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

Magic water nonsense - BioBlog

May 10, 2018

A couple of days ago I had a chat with a journalist that resulted in my being quoted – along with Dr Shaun Holt – in this story about purveyors of Kangen water. If you believe the hype, this stuff cures a wide range of ailments & leaves you bright-eyed & bushy-tailed. IF… but sadly, these days personal anecdote seems to count for more than that nasty stuff called evidence, and so many do believe the hype. The Whanganui Chronicle quotes someone selling Kangen water machines (for $4,000A a pop!) as follows: “I’d go through two 2.25 litres bottles of Coke every day. That was my normal diet.” Then a cousin in Raetihi told her to try Kangen water and she was hooked straight away. “I feel a lot more alert – it’s given me more of a zing … Read More

Talking about what we should teach - BioBlog

May 10, 2018

While I was on holiday (Japan – it was wonderful!) – I read Tom Haig’s interesting article about ‘curriculum wars’ over on Education Central, and it reminded me of the concerns I’ve held for some time that we don’t really talk enough about *what* to teach in our classrooms, be they university-level or in the secondary sector.  Several years back (how time flies!) I was involved in developing the ‘Living World’ component of the New Zealand Curriculum document, as well as entering into the discussions around what the science component of that document should deliver. (Right down to a discussion of what it actually is to ‘do’ science.) At the time I was somewhat taken aback to discover that the panel was not required to give any exemplars for teachers, any indication of what they might do to help students master … Read More

There are horses for courses, but snails for faces? - BioBlog

Mar 21, 2018

I first wrote about the snail facial back in 2015, in response to an article in the Herald on Sunday on that very topic. Today, the fact that there’s a story on the very same subject on the Stuff webpage suggests that there is always an appetite for woo (although when I read the story just now, I was happily surprised to see that all the comments so far were very skeptical). So I thought I would rework that original post a trifle.  Back in 2015 we were told that one could (if one had a sufficiency of funds) already purchase Snail Soap, which contained “snail slime, virgin olive oil, honey and extracts from medicinal plants”. The slime component supposedly helped ‘beat’ wrinkles (what’s wrong with a bit of character?) & reduced scarring. The Herald article included the comment … Read More

Why is one person’s science another’s conspiracy theory? - BioBlog

Mar 13, 2018

One of the things that’s become quite obvious, in the various anti-vax comments that I’ve followed and responded to on line, is that people with ‘alt’ views have very firm ideas on what constitutes ‘the truth’. And it’s not something that mainstream organisations, authorities, or scienceA are seen as offering. And so (on a new UNICEF New Zealand post) we see: Blue chimes in (you get the gist), and really doesn’t think UNICEF New Zealand is telling the truth. And then there’s Black, with her accusation of shills and ‘paid’ science. We’ve met Black before. And yet these claims are so far from what all the data tell us (that vaccines are really rather safe, that they’ve saved probably millions of lives and avoided or reduced a lot of suffering), that you have … Read More

UNICEF and friends VS the outspoken Anti-vaxxers - BioBlog

Mar 07, 2018

Back in mid-February, UNICEF NZ posted a piece on the importance of vaccines. Shortly thereafter, the comments thread had been overrun by anti-vaccination pro-disease activists. (I have to say, I’m really impressed with the person who does UNICEF’s social media. Talk about grace and dignity under fire!) This seems to happen every time a story about vaccine-preventable disease hits the mainstream and/or social media, and those opposed to vaccination seem willing to push just about any fable to promote their case. (While I have blocked out names here, most of the images are hot-linked to the original comments threads.) And so we hear that, apparently, measles is a benign disease.     I asked that more than once, but for some reason the information was not forthcoming. Even when phrased thusly (thanks, Paul!): If sanitation, better nutrition and plumbing … Read More

What are the challenges for First-Year Core Science Courses? - BioBlog

Feb 28, 2018

Professor Karen Burke da Silva was the keynote speaker at Day 1 of the 2017 First-Year Science Educators’ Colloquium, held in Wellington. Her topic: Transforming large first year science classes: A comprehensive approach to student engagement. Currently at Flinders University, she’s been instrumental in setting up an ‘integrated teaching environment’ that’s seen a drop in withdrawals, and a marked increase in engagement, among their first-year STEM students. If you’ve read my earlier FYSEC-focused post, you’ll know that student engagement was a hot topic at last year’s colloquium. Which isn’t surprising; as Karen noted, both NZ and Australian universities have trouble with attention, engagement, retention, and performance of their first-years, who face some significant challenges in transitioning from their smaller high-school classes to the large lecture rooms of universities. She commented that how best to build a first-year program … Read More

Poor little Pangolins – Driven headlong to extinction by human greed and stupidity - BioBlog

Feb 20, 2018

Pangolins are strange little creatures, with their diet of ants and termites, and the entire outer surface of their bodies covered with armour-like scales (face, belly and the inner surfaces of the limbs are either hairy or naked). When in danger, pangolins are able to roll up in a ball, presenting only that armoured surface to a predator. Actually, some of them aren’t so little: from nose tip to tail tip, they range from 75 cm to more than 1.5 m in length, with their strong tails making up about half of that. Arboreal species tend to be smaller, just a couple of kilos in weight, but apparently the giant pangolin can weigh in at over 30kg. Image by David Brossard (Scaly Anteater exits stage left) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsIn taxonomic terms pangolins have … Read More

The MMS zombie rises to shamble once more… - BioBlog

Feb 20, 2018

I’ve written about MMS – the “Miracle Mineral Supplement” – several times beforeA (here and here, for example). I guess it’s a useful thing to hold up to show how something can clearly be woo – eg claims that it kills/cures practically everythingB under the sun – and yet people still buy the stuff. Buy it, and potentially do real harm using it. Because MMS is essentially bleach: 28% sodium chlorite in distilled water. Those using it typically ‘activate’ it by mixing it with lemon or orange juice, which gives the strong bleach, chlorine dioxide. And then they drink it, or – even worse – feed it to their children… Because it’s popped up again in this news story, I thought I’d point out the ridiculousness of the claims for how MMS ‘works’, before weighing in on … Read More

Engagement and Experiences in Undergraduate Science Education - BioBlog

Feb 14, 2018

At FYSEC2017, Gerry Rayner led a session called “Undergraduate science education in the 21st century: issues, needs, opportunities”. Gerry kicked off by commenting that education has a greater impact – on students, teachers, and the wider society in which education systems are embedded – when people work together across a range of disciplines. What are the issues currently facing undergraduate science in NZ and Australia, he asked, and how do we address them? This was something that generated quite a bit of subsequent discussion. On the list: Rising enrolments: Gerry commented that in Australia, the removal of caps on enrolment, together with international demand, meant that some predictions of student numbers saw growth of perhaps 30% over the next few years’ Increased diversity – not only cultural and ethnic diversity, but also a wider range of prior knowledge … Read More

Is it a shrimp? Is it a prawn? No – it’s Super Crayfish! - BioBlog

Feb 12, 2018

Polyploidy – the duplication of chromosome sets – is relatively common in plants, and can result in the development of new species. (Many modern food crops are polyploids.) It’s much less common in animals, although found in some frogs and salamanders (amphibians) and leeches (annelids). So it was with a mix of excitement, surprise, and alarm that I read about a triploid crayfish species: excitement, because I hadn’t heard about a polyploid crustacean; surprise, because it’s a triploid organism; and alarm, because it’s an invasive pest across its range. Procambarus virginalis, the marbled crayfish, was first found in Germany in the mid-1990s but is now widespread in Europe and Africa, including Madagascar. In a paper published this month, Frank Lyko and his colleagues reported on their study of the species’ genome (Gutekunst, Andriantsoa, Falckenhayn, Hanna … Read More