March mammal madness and the power of narrative in science outreach

Katie Hinde, Carlos Eduardo G. Amorim, Alyson F. Brokaw, Nicole Burt, Mary C. Casillas, Albert Chen, Tara Chestnut, Patrice K. Connors, Mauna Dasari, Connor Fox Ditelberg, Jeanne Dietrick, Josh Drew, Lara Durgavich, Brian Easterling, Charon Henning, Anne Hilborn, Elinor K. Karlsson, Marc Kissel, Jennifer Kobylecky, Jason KrellDanielle N. Lee, Kate M. Lesciotto, Kristi L. Lewton, Jessica E. Light, Jessica Martin, Asia Murphy, William Nickley, Alejandra Núñez-De La Mora, Olivia Pellicer, Valeria Pellicer, Anali Maughan Perry, Stephanie G. Schuttler, Anne C. Stone, Brian Tanis, Jesse Weber, Melissa Wilson, Emma Willcocks, Christopher N. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


March Mammal Madness is a science outreach project that, over the course of several weeks in March, reaches hundreds of thousands of people in the United States every year. We combine four approaches to science outreach – gamification, social media platforms, community event(s), and creative products – to run a simulated tournament in which 64 animals compete to become the tournament champion. While the encounters between the animals are hypothetical, the outcomes rely on empirical evidence from the scientific literature. Players select their favored combatants beforehand, and during the tournament scientists translate the academic literature into gripping “play-by-play” narration on social media. To date ~1100 scholarly works, covering almost 400 taxa, have been transformed into science stories. March Mammal Madness is most typically used by high-school educators teaching life sciences, and we estimate that our materials reached ~1% of high-school students in the United States in 2019. Here we document the intentional design, public engagement, and magnitude of reach of the project. We further explain how human psychological and cognitive adaptations for shared experiences, social learning, narrative, and imagery contribute to the widespread use of March Mammal Madness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere65066
Pages (from-to)1-37
Number of pages37
StatePublished - Feb 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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