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

Wordle & Schol Bio - BioBlog

Sep 16, 2018

One of the things I do at Schol Bio workshops is work with students to identify the key themes that run through the exam questions from year to year. On the macro scale, there are three: human evolution, genetics, and animal & plant behaviour/responses to the environment (with an occasional admixture of biotechnology). At yesterday’s workshop in Tauranga, my friend Richard H. told me how he’d used previous marking schedules and wordle to drill down for a bit more detail, and was kind enough to let me share the image he’d made. He stripped out all the contextual material, which varies from year to year, and this is the result: Richard’s image reinforces those three main themes, and shows the breadth of conceptual knowledge that students should bring to the exam. And it’s occurred to me that from … Read More

An open letter to Rethink Fluoride - BioBlog

Sep 12, 2018

Dear Rethink Fluoride, Since you’ve blocked me from commenting on your page (and on this post, in particular), this seems the best way to respond to you. After all, at least some of you do follow Sciblogs. I have to say that preventing someone from commenting is particularly rich coming from a group who claim that they want to have a ‘debate’ about community water fluoridation. Apparently the other party isn’t allowed to bring science, evidence, or critical thinking to the table: did I make the echo chamber uncomfortable? In fact, it’s downright hypocriticalA, since those of you behind the group name know that you are able to comment freely on pages such as Making Sense of Fluoride, or on the blogs hosted by sciblogs.co.nz. In other words, you can talk at my place, but I can’t talk at yours. Read More

Cave bears and brown bears and admixture, oh my! - BioBlog

Aug 28, 2018

Last week the story of a hybrid hominin was in the news: the discovery that remains found in Denisova Cave were those of a 13-year-old girl whose parents were a female Neandertal and a Denisovan male. This was exciting stuff: we already know, from genomic analysis, that interspecies matings involving Neanderthals, Denisovans, and H.sapiens happened – but to actually find the remains of someone whose existence was the result of such a mating is quite something! Now, interspecies hybridisation isn’t all that rare – after all, the ‘biological species concept‘ is just that, a concept that helps us make sense of biological diversity. Of course, species themselves don’t care about such details: there are even occasions when lions and tigers may interbreed, for example, and now a new paper by Barlow et al. shows that in the past the same has been true for bearsA: specifically, European … Read More

Slick propaganda has no place in science classroom - BioBlog

Aug 01, 2018

Except, perhaps, if it’s used to develop critical thinking skills. But I don’t think that’s what happened on the occasion reported under the headline Creationism taught in science class at Villa Education Trust school: [A student who’d studied at] Mt Hobson Middle School said Darwinism was taught as an unproven theory and students were shown a video purporting to show science had found proof of God’s existence. On the ‘taught as an unproven theory’ bit – suffice it to say, for now, that I’d have concerns about how well the nature of science was being taught and understood in that particular classroom. But on the video … NewstalkZB asked me to comment on that, this morning, and so I sat down last night & watched it. (I’ve shared it at the bottom of this post, if you’d care … Read More

Ducks, domestication, and selection’s signature - BioBlog

Jul 18, 2018

I’ve always rather liked ducks, ever since we hand-reared some ducklings back when I was still a school-kid. Mind you, the innocent me of those days didn’t know what I know now about the effects of sperm competition and sexual selection on their reproductive organs. (Those of an enquiring mind will learn more – much more! – in this excellent piece by Ed Yong.) I liked them enough to make mallard behaviour the focus of my Honours dissertation, before moving on to swans. Ducks were domesticated multiple times by humans perhaps beginning around 4,000 years ago in Egypt, but dated to around 500BC in China (Zhou, Li, Cheng, Fan et al., 2018). Domestic breeds – with the exception of Muscovy ducks – are all derived from the mallard, Anas platyrhynchos. Selection by humans has given rise to … Read More

Science education in the 21st century – what might it look like? - BioBlog

Jul 03, 2018

There’s a lot of rhetoric these days around educating students ‘for the 21st century’, and the need for ’21st century skills’, while (not always but often) disparaging what is currently taught & how it’s delivered. Catherine Kelsey has a good op.ed. on this on the Education Central site, in which she comments on two other opinion pieces that I – like her – had found somewhat polarising in their approaches (see here and here), and says: [They] are both right and both wrong: right because today we do need to ensure that we do teach the “ability to think critically, to persevere, to solve problems and relate to others” and that “great teachers improve student learning by providing a relevant and engaging curriculum … by supporting the personal growth of each individual student”. Where they are … Read More

Preparing for scholarship: critical thinking - BioBlog

Jun 27, 2018

I met with a local biology teacher today to talk about setting up a Schol Bio preparation day in the Waikato, and we also discussed things like the need for critical thinking skills (in addition to a solid base of knowledge from students’ year 12 & year 13 studies and time spent in reading more widely around the subject). So here are some thoughts on this, for those of my readers thinking of entering for the examination this year. That critical thinking needs to be applied not only to the questions themselves (just what is the examiner asking me to do? what are the key points I must answer to do this), but also to the resource material (what inferences can I draw from this? which bits of information are relevant, and to which section(s) of the question) and to your own … Read More

1080 – ill-informed claims deserve a debunking - BioBlog

Jun 21, 2018

Today a science-minded friend posted a screenshot of a post by another individual to the FB group 1080 eyewitness. Because it is a) heavy on the innuendo, b) inaccurate, and c) decidedly unpleasant, I thought it worthy of a bit of additional attention. Let’s look at c) first. The original poster claimed to have written this on the Prime Minister’s FB page; it’s a particularly nasty attempt to sow fear & confusion in women’s minds by using a combination of overstatement, innuendo, & downright inaccuracy. Jacinda Ardern is level-headed enough to ignore the item as an ill-founded rant, but I see no reason why someone should attempt to frighten others in order to push their own point of view in this way. and, a little later That is really nasty. Now b) – he implies that 1080 … Read More

Appeal to antiquity? Appeal to nature? Bingo! - BioBlog

Jun 13, 2018

I was idly skimming the Herald’s website when I came across an article with the headline “Is plant medicine really that effective?” Since the article appears to be in the nature of an advertorial, the answer is, it depends on who you ask. Unlike man-made chemical drugs that have been developed as novel medicines from the 19th century onwards, plant medicines have been used in human healthcare for millennia. This is what’s known as an appeal to antiquity – because something’s been in use for ages, it must work. It’s repeated later in the article, with the claim that [t]raditional plant medicines have a rich history of being effectively used for over 2500 years A rich history of being used is not the same as a history of being used “effectively”. In Hippocrates’ time, for example, ‘plant medicine’ & basic surgery … Read More

Is there science in reflexology? - BioBlog

Jun 06, 2018

I subscribe to the Tertiary Insight newsletter (a great way to keep up with news of what’s happening in the tertiary sector). Yesterday’s edition included a statement (& a link) about the NZQA’s decision to cancel the registration of the Aromaflex Academy. It seems that this Private Training Establishment (PTE) was placed under strict conditions in January 2018, & has presumably failed to meet them.  Now, if you go to the Academy’s webpage, you’ll see that it offers courses about “The Science of Aromatherapy, Reflexology, Holistic Massage, Anatomy & Physiology”. Personally, I struggle to see how one could offer a course in the science of either aromatherapy or reflexology (of which, more at the end of this post), so my first thought was that the NZQA’s decision was – from a scientific perspective – a Good Thing. However, the … Read More