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

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

Journalism, clickbait, & ideas of classical beauty – but not science - BioBlog

Oct 21, 2019

A couple days ago the NZ Herald published a story with the headline, “Science says Bella Hadid is world’s most beautiful woman“, and followed up with the ridiculous statement that Supermodel Bella Hadid has been declared as the world’s most beautiful woman following a scientific study into what constitutes as a “perfect face”. Really, NZ Herald? Really? Were you so bereft of stories that you had to post something that would be better placed on the Daily Mail Fail? I probably wouldn’t have given this a second glance, were it not for the abuse of the words ‘science’ and ‘scientific’. Neither belongs within cooee of the rest of the piece. Let’s park the concept that beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder¹, for the moment, and look more closely at where the storyline might have come … Read More

Measles: a ‘gotcha’ moment that is nothing of the sort - BioBlog

Sep 12, 2019

On Monday this week, Seven Sharp carried the story of a Whangārei school where so many of the students are immunised that the school has attained herd immunity against measles. This is an enviable achievement – tautoko, Hora Hora Primary School! Most of the comments are strongly supportive at the moment, but – predictably, not all. Including one, who produced a wall of copypasted text from the US¹,and advised everyone to demand answers to all of them before agreeing to vaccination. Here’s a sample (there were 40 items in total): It would take ages to answer all of them here (though I might compile a full set of responses at some point). So let’s look at 4, 5, 6 & 8, as collectively they’re something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now: the … Read More

Measles & cancer, part 2 - BioBlog

Sep 09, 2019

I’ve written previously about an anti-vaxx plague enthusiast claim that measles can cure cancer (it doesn’t). However, it seems that the search for positive attributes for a measles infection knows little bounds. Thus a friend shared this with me – it’s something posted by an antivaxxer in a FB thread: Presumably this is an example of having “done their research”. Anyway, I thought it would be instructive to check on what these references actually say. The first is an old paper – 1998 – and it’s in Medical Hypotheses, a journal well-known for publishing what might best be described as speculative ideas (here’s an example), although I gather that things have been tightened up in recent years. It’s based on a self-reported questionnaire intended to generate a “possible history” (ibid.) of febrile infectious childhood diseases (why not … Read More

Measles: NOT a “benign childhood disease” - BioBlog

Sep 02, 2019

Pretty much everyone in NZ should be aware by now that the country is facing its biggest measles outbreak in years, with Counties Manukau being particularly hard-hit. Here’s the data for the week ending August 23rd, from ESR’s Public Health Surveillance page: This hasn’t stopped those opposed to vaccination plague enthusiasts pushing all their usual tropes, as you can see from pretty much every measles-focused post on social media (try this one for size). These include things like “well, I had measles & it wasn’t so bad”¹, along with “I don’t know anyone who’s died from measles” and “measles is a benign childhood disease”. This makes me think that we need to see a lot more articles like this one: Kiwi mother shares ordeal after 7-month-old catches measles. (There are quite a few from overseas; see … Read More

Telling good science from bad (a cautionary tale) - BioBlog

Aug 01, 2019

Recently I came across the claim that cystic fibrosis (CF) can be cured by diet. This was news to me, given that the mutation that causes CF is well-documented, as are the necessary treatments, and I wasn’t aware of any evidence that diet alone would correct the faulty membrane pump involved. So I said so. In response I was told to look into “mineral replacement” and view a Youtube video. A video made by Dr Joel Wallach, apparently “nominated for a Nobel prize in medicine”, or so my informant told me. Well, that’s the logical fallacy known as an “appeal to authority” right there. That is, I was told that Dr Wallach’s claims must have something in them, not because of published evidence in support of them, but because of a supposed Nobel nomination. It’s also … Read More

A new study on the heritability of autism spectrum disorder - Unsorted

Jul 25, 2019

Science has known for a while now that there is a strong genetic component in autism spectrum disorders (ASD), although those opposed to vaccination tend to deny this. (David Gorski points this out in his commentary on this new 2019 paper.) In this paper, Bai et al. cite data from a meta-analysis of twin studies that estimated the heritability of ASD to be between 64 & 91%. and a set of three Swedish studies with a range of 66 – 83%. These values suggest that much to most of the variability in ASD between populations is the result of genetic differences. Bail and his colleagues also note that it’s also possible for ‘maternal effects’ (especially maternal phenotype) and shared environmental effects to make some contribution, and so their just-published study was designed to allow them to “estimate the heritability** … Read More