Inspired by Aaron Swartz' Ideals New DAO Takes Aim at Academic Publishing Industry

A new DAO is forming that's devoted to the information liberation ideals of the late computer scientist Aaron Swartz.

By: Brady Dale Loading...

Inspired by Aaron Swartz' Ideals New DAO Takes Aim at Academic Publishing Industry

A new decentralized autonomous organization is drawing inspiration from ConstitutionDAO and the ideals of information liberation exemplified by the late activist Aaron Swartz.

An early mission statement was shared on the currently nameless DAO’s Discord server during the call: “The vision is to design an incentivized system for open access academic peer-reviewed publishing.”

The idea began with a Twitter thread from Nov. 18, in which David McDougall, a vice-president at crypto prime brokerage Genesis Trading and instigator of the DAO suggested, “We could buy all of academic publishing for ~ $25 Billion, but we could start one journal at a time.”

Paywalled Publishers

The thread culminated over the last few weeks into an actual effort, and its first team call was kicked off Monday afternoon New York Time by McDougall who explained that he was “really inspired by what happened with ConstitutionDAO. “I watched a bunch of people come together to solve a capital allocation problem to go after a really big goal.”

Various early supporters, most of whom were running other efforts aimed at making science more legible, also provided grounding thoughts for this first conversation. “This DAO could end up putting pressure on the big paywalled publishers,” said Patrick Joyce, of the open science community ResearchHub. “If anything comes out of this project it could be huge economic pressure on the powers that already exist to be better actors.”

Academic publishing is widely derided as creating too much profit for too few companies with paywalled access for research that’s often produced with public money. Swartz engaged in civil disobedience against the academic press. Facing federal prosecution for allegedly unlawfully downloading academic publications, he took his own life in early 2013. Since then, he has become a hero for many hacktivists and free speech champions who share his ideals, and his efforts would presage other legally grey initiatives that liberated research, such as the website Sci-Hub.

Swartz’s Memory

So, McDougall initially wanted to actually name the effort after Swartz, calling it “SwartzDAO” (the name which still serves as its Twitter handle). Until Monday, the Discord server icon for the group was a line drawing of the late Reddit co-founder.

“Aaron to me was inspiring,” McDougall said on the call. “He was really relentless in fighting for things he believed in.”I feel like this is one where I made a decision and I’m owning up to it as a mistake that I made and I would love the community to support a new name. That’s where I’d like to get to.”

However many members of tech Twitter who aren’t necessarily enamored with the cryptocurrency industry took umbrage at the invocation of Swartz’s memory in a blockchain initiative.

The most notable skeptic is probably Glitch founder Anil Dash, a prominent member of tech twitter and a frequent critic of solutions to public problems that lead with technology (he was charitable about the DAO that inspired SwartzDAO).

“It’s really f*****g gross to use Aaron’s name without permission,” Dash tweeted. “And during his life he never once commercially exploited his name or the fact that he was well-known, let alone granting rights of usage to people who never even met him.”

Not everyone agreed with the negative takes.

The name remains indeterminate at this point, along with many other facets of how the project will work. Will the DAO really try to start acquiring journals or will it just start one of its own, for example? Interested potential participants can weigh in on its nascent FAQ in real time.

Votes are closing midday New York time Tuesday on 15 possible names for the new organization.

McDougall said, “The name was a way to say we have a goal and it was a big ambitious goal.”