite anonymity being ensured by the system, it is sometimes easy for researchers to recognize who is behind a peer review based on their evaluation and writings.