Tired of basketball? Give ‘March Mammal Madness’ a try

If you’re not into basketball, March hasn’t left you behind – thanks to a team of scientists, artists and animal enthusiasts around the globe, another tournament is taking off: March Mammal Madness.

It sounds like a lot of fun and games – which it is -  but it’s had an interesting side effect: tens of thousands of students around the world are getting a springboard into science. Instead of thinking of scholars as dry, humorless experts, they’re letting loose and people are enjoying it.

“In 2021, the educators who signed up for the early access to tournament materials is over 5,500,” explained Dr. Katie Hinde, the creator of the annual event and an assistant professor at Arizona State University. “They tell us they plan to give the tournament to over 440 thousand learners. When I aggregate that data I sit and I’m in shock that this has been so successful.”

Here’s how it works: Every year 64 animals are picked and set up in brackets. Teachers, students – really anyone interested that stumbles upon it online – print brackets and fill them out. Experts pour out data to determine what strengths/weaknesses the species would bring to a battle and work in groups to determine the most likely outcomes. Rankings determine who would have “home court advantage” in early rounds and when it’s time for the tournament entire storylines are live-tweeted for those taking part to read.

“It allows scientists to represent more of our full true selves and really disrupts stereotypes of science being dry and boring,” said Dr. Hinde. “We show the fun and creativity of the scientific endeavor.”

The live-tweet sessions became so popular in the early years that a group of tattoo artists who had been following along at a local bar ended up reaching out to Dr. Hinde – they’re now part of an art team. There’s video recaps complete with puppets, and study guides that explain the science lessons that pop up thanks to the detailed analysis of each match-up.

“It’s larger than just the tournament,” said Dr. Tara Chestnut, an ecologist with Mount Rainier National Park who writes some of the battles. “A great example of how our community can be together using Twitter just to support each other and get out of our heads during this pandemic.”

If you want to get involved, or are curious about the tournament you can access the bracket, videos and a library guide with teaching materials via the library’s website, here: https://libguides.asu.edu/MarchMammalMadness