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

Thoughts on the proposed changes to NCEA - BioBlog

Feb 28, 2020

Many readers will probably have read this RNZ article (or heard the related interview), or seen calls for consultation on the Ministry of Education’s suggested changes to the number of subjects – and achievement standards – on offer to year 11 students. I’ve been following (& participating, where I can) all this with colleagues and friends, and thought I’d share some of my thoughts here. But before I get onto that, I’ll point out that there’s been a fair bit of consultation even before we got to the point where these materials have gone out, in their turn, for feedback. That process began in 2018 and resulted in a “change package“. This was published in May 2019, and I really recommend reading it carefully as it provides the rationale for the latest 2 rounds of consultation … Read More

Why do students need to learn about the nature of science? - BioBlog

Feb 25, 2020

You’re probably aware that the Achievement Standards used to assess senior school students’ learning are being reviewed. Science is one of the ‘pilot’ subjects in this process, where a ‘Subject Expert Group’ has developed 4 draft Science standards¹ (a significant step away from the current 30+, and a response to advice from several high-level advisory groups). These drafts have been out for consultation, and are all intended to develop and assess students’ understanding of the nature of science, with subject content providing the contexts for this learning. (That is, the subject content has definitely not disappeared.) Why is this important? Back in 2007, New Zealand implemented a new national curriculum. One of the features of the science component of that document is the overarching importance of students gaining an understanding of the nature of science (the “unifying … Read More

Neandertals’ genetic legacy extends into africa - BioBlog

Feb 03, 2020

For the last few years it’s been pretty much received wisdom that African populations shared only a tiny proportion of their genes, if any, with Neanderthals. In contrast, other non-African sapiens populations had a small but significant admixture of Neanderthal genes. The underlying reason for this, it’s been assumed, is that Homo sapiens and neandertalensis only bred with each other in Europe and Asia. However, a new study (Chen, Wolf, Fu, Li & Akey, 2020) seems set to change that understanding. The researchers employed a technique that used DNA sequences from a Neanderthal who’d lived in Denisova cave (in the Altai mountains) as an ‘archaic’ reference sample, and compared that with genomes from 2504 modern humans. The technique allowed them to identify sequences that had entered a population’s gene pool via introgression, finding that “African individuals carry a stronger … Read More

Controversy? Or Manufactroversy? - Unsorted

Jan 22, 2020

A few days ago, New Zealand’s Minister of Education announced the wider release of a resource on climate change, which was initially trialled at a Christchurch school during 2018. According to the Minister, children will learn about “the role science plays in understanding climate change, aids understanding of both the response to it and its impacts – globally, nationally and locally – and explores opportunities to contribute to reducing and adapting to its impact on everyday life”. You’ll find Climate change: prepare today, live well tomorrow on the Te Kete Irirangi website, and it’s well worth a read. It looks like being a valuable classroom resource &, as an aside, would work well as a context for helping students to develop an understanding of the nature of science (something that the draft Science standards for Level 1 NCEA also aim to achieve). Read More

Ignorance of basic science isn’t a virtue - BioBlog

Dec 17, 2019

I’d intended to write a post about science literacy (& its lack). And I still will. But first, I’m going to address the claims made by a commenter on a post that shared advice and commentary by the Samoan ombudsman. (Yes, a post related to that country’s measles epidemic.) Why? Because it demonstrates what we get when people aren’t particularly science-literate and yet have the gall to claim that they’ve “done their research”, when clearly all they’ve done is share a copypasta screed of words. A screed that’s intended to mislead and generate fear, and which is based in some pretty solid chemophobia. And it needs rebutting. (I apologise in advance for the length of the post: it’s pretty much a truism that it takes far more effort to rebut material like this than the original commenter … Read More

anti-vaxxers in a measles epidemic: so many ways to be untruthful - BioBlog

Dec 02, 2019

“Anti-vaxers are a pro-death movement,” those comments from Dr Helen Petousis-Harris speaking about six more Measles related deaths in Samoa over the past twenty-four hours. “Anti-vaxers are a pro-death movement,” those comments from Dr Helen Petousis-Harris speaking about six more Measles related deaths in Samoa over the past twenty-four hours. The fight to vaccinate continues with the Nation’s health authorities unhappy with the level of coverage for kids between six months and four years. Less than 40% have been vaccinated. Posted by Breakfast on Thursday, 28 November 2019 Having spent a bit of time in the comments threads for that story, I have to say that there are a fair number of plague enthusiasts commenting who appear to have little regard for truth, accuracy, public health or evidence-based decision-making. (EDIT: as of today, 9 December, the … Read More

Advice about measles: when ignorance is definitely not a virtue - BioBlog

Nov 28, 2019

As the rate of measles infection, and of deaths, continues to climb in Samoa, antivaccination activists infectious disease proponents seem intent on doubling down on their claims about vaccination. (Check pretty much any news-media FB post about measles & you’ll see exactly what I mean.) Unfortunately, some of them have a greater reach than others. On a global level we have people like Andrew Wakefield, RFK Jnr (who visited Samoa earlier this year to promote his anti-vax message), & Del Bigtree . Here in the Pacific region we have people like Taylor Winterstein, who actively pushes an anti-vaccine message via social media and – for some odd reason – believes that having no relevant qualifications at all makes her well-suited to providing health-related advice. Now, lots of folk don’t have a uni degree … Read More

Measles deaths and antivax misinformation - BioBlog

Nov 26, 2019

Today the death toll from measles in Samoa rose to 32. All but four of the dead were less than 5 years old. Absolutely terrible, heartbreaking, news. That statistic alone should be enough to give the lie to the common claim by antivaccination activists plague enthusiasts that “measles is a benign childhood disease”. Clearly, it is not. (And never has been.) However, that hasn’t stopped them making a range of incorrect claims about vaccines (I’ve given a few further down), or from indulging in asking questions in a way that’s calculated to sow fear and uncertainty (often described as Just Asking Questions, aka JAQing off, because typically they aren’t really interested in the answers). I want to address one of those “questions” here, because it demonstrates a lack of understanding of how studies are designed (& also a fairly … Read More

Measles: the quackery that is homeopathic “vaccination” - BioBlog

Oct 22, 2019

A few days ago, a friend sent me a link to a health-related FB page that had published a post from a homeopathist, offering homeopathic “vaccination”¹ against measles (using something called a “Morbillinum nosode” at a “potency” of 200C, which I’ll explain shortly). I followed the link, left a comment asking for evidence that this actually, you know, works, & was happy to see that a number of other science-based commenters also turned up. The result was that the post disappeared, which in my opinion is a Good Thing & I’m going to explain why (though I was a little miffed that I hadn’t thought to take a screenshot). However, and unfortunately, it’s easy to find people offering this “treatment” in New Zealand. For example, this page explains what that Morbillinum nosode² is: the remedy made from the discharge … Read More

Zombie ants, updated - BioBlog

Oct 22, 2019

Back in 2010, I wrote about the strange tale of the zombie ants, which do the bidding of their fungal overlords. (They’re not an isolated example; a range of parasites change their hosts’ behaviour. See here and here for example – though as you’ll find, the toxoplasmosis story may be even more complex than first thought.) There’s been quite a lot more work done on this relationship since that tale was published. For example, it seems that the fungus may be achieving its ends by manipulating gene expression in its hosts. And it also appears that past changes in climate may have driven evolutionary changes in how the fungus makes its hosts act: specifically, whether they do their death-bite on a twig, or the midrib of a leaf. NB this manipulation of host behaviour, in a … Read More