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

Essential oils in the classroom: a rose (or other flowers) would smell as sweet - BioBlog

Apr 08, 2019

A story about essential oils being used in classrooms hit the headlines this week. It described how an Auckland primary school had put diffusers into 20 classrooms, using oil blends that would supposedly “stop the spread of viruses and keep children focused at school.” A parent subsequently used the threat of a legal injunction to stop this practice, at least for the moment. Now, some of the skills children are supposed to gain at school are those used in critical thinking. It would be nice to see the school management applying the same skills to decisions like this¹. I mean, is there actually good evidence that these products actually do what’s claimed for them? Do they “stop the spread of viruses” or “keep children focused at school”? (Trialling them in one classroom and relying on the teacher’s observations is … Read More

Plants, their predators, and early warning systems - BioBlog

Apr 02, 2019

People tend to think that plants don’t do much from day to day – certainly when I asked my first-year students at the start of the course, they were far more interested in animals than in plants. Poor plants! But then, to the casual eye, I guess they’re fairly static creatures However, it turns out that their responses to the environment are probably just as nuanced as the behaviours that we see in animals. For example, not only can plants detect that a herbivore is munching on them, some can also warn other plants that this is happening, giving them time to prepare their own defences. And some can also call in the cops: they can signal to predatory insects that a caterpillar or beetle is there, ready to be attacked in turn. (You can read more about other … Read More

Thoughts on a question about kākāpō - BioBlog

Mar 21, 2019

My interest in kākāpō began way back in my honours year at uni: a guest speaker told us that as far as anybody knew, the last remaining birds were a few males, somewhere in Fiordland. I remember feeling that that sounded really sad – those lonely males booming for females who never came. Shortly after that, a relatively healthy population was discovered on Stewart Island** (where “relatively” = less than 200). Alas, cats found them too, and so now the species is found on a small number of offshore islands, free of mammalian predators, and carefully managed to maximise their breeding success. (2019 seems to have been a bumper breeding season, and you can follow progress via Twitter (for example) – where I learned that baby kākāpō have big feet.***) The 2017 Schol Bio paper had … Read More

A new critical analysis of the Wilyman thesis - BioBlog

Mar 06, 2019

A few years back, University of Wollongong student Judy Wilyman received a PhD for a thesis that claimed to offer a “critical analysis of the Australian government’s rationale for its vaccination policy.” Both the thesis, and the processes at Wollongong in relation to PhD study and examination, attracted a considerable amount of scrutiny and criticism (see here and here, for example). Criticism that was well-deserved: you don’t expect a PhD thesis on a public health initiative to promote a conspiracy-theory ideation, for example, or to have such a superficial understanding of germ theory and the functioning of the immune system. Now a group of researchers has subjected Wilyman’s thesis to the sort of scrutiny that it should have received during the examination process (Wiley, Leask, Burgess & McIntyre, 2019). They did this due … Read More

No link between MMR vaccination and autism - BioBlog

Mar 05, 2019

One of the myths (and there are a lot of them) continually pushed by those opposed to vaccination, is that “the MMR vaccine causes autism” – often coupled with claims that “there are no studies comparing the health of vaccinated & unvaccinated children”. (That’s another myth, by the way.) The origins of this claim can be laid squarely at the feet of one Andrew Wakefield, who suggested (& has continued to suggest) that the combined measles, mumps, & rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to the development of autism. This tale of scientific fraud has been well-told elsewhere (see here and here, for example), but the unfortunate result has been a decrease in uptake of the MMR vaccine by some parents and communities, with fairly predictable results. (In fact, ‘vaccine hesitancy’ has been identified by … Read More

Measles, and myths in the comments sections - BioBlog

Mar 02, 2019

Measles is making a come-back on the global stage (Madagascar, the Philippines, Japan, Europe, and the US). And, sadly, this vaccine-preventable disease is popping up again in New Zealand:  most recently in the Waikato, Christchurch, Dunedin, and now Auckland. New Zealand, like the US, hasn’t had ‘home-grown’ cases of measles for some time now. The index case for Auckland apparently contracted the disease overseas, but is described as not infectious while on their flight into the country. However, the individual was infectious when they visited a health centre in the city, and this is problematic. Measles is highly infectious: one individual can infect up to 18 others, so that the virus’s spread can be exponential if it’s brought into an area where herd immunity has dropped below what’s needed to … Read More

SS4C – school strike 4 climate - BioBlog

Feb 28, 2019

The news that school students from across New Zealand are organising the School Strike for Climate on March 15 has been all over the media lately. See this story, for example, which includes the comment that: Globally, their message is clear. They are sick of waiting for adults to save their world so they are going to do it themselves. This is part of a global movement, given impetus by a moving speech by Swedish student Greta Thunberg at the UN Climate Change COP24 conference. Predictably – & sadly – the response from adults to this action has been somewhat mixed. There are lots of messages of support in the social media, but there’s also a fair measure of condemnation.  People saying things like “this is disgusting they’re using children as pawns in something that should be an … Read More

Ardipithecus and bipedal walking - BioBlog

Feb 25, 2019

The hominid known as “Ardi” (a specimen of Ardipithecus ramidus) was discovered in 1994, at a site near Ethiopia’s Awash River. Once excavated, it turned out that this was – for its age – a remarkably complete specimen: 125 fossilised bones, comprising most of the skull, teeth, hands & feet, pelvis, and the lower sections of the arms & legs.  This fossil treasure – and a wealth of other information from the rock layers in which it was found and from the remains of other A.ramidus individuals – provided a huge amount of information to an international team of scientists, who published a total of 11 open-access papers about this hominin species and its environment, in 2009. Image: The ARA-VP-6/500 skeleton. This is a composite photograph to show the approximate placement of elements recovered. Some pieces found separately in the excavation are rejoined here. Intermediate and … Read More

Smallpox stories & shill accusations - BioBlog

Feb 01, 2019

A couple of days ago Newsroom published an article about smallpox, by Farah Hancock. It’s a very good story that covers the nature of smallpox and the history of efforts to develop a vaccine for this particularly nasty disease. And it’s the first of a science-based series about vaccines. Smallpox is a disease that’s extinct in the wild, with its final eradication being due to the success of ‘ring-vaccination’ (i.e. all contacts of every detected case were vaccinated). Farah’s article is carried on the Newsroom webpage, and of course also on its Facebook page. Newsroom encourages comments on its social media sites, rather than on the main webpage, so off to the FB site I went. Sadly (& sort of predictably), the first comment to appear was an attack on the reporter. You might expect queries … Read More

Measles outbreaks and the role of anti-vax misinformation - BioBlog

Jan 28, 2019

Recently Grant Jacobs discussed a paper which indicates that many people strongly opposed to genetic modification think they are well-informed, but in reality know little about the subject. On current evidence, the same applies to those opposed to vaccination. I originally sat down to write about this piece of nonsense, but it can wait. Instead – NZ readers will probably be aware of the handful of measles cases in the Waikato. It could be worse. My Twitter feed today has included a lot of updates on a rapidly spreading outbreak in the US state of Washington – an outbreak that’s seen the Governor declare an emergency. Earlier today there were 31 confirmed cases, 21 of whom were children under 10. So far, one of the 31 has been hospitalised. Most of the 31 were unvaccinated. Those numbers are expected … Read More