Open science/Open Access

LibScience - opening up and sharing knowledge

Date:
Changed on 21/02/2024
The aim of the startup LibScience is to put scientific publishing back in the hands of researchers. Drawing on the capabilities of Web3 and the blockchain, the purpose is to reshape scientific publishing by making it open and decentralised. After a year of maturation within Inria Startup Studio, a first version integrating publication in a decentralized open archive was deployed on a test network in order to evaluate and improve the tool's basic functionalities with a view to its public opening.
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My name is LibScience. “Lib” as in library, but also liberty. I am an open-access scientific library seeking to put researchers back in control of the articles they publish. Articles are essential when it comes to validating the results of research and sharing knowledge. Traditionally, they have been hosted in niche journals owned by major publishers, with significant sums of money changing hands. Two main models are used: reader-pays and author-pays. “The average cost of a subscription to a scientific journal is in excess of €100. If you want to have an article published, it will cost you around €1,600, or possibly more depending on the reputation of the journal”, explains Jérémy Corriger, an immunologist-allergist and one of my creators alongside Pol Reitz, project manager at the INRS, and Pierre-Jean Morieux, an independent developer. And Jérémy speaks from experience - over the course of his career as an allergist, he has had around 30 or so articles published.

Open access and open science

There is often a lack of transparency around the mechanisms for selecting or improving papers, leading to the publication of results that are potentially in competition with the work of the individuals in charge of evaluating them being either rejected or postponed. “With this publisher-centric model there are also issues relating to the permanence of data and intellectual property, as well as ethics, through the review process”, adds Pol Reitz. “There may have been a decline in the importance of for-profit publishers in the digital era, but they remain very much central to the research economy.” With a view towards breaking away from these traditional models, the past fifteen years or so have seen the rise of open access distribution, based on the principles of open science. One example is the “Diamond model, which is supported by public institutions. However, given the technical and infrastructure costs involved, these models are not exempt from certain economic pressures, when they are not recuperated by publishers who use or even abuse the system and develop hybrid models where it is necessary to pay both for publication and for access to certain content. 

A new way of publishing

It was with these challenges in mind that I was designed, my three creators sharing the same vision of developing an effective, fair and decentralised publishing tool. Back in 2021, when Jérémy and Pol started exploring possible solutions to the problems they had identified, their attention soon turned to the blockchain, a method of storing and transmitting information without any central authority. Alongside distributed systems, the blockchain is one of the pillars of Web3. As Pol explains, “this is a novel way of doing things, the goal being to develop decentralised infrastructure.” They were then joined by Pierre-Jean as they sought to determine my operating principles and the unique benefits I could bring users.

Empowering researchers with control over their work

Firstly, from a financial point of view, “publication costs are pegged to the Diamond model,” explains Jérémy, “meaning it’s much cheaper than a traditional publisher. What’s more, users, reviewers and supervisors all receive digital assets which they can reuse for their own publications. The goal is to create a virtuous circular economy model.” Then, with regard to intellectual property, as authors will also retain full ownership of their work. “Our goal is not to be a publisher; articles won’t be subject to licensing rights which limit authors’ reuse of their own data.” In addition, a comprehensive and easy-to-access publication history will be made available. “Everything is traceable on the blockchain. You can access all of the metadata linked to an article, find out who submitted it and who evaluated it, and access its iterations for improvement. The entire process is transparent.” The permanence of data will also be guaranteed: “With a centralised system, if a publisher shuts down then any articles will no longer be accessible as they were the ones who held the rights. With LibScience, articles will be stored in a distributed manner on networks such as IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) and on a public blockchain. 

They will remain accessible no matter what happens.” Finally, as Pol explains, the entire governance will be revamped: “All of this puts research back in the hands of researchers. They are the ones who will make the decisions about the future of this service. Over time they will develop their own rules, those they want to interact with.” 

Quicker development within Inria Startup Studio

In practical terms, I will operate as a website allowing users to access a number of distributed services. “The first target is to develop, from early 2024, the basic functionalities linked to the open archive. Then to add a solid foundation for community tools (publication and governance) to propose our MVP (Minimal Viable Product) during 2024. The next step will be to introduce the peer-review feature on the platform, as well as to develop our offering by integrating a suite of Saas (Software as a Service) tools, exploiting AI (artificial intelligence) for document monitoring, analysis and data processing, between 2024 and 2025." In order to achieve this, Jérémy and Pierre-Jean joined Inria Startup Studio, which paid them a salary for a year, allowing them to focus entirely on my development. Being around other project leaders is also an important factor when it comes to emulation, in addition to support on practical aspects such as legal assistance. “This has helped to speed up progress”, says Pierre-Jean.

Broadening horizons to all research fields

As for my users, initially these will be biomedical researchers. “There are two main categories in academic publishing and in research more generally”, explains Jérémy. “Medical and technical sciences, and human and social sciences. There are significant differences between the two when it comes to how research is carried out and how published articles are formatted and assessed. We will be starting with biomedical because that's the field we know best from our different backgrounds.” Longer term, the goal is to open me up to all fields of research and institutions, as Pierre-Jean explains: “Users of LibScience will be researchers, but we would like to offer publication to public or private institutions, at a cost up to ten times lower.” 

 

A common interest in sharing scientific knowledge

LibScience began with three friends who had known each other for years and who were all passionate about the sharing of scientific knowledge. Jérémy Corriger is an immunologist-allergist by training, but while he was studying medicine he also studied for a Master’s in Basic Immunology, during which he focused on flow cytometry. As a result, he was able to develop his knowledge of data processing. After working in a hospital environment for several years, he is now closely involved in the development of LibScience, a project he launched with Pol Reitz, who he has been friends with since secondary school. Currently working as an IT project manager at the INRS, Reitz studied Cognitive and Computer Science at university, before going on to complete a Master’s in Computer Science at the University of Lorraine. It was there that he met Pierre-Jean Morieux, who has a Master’s degree in Computer Science and another Master’s in Computer Game Production. Morieux set up his own micro-enterprise and worked on a range of projects, from serious games to augmented reality, before joining LibScience.

Since October 2023, the team has added a new member, Louis Neyrand, who joined the adventure after the maturation phase!