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Environmental Science Department Creates March Mammal Madness Bracket

Photo by Maia Songer | Staff Writer

While March Mammal Madness is taking hold on a national level, Drake University’s environmental science program started their own bracket, inviting students to participate for the chance to win a prize.
Dan Chibnall, a professor at the university, said the event started thanks to Twitter.
“It’s obviously based on March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament. But this professor at Arizona State, Dr. Katie Hinde, decided ‘it’d be fun if we replaced the basketball teams with mammals,’” Chibnall said. “It all started with her and some of her colleagues and then she branched out on Twitter to other ecologists and biologists and now there’s a whole team of people all across the planet that help her with this every year.”
Sophie Van Zee, a sophomore studying environmental science, elaborates on how Hinde’s idea evolved into the national phenomenon that it is today.
“It’s simulated battles between different organisms,” Van Zee said. “They use cited scientific literature to determine which animal would win in a fight and they assign attributes. There’s stuff like motivation for the fight and speech and strength, and so they give them numbers for that and then it’s basically probability for which organism would win.”
Chibnall teaches a class at Drake called Communicating Science where students have the opportunity to participate in March Mammal Madness for extra credit.
Van Zee helped to turn March Mammal Madness into an event for the whole environmental science department.
Emma Cress, a sophomore majoring in environmental sustainability and resilience and economics is also helping Van Zee run the event.
“This is the first year that Drake has ever put it on,” Cress said. “Sophie [Van Zee] is the one who’s putting it on with me. Her high school did it and when we were talking about it in class with Dan Chibnall, he normally does something in his classes, so we decided to all get together and put a bracket up.”
Both Chibnall and Cress agree that March Mammal Madness serves as a great educational tool for scientists to communicate to the public and help “foster trust” in scientists.
“Part of the point is that science for a long time has been perceived as being dusty and academic and complex and hard to understand and it’s done by people in lab coats and old white men with beards,” Chibnall said. “The thing is, we have so much potential to get science out to the public and so even though something might seem silly, like a science TikTok or a one-minute video about how duck billed platypuses are really weird, in the process you’re learning something about nature.”
To add to the fun of Drake’s bracket, Van Zee and Cress are working on finding some sort of prize at the end for the winners. While they haven’t quite figured out what the prize is going to be for Drake’s bracket quite yet, Van Zee is already making plans for next year.
“I think this year it was kind of scattered to do it because I decided to do it a couple weeks before, and then I was very busy before we got the bracket up,” Van Zee said. “I didn’t start pushing it until about four days until the bracket was due, so I definitely want to implement this and get more people involved from a lot of different places. We’ve been talking about prizes and we want to make them really cool like donating to environmental organizations, maybe funding planting a tree, or something like that.”
The event has been a way to build community, have fun, and “communicate about science in a relatable way,” Van Zee said.
Chibnall echoes those sentiments.
“I think that at the end of the day, even though not everything in here is a mammal, the vast majority of the creatures are mammals and I think that Katie Hinde is trying to remind all of us that we’re not the only mammals around and that mammals are really unique creatures, and we share a lot in common with other mammals,” Chibnall said. “If we’re going to appreciate nature and protect nature, especially with climate change upon us, then we need to be able to recognize that we’re not alone.”

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