Alison Campbell

Senior University of Waikato biological sciences lecturer Dr Alison Campbell is well known in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty for promoting science to community groups and school students. She has been nicknamed the skull lady by secondary school students after her presentations on human evolution. Dr Campbell established Cafe Scientifique in Hamilton as part of an effort to encourage the community to discuss scientific issues. She has also launched BioBlog website to support secondary school biology students and teachers preparing for exams. That blog is syndicated right here on Sciblogs. Alison is on Twitter @AcampbelTeacher

Raw Water? Ew! - BioBlog

Jan 09, 2018

‘Raw water’ – the latest foolish fad to hit people’s screens, pockets, & in some instances I’d guess their toilet paper expenditure as well. I first heard of this particular litre of woo when I read an article in the New York Times with the headline: Unfiltered Fervor: the rush to get off the water grid. Apparently getting ‘off the water grid’ is becoming a thing in parts of the US, and various companies are both encouraging and cashing in on this fad. Thus, in a San Francisco grocery store, you can buy glass orbs containing 2.5 gallons of what is billed as “raw water” — unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water, $36.99 each and $14.99 per refill which is claimed to have “a vaguely mild sweetness, a nice smooth mouth feel, nothing that overwhelms the flavor profile.” Somehow that … Read More

Mumps: learning from the comments threads - BioBlog

Nov 30, 2017

So, another All Black has come down with mumps and the comments threads are once more awash with those opposed to vaccines, posting the usual mix of pseudoscience and misinformation. Honestly, I would post a link on the Stuff FB page to this excellent commentary by Dr Mark Crislip, but I just know that the antivax proponents would see only the extracts of woo and ignore Mark’s science. On the other hand, the comments threads certainly provide some ‘teachable moments’… The silly thing is, so many of the claims made there are so very easy to check. Those making them must hope that most people won’t bother, especially if you sound all confident and knowing. For example, the old one about how the Amish don’t vaccinate (and, by extension) don’t have individuals with autism in their … Read More

What is feedback, and do universities do it well? - BioBlog

Nov 30, 2017

I’ve just received a reminder that I need to set up the paper and teaching appraisal for my summer school paper. This is a series of items that students can answer on a 1-5 scale (depending on how much or how little they agree with each statement), plus opportunities to give open-ended responses to a few questions. These last are the ones where I might want to find out how the students think I might improve my teaching, or the aspects of the paper that they did and didn’t like. Among the first set of items is usually a stem along the lines of “this teacher provides useful feedback on my work”, where responses would range from ‘always’ (1) to ‘never’ (5). It’s the one where I get my lowest scores – and this is despite the fact that I … Read More

Considering the transition between school and university - BioBlog

Nov 23, 2017

I’m sitting in the sun waiting for the 2017 First-Year Science Educators’ Colloquium (FYSEC) to kick off- and it’s somewhat embarrassing to realise that I hadn’t done anything with some of the notes I took at last year’s event. However, much of the discussion then is still just as relevant today, and in fact many of this year’s discussions will also be about the transition from school to uni. So, here we go:  One of the nice things about FYSEC (formerly known as FYBEC, where the B = biology) is that it brings university teachers working in the first-year space with secondary school teachers in the various disciplines. This is particularly important because both groups can contribute to an enhanced transition into tertiary study, something that many students struggle with. So last year, it was really interesting to hear my … Read More

Blood and guts, surgeons and scientists: “the butchering art” - BioBlog

Nov 22, 2017

The Butchering Art is medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris’s first book. And what a book! Descriptions that bring the horrors of pre-anaesthesia, pre-antisepsis surgery shudderingly into view? Very definitely. Science and history? Oh yes, lots of it, and beautifully told. And through it all, the humanity and vision of Joseph Lister and others like him, working to improve the outcomes of surgery, childbirth, and warfare.  Before reading the Kindle edition of this deeply fascinating volume I had only a fairly sketchy idea of Joseph Lister and his huge impact on health outcomes for those unlucky enough to end up in a Victorian hospital. Yes, I knew he came up with the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, an insight that radically changed outcomes for so many people: prior to his work, Fitzharris describes hospitals as “gateways to death”; places … Read More

The last of the iron lungs - BioBlog

Nov 21, 2017

That’s the title of this excellent article by Jennings Brown, and I urge you to go and read the whole thing. It’s the tale of perhaps the last 3 people in the US who are still alive because they are still living in iron lungs. It’s a story of courage and endurance that lets them live a life that most of us would find impossible to imagine. It’s also a sad story, because those 3 rely on the love, kindness & skills of friends, family, and complete strangers to keep their much-repaired machines going and so keep them alive. The lungs are so rare that parts and knowledgeable technicians are harder & harder to come by; if they break down, or the power goes off, the people reliant on them may just die in their sleep. This is why … Read More

Attitudes and antibiotics - BioBlog

Nov 20, 2017

A recent FB post from Stuff discussed the rising concerns about the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (This is something that Siouxsie Wiles has often written about: here and here, for example; her excellent book on the subject is reviewed here.) Fairly predictably, it didn’t take long for the proponents of essential oils to turn up, soon to be joined by the usual antivax folks and those arguing that an ‘alkaline’ diet is the best cure-all. (They also believe that drinking lemon juice – an acid – is the best way to achieve thisA. It’s not, and alkalosis is not a healthy state of being.) However, someone also commented that we should basically allow natural selection to take its course, by removing the “weak and feeble”. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this said, but it annoys me every time.   Firstly, … Read More

Another antivax myth (ingestion vs injection) - BioBlog

Nov 08, 2017

There’s an oft-repeated claim by the more strident anti-vaxxers that ingesting and injecting are two different things when it comes to substances like aluminium. This betrays a disturbing lack of knowledge of biology and physiology (especially from those who boast of ‘having done their research’), but they repeat it nonetheless. (Red’s self-belief is mildly amusing.)     The aluminium present in vaccines (as an adjuvant; see later) enters the interstitial fluid (the fluid that bathes all cells) & eventually the bloodstream. However, what Red is completely unwilling to accept, despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary, is that the same thing happens to aluminium contained in food and drink. I did try.     There’s been quite a lot of research on this, as it happens (and as another commenter, Paul, pointed out at length. Read More

The various ‘costs’ of measles - BioBlog

Nov 06, 2017

On that FB thread about dropping vaccination rates in New Zealand, one commenter proudly proclaimed that she and her four children had all had measles. Over in a week, no problems, stop yer whining.  Well, lovely for her – and if the illness indeed lasted only a week per person then they were lucky; 7-10 days is the norm for uncomplicated measles. But measles infection carries a range of costs and risks, about which she seemed blissfully ignorant. Or couldn’t care less; on that thread, it was hard to tell sometimes. If a child comes down with measles, someone has to stay home (or pay someone else to stay home) and care for them, for a week or more. For many families, that’s quite a financial burden. If any individual comes down with measles, there’s a taxpayer cost, because their … Read More

Antivaxxers still ‘delusional’ and ‘dangerous’ - BioBlog

Nov 06, 2017

Aaron Leaman’s excellent storyA in the Waikato Times and in Stuff used those words, and I’m sticking with them – because those adjectives describe the majority of the comments on the relevant FB page. When Aaron interviewed me for that story, I commented that it’s essential for scientists and doctors to continue to confront the waves of anti-vaccine mythinformation that’s so easily circulated via the internet and social media. Without that, and without journalists like Aaron who write science-and-evidence-based articles, the strident anti-vaxx voices, with their continual Gish gallops, may be all that people hear. But honestly, each time an article like this is published, visiting the comments section makes me feel like it’s groundhog day – or a game of whackamole – because the same tired old claims come up again and again and againB. Read More