ASAPbio Sprint

November 14, 2020

Yesterday, there was a kickoff of the ASAPbio Sprint - Encouraging Preprint Curation and Review: A Design Sprint event, where I also presented Unfold Research. The main event will be on December 3rd.

Here's the list of all project proposals, and among them - Unfold's.

The slides from the kickoff are here (I made a copy of Google Slides that was used by the organizers), and these are the slides for the Unfold:

Since the goal of the event was to propose new ways on how to promote commenting, peer review and curation of the preprints, I mostly focused on the structure of incentives that Unfold could provide, thus focusing on the monetary aspect as the best incentive that you can provide to somebody, simply because it's the most universal and the most practical. I spent very little time on actully defining how Unfold is structured as a platform.

My reasoning was as follows:

If you're trying to achieve something, for example, make progress in science, you need to provide motivation for the people to invest their time into it and use their expertise and knowledge. And whatever your end goal is, you need to define it, i.e. put some metrics that people will try to optimize for. In conclusion, you need metrics (goal) and motivation (reward). The metrics are also defining incentives since people will be trying to optimize for the given metrics.

The current state of academia works in a way that metrics such as h-index and impact factor are driving what gets done, and they provide really bad incentives and are getting abused and exploited heavily. And the reward is only the implicit "reputation" that will eventually/potentially turn into something practical such as funding for your projects. Most of the other industries don't work that way, instead, they simply pay people for their work and that's it.

My proposal was intended to go along the way of offering just that - the way to motivate people in the most practical way. And the goal that people are working towards are the points from the points-based mechanics, that has a way of capturing a much broader and more comprehensive set of activities and contributions to the academia, and since is heavily community-driven, it should offer better incentives for collaboration and sharing of the even most basic information and data. So we've "solved" the incentives, and the curation is solved simply by utilizing the voting mechanic to filter and rank the content.

I don't think I've successfully conveyed that message, and as I was pretty nervous due to how unprepared I was and the three coffees that were flowing through my system to keep me from collapsing weren't helping (and it was immediately after work hours), I got the feeling that I focused too much on the monetary aspect and I think mentioning that we were a for-profit in the last slide really pushed people away from the idea. The time limit of 2m30s to present the idea also didn't help. I also thought that I should've spent more time on the voting mechanics which was much better executed and explained by the team from CrowdPeer as the very next project presentation.

After the presentations, we were split into breakout rooms to discuss ideas further and seek feedback. Since most of the discussion and questions came from the person from Elsevier, I knew that I probably failed (it's a joke :)) at conveying the reasoning and the mission and broader goals the right way. However, I did find these sessions useful to at least gauge what other people most often think about and what comes to their mind most easily.

From the presentations and the discussions in other breakout sessions, I got the feeling that none of the other projects "solved" the incentives part (this is where some people could strongly disagree with me). They were all simply delegating the responsibility of providing the real incentives onto something else, something still speculative. While some of the suggestions did offer really interesting dynamics, they always did rely on something else to actually solve the end problems. Boastfully, I did feel good trying to offer something different and concrete, but no doubt I should learn to better present it and motivate it, and help others understand why and how I came to the conclusions that Unfold is pushing for.

Props to ASAPbio for organizing this, I thought they executed things very well - the collaborative slide making, info on all the technical things and timelines, and very professional attitude and handling of the smaller issues that popped up. Concretely props to Jessica Polka and Victoria Yan from ASAPbio, as they were the main people in charge of the event it seems.

UPDATE: here are the details from the kickoff, and the recording on YouTube.

UPDATE: I wrote about the main event here.