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March Mammal Madness and the power of narrative in science outreach.

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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.



animal behavior, animal ecology, ecology, education, genetics, genomics, human, informal learning, outreach, performance science, science communication, Animals, Behavior, Animal, Education, Gamification, Humans, Mammals, Narration, Social Media, Students

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eLife Sciences Publications, Ltd