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Mycoremediation: The Making and Unmaking of a Citizen Science

Sat, September 2, 9:00 to 10:30am, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Beacon A


In Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World (2005), popular mycologist Paul Stamets describes a method for environmental restoration he calls “mycoremediation” — the remediation of toxins though the strategic application of fungi. Stamets described several applications for fungi in the book (e.g., myco-filtration; myco-forestry) but mycoremediation became the most well known. In 2011, a group of SF Bay Area residents formed a group called East Bay Radical Mycology (EBRM) to learn, teach, and collectively implement mycoremediation, “Stamets-style.” Over the next three years, this vision of a heroic, grassroots citizen science — that can heal the earth through human-fungal collaboration — was replaced by disillusionment and doubt. Members shifted their focus to other projects, including less dazzling citizen science projects like myco-forestry experiments in East Bay Regional Parks. Still, mycoremediation remains an inspiring longterm goal for some members. In this presentation, I consider the rise and fall of mycoremediation as a “realistic” citizen science. I look at attempts to prepare and enact mycoremediation as recounted by and reflected upon by participants. Their ideas about what citizen science can and should be (I.e., dispersed, accessible) reveal a vision of science that is participatory and biocentric. Drawing on Jamie Lorimer’s work, mycoremediation illustrates the tension that can emerge in citizen science between its affective and imaginative force and the satisfaction and social recognition of its practical mastery that might remain out of reach. Situated at the boundaries between amateur, speculative, and professional science, mycoremediation sheds light on these multiple, sometimes competing modes of scientific practice.