Inspiration

Peer-review is critical to modern science, engineering, and healthcare endeavors. However, the system for implementing this process has lagged behind and results in expensive costs for publishing and accessing material, long turn around times reminiscent of snail-mail, and shockingly opaque editorial practices. Astronomy, Physics, Mathematics, and Engineering use a "pre-print server" (arXiv) which was the early internet's improvement upon snail-mailing articles to researchers around the world. This pre-print server is maintained by a single university, and is constantly requesting donations to keep up the servers and maintenance. While researchers widely acknowledge the importance of the pre-print server, there is no peer-review incorporated, and none planned due to technical reasons. Thus, researchers are stuck with spending >$1000 per paper to be published in journals, all the while individual article access can cost as high as $32 per paper! (source). For reference, a single PhD thesis can contain >150 references, or essentially cost $4800 if purchased individually.

The recent advance of blockchain and smart contract technology (Ethereum) coupled with decentralized file sharing networks (InterPlanetaryFileSystem) naturally lead us to believe that archaic journals and editors could be bypassed. We created our manuscript distribution and reviewing platform based on the arXiv, but in a completely decentralized manner. Users utilize, maintain, and grow the network of scholarship by simply running a simple program and web interface.

What it does

arXain is a Dapp that deals with all the aspects of a peer-reviewed journal service. An author (wallet address) will come with a bomb-ass paper they wrote. In order to "upload" their paper to the blockchain, they will first need to add their file/directory to the IPFS distributed file system. This will produce a unique reference number (DOI is currently used in journals) and hash corresponding to the current paper file/directory.

The author can then use their address on the Ethereum network to create a new contract to submit the paper using this reference number and paperID. In this way, there will be one paper per contract. The only other action the author can make to that paper is submitting another draft.

Others can review and comment on papers, but an address can not comment/review its own paper. The reviews are rated on a "work needed", "acceptable" basis and the reviewer can also upload an IPFS hash of their comments file/directory. Protection is also built in such that others can not submit revisions of the original author's paper.

The blockchain will have a record of the initial paper submitted, revisions made by the author, and comments/reviews made by peers. The beauty of all of this is one can see the full transaction histories and reconstruct the full evolution of the document. One can see the initial draft, all suggestions from reviewers, how many reviewers, and how many of them think the final draft is reasonable.

How we built it

There are 2 main back-end components, the IPFS file hosting service and the Ethereum blockchain smart contracts. They are bridged together with (MetaMask), a tool for connecting the distributed blockchain world, and by extension the distributed papers, to a web browser.

We designed smart contracts in Solidity. The IPFS interface was built using a combination of Bash, HTML, and a lot of regex! . Then we connected the IPFS distributed net with the Ethereum Blockchain using MetaMask and Javascript.

Challenges we ran into

On the Ethereum side, setting up the Truffle Ethereum framework and test networks were challenging. Learning the limits of Solidity and constantly reminding ourselves that we had to remain decentralized was hard! The IPFS side required a lot of clever regex-ing. Ensuring that public access to researchers manuscript and review history requires other proper identification and distribution on the network.

The hardest part was using MetaMask and Javascript to call our contracts and connect the blockchain to the browser. We struggled for about hours trying to get javascript to deploy a contract on the blockchain. We were all new to functional programming.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Closing all the curly bois and close parentheticals in javascript. Learning a whole lot about the blockchain and IPFS. We went into this weekend wanting to learning about how the blockchain worked, and came out learning about Solidity, IPFS, Javascript, and a whole lot more. You can see our "genesis-paper"on an IPFS gateway (a bridge between HTTP and IPFS) here

What we learned

We went into this with knowledge that was a way to write smart contracts, that IPFS existed, and minimal Javascript.

We learned intimate knowledge of setting up Ethereum Truffle frameworks, Ganache, and test networks along with the development side of Ethereum Dapps like the Solidity language, and javascript tests with the Mocha framework.

We learned how to navigate the filespace of IPFS, hash and and organize directories, and how the file distribution works on a P2P swarm.

What's next for arXain

With some more extensive testing, arXain is ready for the Ropsten test network at the least. If we had a little more ETH to spare, we would consider launching our Dapp on the Main Network. arXain PDFs are already on the IPFS swarm and can be accessed by any IPFS node.

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