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

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

Vegetarian spiders? What is the world coming to? - BioBlog

Oct 17, 2017

Like probably everyone reading this, I have always thought that spiders are carnivorous, sucking the precious bodily fluidsA from their prey. I mean, those fangs! And I was wrong, for it seems that some spiders eat some plant material alongside their liquid meals – and some are almost fully vegetarian. A just-published paper (Painting, Nicholson, Bulbert, Norma-Rashid & LI, 2017) notes that while most of these spiders take nectar from flowers, there’s even one – with the delightful name of Bagheera kiplingiB – where much of its diet comprises the nutrient-rich leaf tips of acacia trees (more on that later). The nectar-eating spiders don’t rely exclusively on sweet treats; the sugar they obtain supplements their main diet. Apparently, the sugar-sipping habit incurs a certain amount of risk. This is because ‘extrafloral’ nectaries (eg at the bases of leaves, or on the leaves … Read More

Cancer, oils, and uncritical reporting - BioBlog

Oct 11, 2017

On Sunday, the Stuff website carried a story about a particular brand of essential oils that may as well have been marked ‘advertorial’. This is because most of the article comprises positive commentary from those involved in selling the products – you have to scroll well down the screen to find a photo and brief comment from the Medical Director of the Cancer Society of New Zealand, and other than that, any remotely skeptical content comes at the end of the article. Now, while the US-based company concerned, DoTERRA, doesn’t make any specific health claimsA, the same can’t be said for those quoted in the stuff article. It’s claimed or implied that the oils are effective against asthma, chronic fatigue, auto-immune disease, colitis, Crohn’s disease, bee-stings, depression – and cancer. Scott said she wasn’t allowed to say Copaiba … Read More

Possum peppering – still totally implausible, seven years on - BioBlog

Oct 09, 2017

“Kerikeri award entry turns possums into burning issue“, proclaims a headline in the Northern Advocate.  The story is about an entry in the WWF-NZ’s Conservation Awards for 2017; I hope the judges have a good grasp of science and scientific method. From the article: The entry from Kerikeri promotes a new take on an old-world biodynamic method of ridding fields of rodents and other furry pests. It is called peppering, and involves burning the pelts and carcasses of said pests until they’re little more than ash, grinding it finely, mixing it with water and “spray painting” the substance back on the affected land. Apparently, this version of the ‘traditional’ practice is new in the sense that so far it has not been applied because it lacked ‘scientific background’. And it still lacks that background; using a drone to … Read More

TL;DR: Antiperspirants don’t cause breast cancer - BioBlog

Oct 07, 2017

Facebook certainly leads me to read papers that I normally wouldn’t.  For whatever reason, a post about deodorants popped up on my feed, from the Wendyl’s Green Goddess page. In the blurb for a sale of products was the following: Conventional products contain aluminium ingredients which have been linked to cancer. Do your skin and body a favour and switch to a 100% natural, aluminium-free deodorant optionA. It sounds like a rather nice product, but the claim that the aluminium compounds found in conventional antiperspirants are linked to cancer caught my eye. After all, aluminium is pretty much everywhere in the environment in various forms, & has been for billions of years; we’ve evolved with it there. So I asked for a citation to support the claim. Rather to my surprise (because often, when I ask, I don’t get), … Read More

‘Pregnancy isn’t a death event’ – social media’s window to the dark side - BioBlog

Oct 03, 2017

Today I was on leave and, the weather being bad, thought I’d do a bit of catching up on the news. And so it was that I found, on the Stuff FB page, an item about the (lack of) funding for cutting-edge cancer drugs. So far, so innocuous (although also somewhat sad) – until I read the comments.  For there, I came across someone (who later turned out to be not alone in her views) who feels that maternity spending is too high, time to pull the purse strings in and start putting some of that money into [funding for cancer drugs]. Ladies do not bleat on that you need it, 1950, 1960, 1970 gee less money, babies still lived. I thought this was a bit heartless, and pointed out that neonatal mortality rates were 4 times higher in 1964 … Read More

Laptops in lectures - BioBlog

Oct 02, 2017

I type much more quickly than I write (some would argue, also more legibly). But when I’m taking notes in meetings, I do it with a (very old-fashioned) fountain pen & notebook. The reason is that this makes me filter what I’m writing, so that only the relevant points make it onto paper.  And this is why I’m actually somewhat chary of requiring, or expecting, students to take lecture notes on laptops, despite the push in many quarters for ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) to classes in the expectation that students will do just that. Yes, there are some good things about using laptops in class (see here, for example – it’s a commercial site but I ignored the little pop-ups wanting to sell me things). They allow for faster note-taking, and if students are using google docs for … Read More

Anti-vaccination activists – deluded and dangerous - BioBlog

Sep 14, 2017

The latest news reports indicate that the mumps outbreak in Auckland is spreading. As you might expect, the very first commenter on the FB page for that story is someone claiming that vaccines don’t cure mumps and offer a significant risk to health. (I wish Moveable Type allowed the Comic Sans font…) The only reason I bother dipping my toes into the rather septic cesspool that such comments threads can become is to try to inject some science, in the hope that anyone sitting on the fence might come down on the side of reality. And to support those who offer science-based responses, like Blue. The ‘study’ Blue’s referring to is probably the one discussed here by Steven Novella: it was a survey of parents who home-schooled; it allowed participants to self-select, and it relied on … Read More