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

Is it a shrimp? Is it a prawn? No – it’s Super Crayfish! - BioBlog

Feb 12, 2018

Polyploidy – the duplication of chromosome sets – is relatively common in plants, and can result in the development of new species. (Many modern food crops are polyploids.) It’s much less common in animals, although found in some frogs and salamanders (amphibians) and leeches (annelids). So it was with a mix of excitement, surprise, and alarm that I read about a triploid crayfish species: excitement, because I hadn’t heard about a polyploid crustacean; surprise, because it’s a triploid organism; and alarm, because it’s an invasive pest across its range. Procambarus virginalis, the marbled crayfish, was first found in Germany in the mid-1990s but is now widespread in Europe and Africa, including Madagascar. In a paper published this month, Frank Lyko and his colleagues reported on their study of the species’ genome (Gutekunst, Andriantsoa, Falckenhayn, Hanna … Read More

No, we have no GM tomatoes - BioBlog

Feb 08, 2018

No sooner have I written a post about the synergy between FB and blogging then it happens again 🙂 Again, hat-tip to Yvette d’Entremont, who posted a link to an article purporting to tell consumers how to distinguish between GM and ‘regular’ tomatoes. The writer of that article certainly wears their heart on their sleeve – just look at the title: “We’re Eating A Poison!” And they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Even the image at the top of their article is misleading. I did leave a polite comment requesting evidence to support their claims. It appears that the owner of the page didn’t like it. I am shocked! Shocked, I say! Anyway. The main reason that they are wrong is that … … currently there aren’t any genetically-engineered tomatoes on the market.  There used to be one, the … Read More

Does science blogging still matter? Yes. Yes, it does. - BioBlog

Feb 07, 2018

That’s the premise of an article in Nature (Brown & Woolston, 2018), which I discovered via the excellent Debunking Denialism on Facebook (and if that’s not a good example of how various social media are interlinked, I don’t know what is). Since mine is a science blog, obviously I was interested in the Nature narrative. Brown & Woolston believe that: Blogs continue to be an effective platform for communicating your science to major stakeholders – and the public. Or, in my case, communicating about science (and pseudoscience) and science education to the public; what began as something focused on scholarship biology students has acquired a wider view of things as time’s gone by. So, why do they (and a lot of science bloggers, yours truly included) think that blogging remains important? For some, it’s all part of the way … Read More

Dogs, Diets and the Impact of Evolution - BioBlog

Feb 05, 2018

Yvonne d’Entremont (aka SciBabe) recently posted an article on ‘alternative’ foods and health products for pets, in her usual no-holds-barred style. It’s always good to see pseudoscience called out for what it is, and in the case of pet-focused quackery it’s a message that needs multiple repeats. Why? Because pets are dependent on us, & we have a responsibility to get things right. Homeopathy is not going to clear a dog of tapeworms, and garlic (often advocated as a flea treatment) is actually rather toxic to cats. As she says My Buddy is 11 lbs. He’s afraid of the rain. He needs prescription dog food or else crystals build up in his urinary tract and he pisses blood. He and nature don’t coexist very well. Nature really doesn’t give a shit whether Buddy lives or dies. And since I … Read More

Raw Water? Ew! - BioBlog

Jan 09, 2018

‘Raw water’ – the latest foolish fad to hit people’s screens, pockets, & in some instances I’d guess their toilet paper expenditure as well. I first heard of this particular litre of woo when I read an article in the New York Times with the headline: Unfiltered Fervor: the rush to get off the water grid. Apparently getting ‘off the water grid’ is becoming a thing in parts of the US, and various companies are both encouraging and cashing in on this fad. Thus, in a San Francisco grocery store, you can buy glass orbs containing 2.5 gallons of what is billed as “raw water” — unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water, $36.99 each and $14.99 per refill which is claimed to have “a vaguely mild sweetness, a nice smooth mouth feel, nothing that overwhelms the flavor profile.” Somehow that … Read More

Mumps: learning from the comments threads - BioBlog

Nov 30, 2017

So, another All Black has come down with mumps and the comments threads are once more awash with those opposed to vaccines, posting the usual mix of pseudoscience and misinformation. Honestly, I would post a link on the Stuff FB page to this excellent commentary by Dr Mark Crislip, but I just know that the antivax proponents would see only the extracts of woo and ignore Mark’s science. On the other hand, the comments threads certainly provide some ‘teachable moments’… The silly thing is, so many of the claims made there are so very easy to check. Those making them must hope that most people won’t bother, especially if you sound all confident and knowing. For example, the old one about how the Amish don’t vaccinate (and, by extension) don’t have individuals with autism in their … Read More

What is feedback, and do universities do it well? - BioBlog

Nov 30, 2017

I’ve just received a reminder that I need to set up the paper and teaching appraisal for my summer school paper. This is a series of items that students can answer on a 1-5 scale (depending on how much or how little they agree with each statement), plus opportunities to give open-ended responses to a few questions. These last are the ones where I might want to find out how the students think I might improve my teaching, or the aspects of the paper that they did and didn’t like. Among the first set of items is usually a stem along the lines of “this teacher provides useful feedback on my work”, where responses would range from ‘always’ (1) to ‘never’ (5). It’s the one where I get my lowest scores – and this is despite the fact that I … Read More

Considering the transition between school and university - BioBlog

Nov 23, 2017

I’m sitting in the sun waiting for the 2017 First-Year Science Educators’ Colloquium (FYSEC) to kick off- and it’s somewhat embarrassing to realise that I hadn’t done anything with some of the notes I took at last year’s event. However, much of the discussion then is still just as relevant today, and in fact many of this year’s discussions will also be about the transition from school to uni. So, here we go:  One of the nice things about FYSEC (formerly known as FYBEC, where the B = biology) is that it brings university teachers working in the first-year space with secondary school teachers in the various disciplines. This is particularly important because both groups can contribute to an enhanced transition into tertiary study, something that many students struggle with. So last year, it was really interesting to hear my … Read More

Blood and guts, surgeons and scientists: “the butchering art” - BioBlog

Nov 22, 2017

The Butchering Art is medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris’s first book. And what a book! Descriptions that bring the horrors of pre-anaesthesia, pre-antisepsis surgery shudderingly into view? Very definitely. Science and history? Oh yes, lots of it, and beautifully told. And through it all, the humanity and vision of Joseph Lister and others like him, working to improve the outcomes of surgery, childbirth, and warfare.  Before reading the Kindle edition of this deeply fascinating volume I had only a fairly sketchy idea of Joseph Lister and his huge impact on health outcomes for those unlucky enough to end up in a Victorian hospital. Yes, I knew he came up with the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, an insight that radically changed outcomes for so many people: prior to his work, Fitzharris describes hospitals as “gateways to death”; places … Read More

The last of the iron lungs - BioBlog

Nov 21, 2017

That’s the title of this excellent article by Jennings Brown, and I urge you to go and read the whole thing. It’s the tale of perhaps the last 3 people in the US who are still alive because they are still living in iron lungs. It’s a story of courage and endurance that lets them live a life that most of us would find impossible to imagine. It’s also a sad story, because those 3 rely on the love, kindness & skills of friends, family, and complete strangers to keep their much-repaired machines going and so keep them alive. The lungs are so rare that parts and knowledgeable technicians are harder & harder to come by; if they break down, or the power goes off, the people reliant on them may just die in their sleep. This is why … Read More