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Right now, I’m in the final stages of producing a public service announcement for a class at UW (disclosure: the project is unrelated to any topics I’ve written about locally in Madison).

I chose to shoot a video for the Madison Dental Initiative, a non-profit in town that provides dental services to Madison’s homeless population.

I’ll link to the video once it’s finished, but I thought I’d share what I learned so far. It took me a while to think in more “PSA-friendly” mindset. I’ve also had the entire fall to sit on the idea and carefully craft a message — a luxury I wish I had for other projects.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered over the past few months:

  • Know the psychographic details of your audience
  • Give people a problem to act on (increasing awareness isn’t useful unless you suggest a course of action)
  • Your message should be simple enough to summarize in a short sentence
  • Suggest a tag line (I helped MDI come up with “Give back, one smile at a time”)
  • Think about whether the PSA will be featured on TV, radio or online media (typically online can be longer — more than one minute or so).

UW’s Patty Loew, who leads the class, showed us a PSA I thought was very effective (and it generally follows the tips above).


Veterinarians and zoo workers didn’t know how to treat Mumbali, a sick female gorilla at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Trying anything, vets anesthetized Mumbali to give her another gorilla’s blood.

The team was taking stabs in the dark — it didn’t know whether the two primates had the same blood type, whether the transfusion would work or whether Mumbali would even survive the ordeal.

Mumbali’s story, along with countless others, reveals the lack of data on great ape blood types. But researchers and veterinarians are catching on, as they assist captive primates much in the same way humans help one another — with blood banks.

After Mumbali’s primitive last-minute transfusion, Kathryn Gamble and Jill Moyse started opportunistically drawing blood from other great apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo when the animals were anesthetized during routine checkups.

Last September, the same team announced it had created a project to study the blood types of great apes in captivity. Incorporating this science into animals’ Species Survival Plans, zoos around the world have provided data on roughly 680 captive bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.

These efforts highlight a conclusion long suspected, but never explored in its entirety: the striking similarities between human and nonhuman primate blood.

And no, we’re not talking about King Kong’s theatrical operation.

Like humans, apes have distinct immune antigens called agglutinogens on the surface of red blood cells. Blood is not interchangeable between humans and primates, but apes still possess a diversity of blood types similar to humans, including A, B, AB and O. Essentially, this means that some primates have a specific agglutinogen on the surface of the cell, while others have a mixture of A and B or no antigens at all (O type). Because some people and nonhuman primates possess red blood cells with no antigens, their blood is less likely to be rejected by another animal’s immune system, even if that animal has a different blood type.

University of Utah

When vets perform a blood transfusion with little knowledge of the donor and recipient’s blood type, the procedure can end tragically. If there’s no match, the recipient’s immune system will launch an attack on the foreign cells, which will cause the blood to clot and limit the flow of the vital oxygen needed throughout the body.

So far, scientists know that bonobos have Type A blood, whereas orangutans express a range of A, B, AB and O. Unfortunately, genetic sequencing cannot reliably characterize the blood types of gorillas at this time. This type of work isn’t new, but has mostly been limited to species of primates used for biomedical research — such as the rhesus macaque.

The project’s emphasis on collating blood data for the health of the animals, not necessarily humans, makes it unique and heartfelt. As of 2010, approximately half of the primate species in the world faced extinction, according to an International Union for the Conservation of Nature report. It’s clear that ensuring the health and stability of captive populations is necessary for the species’ survival in the long-run.

Losing apes from illnesses — both environmentally-induced and congenital — is not unusual in captivity or in the wild.

For instance, researchers recently discovered that the Simian Immunodeficiency virus (SIV) — the nonhuman primate version of HIV — has spread to nearly 25 percent of chimpanzees inhabiting the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. This is the same population first studied by Jane Goodall.

It will be interesting to see where these data come into play in the future.

Sadly, Mumbali succumbed to her illness on the operating table five years ago. Her transfusion was unsuccessful, but that may not be the case for other apes in the future.

Zoo keepers and researchers now have a starting point for blood transfusions in the future — there’s no more taking stabs in the dark.

Gorilla photo by Dozyg/Wikimedia Commons

Blood surface photo by the University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center

Photo by Allison Klein, USGS

A couple of weeks ago, people in Arkansas and Louisiana watched as hundreds of birds came falling from the sky, motionless and dead.

One bird kill occurred on New Year’s Eve, which was readily accepted as a bad omen for some.  Even I can admit: a showering of dead birds isn’t the best way to welcome a new year.

As conspiracy theories and apocalyptic fears amassed, reports revealed that the birds died of impact trauma, perhaps from hitting power lines or another large object.

But, ultimately, we were missing context.  Sure, we look to wildlife as an indicator of the general health of the environment, but this news story reminded me of something else: how little I knew about the world around me.

For most — myself included — relationships between local environmental agencies and the public  are often trying, especially when the two meet to discuss land and privilege compromises. As someone who communicates science and is studying how to do so effectively, I was reminded of this lacking relationship.

I wondered: We’re constantly learning about exotic and endangered species in tropical rain forests and mountains, but what about the happenings in our own backyards?

The reality is that these die-offs were hardly different from any others, yet they received hefty coverage because they happened on the last night of the year or shortly after. (By the way, James Gorman wrote an interesting piece in The New York Times, highlighting our tendency to hope for the supernatural).

Dead birds aside, it was a wakeup call for me to slow down and learn about what’s happening in my surroundings. I also think it demonstrates the need to fund and support more public outreach — for both children and adults — from the public agencies that work with natural resources.

Personally, I’m still surprised by the ubiquity of these events in the first place. They happen relatively often without the average person keeping track. Am I not keeping up with my community well enough — to know what’s normal ecologically, at least? Is it our responsibility to seek information or expect others to provide it?

I certainly don’t know how to achieve this balance, but think it’s crucial to think about.

If you’re interested in looking at bird kill data, here’s a link from the USGS Wildlife Health Center in Madison.

This is a piece I wrote earlier this semester.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a place to publish it, and well, its shelf life waned.  I think this is a fascinating study, by the way.


Women More Likely To Believe In Climate Change Than Men

By Marianne English

Political ideology and religion aren’t the only influences that affect public opinion on global warming. A recent Michigan State University study suggests gender should also be included in the demographic medley of factors that shapes personal beliefs on climate change.

The study — one of the first of its kind to explore gender and public opinion on this contentious issue — highlights the need to consider the general public as diverse individuals when relaying scientific information. Although the research reinforces the idea that social influences guide each gender’s involvement in science, climate change groups say they don’t give much thought to the male-female divide when creating strategic messages for the public.

“Gender differences are more subtle — men and women have different trusts in science,” said Aaron McCright, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University and author of the study. “We need to understand that average men and women hear the same message differently. You can’t assume that everyone is the same — the American public isn’t monolithic.”

Using Gallup Poll data from 2001 to 2008, McCright examined scientific beliefs and levels of concern surrounding global warming for both genders in the United States. Each year’s sample size ranged from 1,000 to 1,060 people.

From the data, McCright found that women are not only more likely than men to agree with scientists that climate change exists, but they also possess the scientific knowledge to back it up, too.

Men, on the other hand, express greater confidence in their knowledge of science, but didn’t agree with scientists as much as women did. During the time both groups were polled, men were less likely to agree that global warming was happening and less likely to agree that human activities were to blame.

McCright thinks a larger phenomenon is at play —  a concept called gender socialization. Read the rest of this entry »

After a lengthy tutorial with WordPress and, I finally established a new home for my blog, which will undoubtedly be used more often.

Also, if you’re interested, check out my new site

Up next: the strange animal deaths that helped bring in the New Year…

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About Me

Marianne is a science communicator working in Madison, Wis.

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