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

evidence vs spin - BioBlog

Apr 14, 2021

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of this blog post by New Zealand’s “Plan B” group. While initially this group opposed the government’s use of lockdowns to manage covid19 outbreaks in this country, they seem to have since moved on to opposing the rollout of vaccines against SARS-Cov-2. And, while they claim to be “injecting evidence into the vaccine spin,” on balance the spin is on their part¹. Why do I say this? Let me count the ways. The authors of this Plan B post, Simon Thornley & Gerhard Sundborn, describe the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as the least tested vaccine in living memory Least tested? The Phase III randomised controlled trial (RCT) for this vaccine involved 43,000 people – more participants than in pretty much any other vaccine RCT. For example, this large trial of Gardasil … Read More

there’s a word for this sort of misinformation about vaccines - BioBlog

Apr 10, 2021

A friend found a concerning FB post (see below – this is a public post & so I have not redacted the name) & – as you do – immediately queried it with Southern Cross Life & Health Insurance as well as sending the screenshot to me¹. We both read the relevant policies & exclusions and were pretty sure the post was incorrect. (My friend said he was blown away by the number of commenters who clearly hadn’t bothered to do even a rudimentary fact-checking exercise.) Here’s what SCLHI has to say on the issue of insurance cover & getting a vaccine against covid-19. I’ve used bold font to highlight the key comment, but there is so much wrong in what’s being claimed in that FB post. Southern Cross follows the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and MedSafe … Read More

“doing my own research” & the scientific method - BioBlog

Apr 07, 2021

This evening I was engaging in polite conversation (well, I was polite, anyway) on an RNZ Facebook post about – you guessed it! – the covid19 vaccination program. One of those present offered up a link to a blog post by Joseph Mercola to support a claim he was making about the vaccines. When I pointed out that Mercola is an osteopath, who makes a lot of money from selling products that included fake cures for covid19 (he got an FDA warning for that), my interlocutor said that the source was fine because it was “with references to verify what he says. You know, the scientific method.” To me, this highlights a key problem with many of those who claim to have “done their own research” or tell me to do mine. They don’t really know … Read More

the strange case of the headless sea slug - BioBlog

Mar 31, 2021

Autotomy. There’s a word you don’t see every day – but those familiar with lizards may well have seen the result. For autotomy is the scientific name for what I suppose we could also call “self-amputation”: the process whereby an animal deliberately sheds a part of its body (a tail, limb, or other appendage). Lizards do it, but apparently so do arthropods, starfish, amphibians – and slugs & snails. And in the case of the sea slug in this story, the self-amputation is rather extreme, as it involves shedding the whole body (heart, guts, & all) and regenerating an entire new one at the amputation site. (I first came across this in a New York Times article, but you can read the original research paper here.) The sea slugs belong to a group of molluscs known as sacoglossans, … Read More

I’m still not in the money - BioBlog

Mar 24, 2021

In the last week water fluoridation has made the headlines again, alongside the continuing articles and posts related to SARS-Cov-2 and the rollout of vaccines against it. One of the common features shown by quite a few of those opposed to these 2 public health initiatives (fluoridation & vaccination) is a tendency to claim that those supporting the initiatives in public forums must be paid to do so. So, I thought it might be worth republishing something I first wrote back in 2013 (especially since the zombie mentioned at the end has – sadly but predictably – been reanimated once more). Every now & then (well, fairly often, if I’m honest) I join in discussion at the Making Sense of Fluoride page on Facebook. This page was set up to discuss the actual science (as distinct from personal … Read More

Luciferin, Luciferase, etymology, & innuendo - BioBlog

Feb 17, 2021

On Friday (5 February) we went for a walk in the Karangahake Gorge, and were very happy to discover (during the Windows Walk) that there are glow-worms in the darker parts of the mine workings. (Strictly speaking they’re glow-maggots as they’re the larvae of small flies/midges, but that is perhaps less attractive to the ear ) These little creatures live in tubes of silk, spun along the cave/tunnel ceiling, and let down long silk threads that are coated with sticky mucus. The blue glow each larva emits from its abdomen attracts insects, which get caught in these threads & provide it with a good meal. But how do glow worms (& other bioluminescent creatures) make the light? This is due to a chemical reaction involving a protein called luciferin, an enzyme called luciferase, oxygen, and a small energy-carrying … Read More

Vaccines, viruses, & mRNA - BioBlog

Dec 13, 2020

Today I was told that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (now approved for use in the US, UK, & Canada) is a virus (screencap at the bottom of this thread). It really isn’t, but I’ve seen this one several times & so I think it’s worth unpacking a little further. (You can also read about mRNA vaccines here, here, & here, for example.) Let’s start with the vaccine I’ve already written about its other constituents, but the bit that’s important immunologically is a short mRNA strand coding for part of the “spike” protein of SARS-Cov-2 (the part that acts as an antigen & elicits an immune response). This small piece of RNA carries information in a form that acts as a template for cells to construct the protein fragment, which is done by a process known as … Read More

Mammoth bones – and … potatoes??? - BioBlog

Dec 11, 2020

Today I came across an interesting share in a science group that I follow – an article about a “huge 25,000-yr-old hut” made of mammoth bones. Having really enjoyed Jean Auel’s “Earth’s Children” series, of course, I was going to read on. But alas, the article was disappointing: the headline image didn’t match the story; the apparent construction certainly wasn’t anything resembling a ‘hut’; and (most annoying of all) it talked about researchers finding the remains of carrots, parsnips & potatoes in a 25,000-year-old living site in Russia, at a time before any of these plants had been domesticated¹. So, what did the authors of the original paper really say? Alexander Pryor and his colleagues were reporting on research at a site (called Kostenki 11) in Russia. There have been excavations at the site since the 1950s, and … Read More

Those vaccine ingredients again - BioBlog

Dec 11, 2020

A year ago I posted an explanation on vaccine “ingredients”, in relation to some wild claims made about the measles vaccine in the context of Samoa’s measles epidemic. From what I’ve seen on recent RNZ comments threads, an update for the time of SARS-Cov-2 is required. So, here’s purple making a statement about the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine that – in the context of the thread where it was posted – seems intended to sow fear, doubt & uncertainty. Apart from the fact that the information in the actual article doesn’t make this implication, but does say the people involved had a history of severe allergic reactions, should we really worry about the list of chemicals contained in each vial of the vaccine? There’s some complex chemical names in it! (Purple omitted the sucrose that’s also … Read More

It always pays to check before you share - BioBlog

Nov 19, 2020

Back in 2008, Dr Anthony Fauci (yes, that Dr Fauci) co-authored a paper that examined the interplay between influenza infection and secondary bacterial infection in mortality from the “Spanish flu¹” pandemic of 1918-19. He and his colleagues examined tissue samples taken during autopsies at the time of the pandemic, using their findings plus notes taken during a much larger number of autopsies to draw conclusions about the impact of bacterial infections. The team found that every autopsy sample they looked at showed signs of severe bacterial infection. In addition, the autopsy series information also consistently showed that severe secondary bacterial pneumonia (caused by … Read More