Should scientists be paid to openly share ideas on the Internet? (Thinklab just paid out $2,557!)


I started Thinklab with a radical idea: what if we directly pay scientists for publicly sharing feedback and ideas on the work of their peers?

Here's the rationale: despite the Internet being around for two decades, most scientists continue to work offline, in silos, hoarding knowledge for competitive advantage. They're not doing this because it's in the best interests of science, they're doing it because of a reward system that holds the publication of papers above all else. If we want scientists to work together openly over the Internet, we need new incentives.

In that spirit, Thinklab has been experimenting with a system where scientists are paid to share feedback and ideas on the work of their peers. Getting paid isn't as simple as making comments — payment depends on adding valuable comments, as assessed by peers. The idea is to create a marketplace for scientific attention. We want scientific expertise to naturally gravitate to where it produces the most value. In a similar way that capitalism's "invisible hand" produces an efficient production of goods and services, we'd like to direct scientific attention to produce an efficient production of scientific knowledge.

A common concern I hear is that introducing money into science will corrupt it. Instead of doing quality work, scientists will simply pursue the money. The first thing I want to stress is that money is already in science — and the scientific process is already being distorted by the pursuit of it. Think about everything scientists have to do in order to have a successful career. I've written about this previously: 10 consequences of a broken scientific reward system. The question isn't whether introducing money is a good thing or not. The question is: how can we distribute money to scientists in a way that produces the best outcomes for society? No system is perfect. The question is what is the best system we can come up with?

You might be wondering: where this money is going to come from? The answer is: all the usual places. Thinklab wants to be a service provider for science funders. We want to help funders distribute their money in a way that rewards a much more open, much more collaborative model of research. To get things started, I've supported the first Thinklab project — Rephetio: Repurposing drugs on a hetnet — with my own money. Today I'm happy to announce our first payments! Thinklab is distributing a total of $2,577 to 33 participating scientists.

I should note that for the immediate future we've turned off additional contributor rewards (I simply can't afford it right now). However, we hope to partner with a funder and continue this experiment soon! If you have connections that might help make this happen please email me at jesse@thinklab.com. I'm also looking for a biz-dev/marketing co-founder to join the team.

I'd like to sincerely thank everyone that has participated so far. As early adopters I know you're not using Thinklab because you're desperate for a little extra cash. You're using Thinklab because you believe open collaborative science on the Internet is the future. You understand your contributions make an impact — both for you, and for science. You're ahead of the curve!

Top earning Thinklab participants thus far

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