Uncle Sam has a lot of environmental data in his hands, but it’s often hard to find or understand. That’s why MNN has Russell McLendon break it down for you in the informative stories you’ll find in Translating Uncle Sam. Here’s a short Q&A with Russell on how he does it.
What is ‘Translating Uncle Sam’?
It’s an MNN original feature that breaks down complex environmental issues so they’re easier to understand. It uses public domain data from federal agencies like NOAA, NASA and the EPA, but also from universities, nonprofits and other sources.
How do you decide what topics to cover?
We look for important, interesting and timely issues that are relevant to lots of different people, but that aren’t necessarily common knowledge. There are plenty of big news topics that are always timely — like hydraulic fracturing and water quality, for example, or earthquakes and volcanoes — and we cover those thoroughly. But we also gravitate to seasonal topics throughout the year, like hurricanes, mosquitoes and gas prices in summer, or radon, de-icing and home weatherization in winter. Overall we try to cover a diverse mix of topics, ranging from how lightning works and how the flu spreads to how climate change affects endangered species.
What’s it like going through all that government data?
It can be daunting at times, especially when I find a lot less (or more) data than I’m looking for, or when the data tell a different story than I expected. But it’s always a worthwhile challenge, like a scavenger hunt. And there’s a huge amount of public domain data scattered around government websites; it’s usually just presented in a way that’s hard to find and hard to understand.
How do you create those helpful graphics and animations?
We work with a talented group of both in-house and freelance designers who develop them for us. After picking a topic, researching it and gathering data, I brainstorm ideas with the designer, who then builds the interactive graphic.
Get informed with Translating Uncle Sam.