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Cyberbotany and the Quest for Epistemic Justice in Psychedelic Research Webinar featuring Dr. Joanna Kempner

May 2 @ 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Please join the Borghesi-Mellon Psychedelic Pasts, Presents & Futures Workshop Group for a presentation with Dr. Joanna Kempner.
The reemergence of psychedelic research in universities comes with a robust historical narrative that blames politicians for the rise and fall of scientific interest in these substances. While it’s true that public policies made it more difficult to study psychedelics in institutionalized settings, prohibition only pushed experimentation with psychedelics underground and out of sight. Nevertheless, knowledge produced underground has been foundational in contemporary psychedelic science, vis a vis a practice that I call “cyberbotany.”
Cyberbotany, or the digital ethnobotanical study, leverages the wealth of experiential data available within online communities to understand the use of psychedelic substances. This approach circumvents the legal and logistical barriers to traditional research by tapping into the vast, yet often overlooked, reservoir of knowledge generated in digital spaces.
It’s not always clear, however, that the use of cyberbotany translates into recognition of the value that diverse knowledge systems have brought into the field. I argue that cyberbotany underscores the importance of epistemic justice in the domain of psychedelic studies. By valuing the knowledge created in non-traditional settings, this approach contributes to a more equitable and comprehensive understanding of psychedelics’ role in medicine and society.
Joanna Kempner, associate professor in theDepartment of Sociologyat Rutgers University, is an award-winning sociologist of science, medicine, technology, and inequality, and the author ofPsychedelic Outlaws: The Movement Revolutionizing Modern Medicine(Hachette, 2024) andNot Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health (Chicago, 2014).
Kempner’s research has been published in top journals across multiple disciplines, including Science, PLoS Medicine, and Social Science & Medicine and featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, PBS Newshour, and the BBC. You can see her entire family talk about migraine in the documentary Out of My Head.