Research Coin v3

April 11, 2021

[Originally Published on May 21, 2018 at 2:02 AM]

At this point, the thoughts contained in this post is quite old. However I wanted to publish this as I've been tinkering around with a new formulation of a protocol. It comes as an extension of thoughts by
Nicola @ Protocol Labs.

Research is really expensive, a public good, and has nastier power law returns than startups. The graph above shows revenues generated by patents, the step that comes after publicly funded research. It took  10k patents produced at Northwestern at a yearly cost of at least $675 million dollars to produce one patent with licensing revenue of $1B/yr. That's a cost of $67,000 per patent to get this holy grail.

Bell Labs spent over $10B in inflation-adjusted dollars on research and brought together the most incredible minds in an incredibly productive environment. Some of the end results include the transistor, which we all can thank as the earliest baby step for you reading this article.

Today, academics and funders complain about the misalignment of incentives for funding science. That's a discussion for another day.

What we'll talk about today is a potential mechanism to fund basic research at scale. We want to do this to produce the research needed to generate these valuable patents. As well as rewarding the scientists, the individuals who actually generate ideas. The core idea is recursive payments and ownership instead of just betting on getting accepted into a conference or something.

Units of the research coin system:


  • Papers have authors
  • Papers have citations to other papers
  • Papers each have a token. This token is distributed to the owners of this paper, and to citations of other papers in the mechanism described below.
  • Owners are types of people. Can be an individual contributor, or an organization like MIT or something else.

Why staking and markets instead of social style peer-reviewers?

  • Peer review and prestigious journals are proxies for the long-term value of a paper. If we develop a market around each individual paper’s value, then this might be a good way to get rid of social gatekeepers of conferences and journals that incentivize “flash in the pan ideas"
  • There are already too many papers out there. Staking might open the door for algorithmic researchers as well as peer reviewers.
  • It could induce more reproducibility studies since they are valuable but don’t get published in the flashy magazines if people can figure out a way to capture value in that (by shorting the weak paper???), or by purchasing a share

Why papers and authors instead of organizations?

  • Owners can be anyone who is holds an interest, perhaps an author or organization or something else (a DAO)
  • Token could flow directly to researchers, who may do better jobs of funding and finding talent rather than bueracratic organizations.
  • Should owners have a token that people can purchase???
  • A market for organizations???? This may be out of scope for this, as it seems that organizations could just be wallets, and people could potentially own a share of these if they wanted to.

Why a token?

  • Tokens help align value. They establish a clear unambiguous signal for a paper's value, while citations are social and a little bit messy (vanity citations, you scratch my back, I scratch your kind of thing)
  • Seems like this is a utility kind of thing.
  • Maybe you could just use ETH to place bets and do payments, but it seems like you should definitely have some research coin for governance and staking.

Would people invest in research coin?

  • Researchers need to purchase or use research coin to review a paper.
  • People would put money into research coin because it should be a better science/provide more socially useful results than what is currently performed right now.
  • You purchase research coin because you think it produces a better body of science

What's the mechanism?

  1. Research coin distribution event (ICO? or do airdrop to researchers and other stakeholders)
  2. Each paper, when hits preprint server starts a game. Perhaps authors of papers have to stake money as well???
  3. Owners stake research coin so they can peer review this paper.
  4. We gather a set pool of staked money for the paper. They decide on the validity of the paper. And how to initially distribute the distribution of said paper’s individual token in proportion to owners and citations to other papers. This is some type of Schelling point game.
  5. Accurate Schelling point people are rewarded with some new research coin (in some proportion to how much was staked). Slashing the stake of bad reporters.
  6. Once paper Schelling point is set, then distribute locked research token recursively to owners of said paper’s token with pro rata of Schelling point. Intuition is that peer reviews want to review important papers and therefore will stake tokens to do this. More important papers accrue more staked token. More token flows recursively to the owners of the paper’s token. I guess this is technically securitizing basic research IP, lol.
  7. Markets develop for individual paper’s token. These may, later on, yield great research results and therefore generate recursive payments of research token. As more papers get published, flow of money goes recursively to the paper parent papers/owners. The price of the token’s paper, denominated in research coin may
  • Recursive ownership is important because it incentivizes research with the greatest NPV in terms of research coin.
  • Researchers who publish should get steady payouts as more papers cite them, so they can continue to fund more research.

Additional thought

  1. Bounties for research can also function within this space as well. i.e “I am putting X research coin up for grabs if you can solve this problem and these people can verify it’s validity”
  2. Seems a bit complicated,