Hi Marco! Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a 17-year-old Biology student from northeastern Mexico. I love nothing more than to flip rocks in search of interesting creatures. Other than that, I like talking about science and stuff. But mostly the flipping rocks thing.
How did your Facebook page come to be, and what was the reaction from the public like?
The story of how and why I initially created the page is quite long and messy. Basically, when I was 12 I became known in a large science group for a couple of videos, the second of which became viral for its criticism on the anti-vaccine movement. My personal account, to which I posted said videos, was reported by an anti-vaxxer and taken down by Facebook because you had to be at least 13 to own one. So, I created the page with the exclusive motive of posting the videos there in response to the demand by the members of the group. A couple of days later it had amounted millions of views and given coverage by outlets such as CNN; something I still don’t understand. From one week to the next I had the responsibility of a platform with a large following and I wanted the content to be related to science, which has always been my passion. Unfortunately, attempting this made me realise that the public is more demanding of attacks on the anti-science community than of science itself. This realisation became the subject of a New York Times article, which detailed the story of how the difference in attention between my posts could serve as the canary in the coal mine.
You took a hiatus from your account – what prompted this?
The stress a 12-year-old experiences when randomly given a whole bunch of undeserving responsibilities and having to deal with issues that only arise from them made me take a hiatus from the page, focusing more on doing the things I like and sharing them on my personal profile. These included genuine science communication, wildlife photography, restoration and colorisation of historical images, getting into college in pursuit of a Biology degree, the publishing of a book, and mainly just going to the forest and desert looking for cool animals.
A couple of days later it had amounted millions of views.
What made you return, and how has your account now changed?
I made the decision to return to the page after years of considering just deleting it. The reason can be summarised as: I now feel completely prepared to run such a platform. I believe I’ve matured a bit since the age of 12, and all of the stress that used to derive from managing a page that received so many threats and even doxxing is what’s allowed me to develop a thicker skin and attitude. I’ll post the things I like even if most people demand insults to anti-vaxxers. If someone doesn’t like it – it’s just not for them. I’d rather share what I truly believe is best and more honest than comply with something I’m not comfortable with. So from now on you can expect to see posts arguing for an ethical approach to wildlife, a clear and well-defined stance in support of science against pseudoscience without the need to attack or insult, and just trying to learn about science in general, because isn’t it just so cool
What is your favourite class of animal? Tell us some interesting facts about them!
My favorite animal depends on my current mood, since I’m passionate about all fauna; from the microscopic rotifers to the majestic blue whales. However, lately I’ve been obsessed with the order Chiroptera: bats!
These painfully ugly winged rats are some of the most fascinating creatures to ever exist on earth. They truly deserve a lot more love and admiration than they get. People think of them the same way they think of arachnids – that since they possess a rather unfortunate set of looks and a fair ability to defend themselves, they’re somehow actively out to get you. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Recently I stood alone in a small chamber at the end of a cave, accompanied only by thousands upon thousands of bats disorderly flying all around me. People subsequently asked me how I wasn’t scared of them biting me, to which I simply responded: why would they? What would an insectivorous critter gain from exposing itself to a potential predator? They simply don’t – in fact, they were making unbelievable efforts to avoid hitting me as they flew. Despite being surrounded by thousands in a dark and narrow space, none of them even grazed me.
How can they pull this off? Well, that’s one of the things that make them so fascinating. They have an excellent sense of echolocation, which allows them to hunt small insects while flying in compete darkness through sound alone. It’s simply astonishing. We’ve all heard that bats are the only true flying mammals, but to actually see what this means in person is phenomenal. To hold a live bat in your hand and see familiar structures; from its fur, to its teeth, to its skin, to identifying which fingers such as your own became which wing part.
Apart from all of this, they serve a hugely important role in the ecosystem. There’s a cave a few hours away from me which holds a bat population that eats around 50 tons of insects per night. That’s right, 50 tonnes per night. That’s the weight of ten elephants’ worth of insects in a single night. It’s unbelievable. Without their contribution, insect populations would become uncontrolled and the subsequent damage to the environment would be unimaginable. Also, ever heard of tequila and mezcal? My home country’s greatest contribution to the universe? Well, bats are in charge of pollinating Agave plants, and our world-famous drinks would cease to exist without them. This is the case for much more than tequila; bats are crucial to the pollination of over 500 species of commercially important plants. Such is the case, that over 70% of the fruits we consume require the help of bats to reproduce.
They also get a bad rep for things such as this pandemic, for which they’ve been ceaselessly hated on and blamed as the ultimate culprits. However, aren’t they the victims here? Many diseases (of which, by definition, bats are victims) have spread from bats to humans, but that’s only when we go to their habitats and kill them. This virus mutated from the corpse of a bat who really just wanted to escape those scary bipedal mammals with flashlights in their cave. If you leave bats alone and admire them as the fantastic creatures they are, you won’t need to worry about getting transmitted anything other than a deep sense of awe and wonder.
What are the most important messages you want to get out there?
– Listen to the scientists on this pandemic and on every subject they’re more qualified to discuss than yourself.
– Evolution is not just an observable fact, it’s a truly fascinating process.
– Stop killing spiders and snakes.
– Vaccinate when you get the chance.
– Don’t contribute to misinformation.
– Invite me to Gibraltar.
– Be on the right side of history.
– Do what you love.
Keep up to date with Marco via his Facebook page, @ScienceMarco, and purchase his new book ‘Freedom, According to Atoms’ (about the life-changing truth of free will’s non-existence) via Amazon; available in English and Spanish.