Dr. Márquez-Magaña Addresses March for Science SF Crowd

by Camille Mojica Rey

SF BUILD Lead Principal Investigator, Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña, PhD, was among local science leaders invited to speak at a kick-off rally for the March for Science San Francisco on April 21st at Justin Herman Plaza. The peaceful rally and march that followed drew tens of thousands of scientists and science enthusiasts. The event was one of 500 planned around the world to celebrate Earth Day and motivated by a commonly held belief that governments in the U.S. and around the world are moving away from evidence-based policies, and increasingly de-valuing science.

Despite the political catalyst, however, the speakers adhered to a celebratory, non-partisan, and inclusive tone. “As I look onto this amazing crowd of individuals I can’t help but think of the motto of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) that embraces science, culture, and community,” said Márquez-Magaña, SFSU Professor of Biology, as she opened her remarks. “It’s clear to me that we are all here because we value the practice of science and an inclusive culture that best benefits all of our communities.”

March for Science - San Francisco, a non-partisan group, sponsored the Earth Day event to support communication, funding, policy, literacy, and diversity in the sciences. The group’s aim was to celebrate public discovery, understanding, and distribution of scientific knowledge as crucial to the freedom, success, health, and safety of life on this planet. Other kick-off rally speakers included Adam Savage, inventor and host of TV’s MythBusters, Dr. D.J. Patil, U.S. Chief Data Scientist; Eric Valor, founder of SciOpen Research Group; Kathy Setian, retired project manager at EPA; and plant geneticist, Dr. Pamela Ronald, PhD. The emcee for the event was Kishore Hari, director of the Bay Area Science Festival.

During her speech, Márquez-Magaña shared an anecdote with the crowd that taught her, even as a young child, that inclusivity was key to the interpretation of data. She painted a picture of herself as a kindergartener wearing a homemade dress on the first day of school and proud of the fact that she was already serving as an interpreter to her immigrant parents. “It was these thoughts of pride, and feelings of becoming a stronger part of my parent’s new country, that occupied my thoughts that day on the playground when a classmate interrupted them to say, ‘It’s too bad you speak two languages, it makes you so dumb.’” Márquez-Magaña elicited cheers when she told the audience her internal reaction to this comment. “For a millisecond I felt the same shame that my yellow plaid dress with faux fur collar caused me, but in the next millisecond I thought, ‘Two is bigger than one. Maybe I’m not the dumb one.’” She pointed out that, years later, science would show the advantages of bilingualism.

Márquez-Magaña also went on to list the benefits of inclusive science as shown by modern research. “I think these are some of the reasons many of us are marching today. I also think that we all know, at some level, that the practice of inclusive science and critical thinking can build bridges between communities for mutual benefit. For example, if I had known enough to practice inclusion at the time, I might have asked my classmate on the playground to help me improve my English and offered to help her learn Spanish so that we could mutually benefit from greater ways of knowing about our shared world.”

Márquez-Magaña concluded her remarks by telling the crowd that she hoped the days’ events in San Francisco and around the world would lead to “greater recognition of the need to work not only across scientific silos, but also for those of us who are practicing scientists to work with our communities and political leaders to inform the decisions that affect us all.” Inclusive science is necessary if we are to solve the world’s complex problems, she reminded those gathered for the Earth Day Celebration. “After all we are all in this together because we share the same Earth.”

After the rally, protestors clogged San Francisco’s streets, marching and waving witty signs, like “Fight Truth Decay,” and “Geology Rocks.” At one point, the line of marchers stretched two miles down Market Street, from the Ferry Building to City Hall. Once arriving at Civic Center Plaza, marchers were treated to a science fair that stretched into the evening.

Márquez-Magaña said later that participating in the event “reconfirmed my feeling that the general public does want inclusive science, and it increased my understanding of the many barriers we still have to overcome to get there.”

Read the transcript to Dr. Marquez-Magana's speach HERE.