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.
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.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
What we learned
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.