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

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

Wellness and ‘access bars’ – I can’t even… - BioBlog

Sep 11, 2017

There’s a ‘Waikato Wellness Fair” just out of Hamilton next weekend. Along with the usual woo (homeopathy, reiki, & so on) comes something called ‘Access Bars’. However, these are not accessible places to have a drink – oh no! they are something far more mystical than that.  Apparently ‘Access Bars’ consist of 32 Bars of energy that run through and around your head that connect to different aspects of your life. They store the electromagnetic component of all the thoughts, ideas, attitudes, decisions and beliefs that you have ever had about anything. There are bars for healing, body, control, awareness, creativity, power, aging, sexuality, and money; 32 different ones in all. Just by gently touching the Bars you effectively erase everything you have every stored there. It’s claimed that having one’s Bars addressed feels like a great massage. I … Read More

On sleep (and lack thereof) - BioBlog

Sep 04, 2017

Recently, I had an enjoyable chat with Graeme Hill on the subject of sleep. Also on the show was Karyn O’Keeffe, whose research interests are with the physiology of sleep (and the lack of it). My segment focused on the evolution of sleep and yes, I did quite a bit of reading in preparation! Sleep is mediated by a chemical messenger, melatonin. The onset of darkness triggers the pineal gland to release melatonin, which alters the activity of the neurons in our brains, resulting in sleepiness. Exposure to light destroys melatonin, and so we wake. (Hence the concern about the use of tablets, smartphones etc. late into the evening, because of the potential for this to upset the normal sleep-wake cycle.) One of the things Graeme and I discussed was the evolution of sleep – when did this … Read More

Supermarkets and nutritional advice - BioBlog

Aug 17, 2017

I rather like our local supermarket. Lovely staff, generally excellent products, and close to home as well.  But I really wish the organisation would stay out of giving nutritional advice – or at least, that they do the right sort of consultation about their claims. For example, under ‘recipes’ there’s a post about ‘hyper-functional’ beverages A. These, it’s stated, will ‘boost’ energy levels, ‘improve’ skin quality, or ‘help’ with immunity. (In fact, the words ‘boost immunity’ come up quite often. Mark Crislip, an infectious diseases medical specialist who until recently blogged on Science-Based Medicine, has commented that “in my world, we call the boosted immune system an inflammatory response”, which is fine as an immediate response but can be risky if it goes on too long.) Apparently, “overseas beverage makers are doing this by consulting nutritionists and … Read More

Leech ‘therapy’ redux - BioBlog

Aug 14, 2017

Back in 2012 the Herald ran a series on alternative ‘therapies’ that included a somewhat uncritical piece on the use of leeches – the practitioner concerned claimed, for example, that they could be used to ‘treat’ diabetes. I blogged on this back then, as did fellow Sciblogger Siouxsie Wiles, &  the criticisms we made then still stand. However – colour me gobsmacked – it seems that this practice continues, with the same practitioner now adding the claim that this is a valid therapy for Parkinson’s disease and for cancer. According to the Stuff article I’ve linked to above, he appears to be also advising those seeking his help that they eschew “medical interventions such as chemotherapy or medication”, because otherwise his ‘treatments’ won’t work. On that basis alone I really really hope that Medsafe takes things further. Alarmingly, at … Read More