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

Measles, and myths in the comments sections - BioBlog

Mar 02, 2019

Measles is making a come-back on the global stage (Madagascar, the Philippines, Japan, Europe, and the US). And, sadly, this vaccine-preventable disease is popping up again in New Zealand:  most recently in the Waikato, Christchurch, Dunedin, and now Auckland. New Zealand, like the US, hasn’t had ‘home-grown’ cases of measles for some time now. The index case for Auckland apparently contracted the disease overseas, but is described as not infectious while on their flight into the country. However, the individual was infectious when they visited a health centre in the city, and this is problematic. Measles is highly infectious: one individual can infect up to 18 others, so that the virus’s spread can be exponential if it’s brought into an area where herd immunity has dropped below what’s needed to … Read More

SS4C – school strike 4 climate - BioBlog

Feb 28, 2019

The news that school students from across New Zealand are organising the School Strike for Climate on March 15 has been all over the media lately. See this story, for example, which includes the comment that: Globally, their message is clear. They are sick of waiting for adults to save their world so they are going to do it themselves. This is part of a global movement, given impetus by a moving speech by Swedish student Greta Thunberg at the UN Climate Change COP24 conference. Predictably – & sadly – the response from adults to this action has been somewhat mixed. There are lots of messages of support in the social media, but there’s also a fair measure of condemnation.  People saying things like “this is disgusting they’re using children as pawns in something that should be an … Read More

Ardipithecus and bipedal walking - BioBlog

Feb 25, 2019

The hominid known as “Ardi” (a specimen of Ardipithecus ramidus) was discovered in 1994, at a site near Ethiopia’s Awash River. Once excavated, it turned out that this was – for its age – a remarkably complete specimen: 125 fossilised bones, comprising most of the skull, teeth, hands & feet, pelvis, and the lower sections of the arms & legs.  This fossil treasure – and a wealth of other information from the rock layers in which it was found and from the remains of other A.ramidus individuals – provided a huge amount of information to an international team of scientists, who published a total of 11 open-access papers about this hominin species and its environment, in 2009. Image: The ARA-VP-6/500 skeleton. This is a composite photograph to show the approximate placement of elements recovered. Some pieces found separately in the excavation are rejoined here. Intermediate and … Read More

Smallpox stories & shill accusations - BioBlog

Feb 01, 2019

A couple of days ago Newsroom published an article about smallpox, by Farah Hancock. It’s a very good story that covers the nature of smallpox and the history of efforts to develop a vaccine for this particularly nasty disease. And it’s the first of a science-based series about vaccines. Smallpox is a disease that’s extinct in the wild, with its final eradication being due to the success of ‘ring-vaccination’ (i.e. all contacts of every detected case were vaccinated). Farah’s article is carried on the Newsroom webpage, and of course also on its Facebook page. Newsroom encourages comments on its social media sites, rather than on the main webpage, so off to the FB site I went. Sadly (& sort of predictably), the first comment to appear was an attack on the reporter. You might expect queries … Read More

Measles outbreaks and the role of anti-vax misinformation - BioBlog

Jan 28, 2019

Recently Grant Jacobs discussed a paper which indicates that many people strongly opposed to genetic modification think they are well-informed, but in reality know little about the subject. On current evidence, the same applies to those opposed to vaccination. I originally sat down to write about this piece of nonsense, but it can wait. Instead – NZ readers will probably be aware of the handful of measles cases in the Waikato. It could be worse. My Twitter feed today has included a lot of updates on a rapidly spreading outbreak in the US state of Washington – an outbreak that’s seen the Governor declare an emergency. Earlier today there were 31 confirmed cases, 21 of whom were children under 10. So far, one of the 31 has been hospitalised. Most of the 31 were unvaccinated. Those numbers are expected … Read More

Ocean acidification may have unexpected impacts - BioBlog

Jan 20, 2019

A substantial proportion of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere, via burning fossil fuels, ends up dissolved in the ocean. The impact of this is a change in the ocean’s acidity: the pH drops. According to the Smithsonian, oceans have become substantially more acidic over the last 200 years (the period of the Industrial Revolution) – waaaay faster than any natural changes in pH in the previous 300 million years. One of the known effects of this decrease in oceanic pH is that some animals can struggle to build or maintain their shells (you’ll find one example here; others are listed here), which can have a range of flow-on effects. But the other day my colleague Chris Battershill told me that changes in pH can also affect animals’ behaviour, sometimes in quite subtle ways. Read More

WHO: ‘vaccine hesitancy’ is one of the top 10 health threats in 2019 - BioBlog

Jan 17, 2019

You read that right. Vaccine hesitancy – “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines” – is viewed by the World Health Organisation as one of the top 10 health threats we face in 2019. And worse, that hesitancy will have an effect on other threats in that top 10 list. Ebola and the potential for an influenza pandemic are also on that list; vaccination is a tool available to address those threats; and yet reluctance or refusal to vaccinate can (and sadly, probably will) reduce the effectiveness of that tool. The WHO has already described the value of vaccination in the fight against Ebola in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for health workers to control its spread in this war-torn region – a difficulty made worse by fears … Read More

Human evolution and attention-grabbing headlines - BioBlog

Jan 16, 2019

Every so often there’s a new story claiming that a study has overturned our understanding of human evolution. (Or something along those lines.) I’ve just come across another one**, & thought I’d write this post as a warning to year 13 biology students. As Carl Sagan once said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – something that’s lacking in this particular case. The article wears its heart in its title: 700,000 YEARS OLD SKULL DISCOVERED IN GREEK CAVE, COMPLETELY SHATTERS THE OUT OF AFRICA THEORY (yes, it really is written in all-caps). The writer claims that the hominin fossil known as the Petralona skull dates back 700,000 years; that it’s “not connected to the species that came out of Africa”; and that the “out of Africa” model for the origins of Homo sapiens is thus disproved. However. (There’s always a ‘however’, isn’t … Read More

The sad state of science learning in primary school - BioBlog

Dec 06, 2018

In 2011, Sir Peter Gluckman released his report, Looking ahead: science education for the 21st century. In it, he noted the need to improve science teaching in primary schools, commenting that: there should be an attempt to improve the confidence [my emphasis] of all teachers within primary schools to assist in science and that all primary schools should be encouraged to develop a science champion. And in 2012, David Vannier pointed out that: there is growing evidence that too many children are not doing well in science and do not have access to effective instruction, especially at the primary level. and that: [at] the same time that the New Zealand government is seeking to spur innovation in science as a means to improve the economy, less and less emphasis is being placed on science instruction in primary schools. Fast forward to Monday this week, when Radio … Read More

Teachers’ reactions to this year’s Year 13 Bio exam - BioBlog

Dec 03, 2018

Over the weekend I heard from some very unhappy teachers. As in, teachers – excellent, experienced teachers – who are upset to the point of tears on behalf of their students. The reason for their unhappiness? This year’s NCEA Level 3 (Year 13) biology exam, sat by their students just a few days ago. And at this point, I should emphasise that the teachers’ concerns were focused towards the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, and not the individual examiner(s) who, after all, prepare these documents with advice and guidance from NZQA staff. Their concerns were focused on the system. Now, it’s several years since I was an examiner at this level, and I know that the nature of the exam has changed. And of course the teachers themselves are well aware of what’s been expected in the past; they’re just very concerned … Read More