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

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

A pivotal species? What’s that? - BioBlog

Nov 20, 2018

By the end of the school year, Year 13 students preparing for Schol Bio should have a pretty good grasp of the concepts and content they’ve encountered in their studies. What tends to throw some, though, is the fact that the context used for each question will almost certainly be something that they haven’t come across before. I experienced that “what the heck?” feeling myself, the first time I saw the third question in last year’s paper, which used a term I hadn’t come across before: “pivotal species”. Why? Because I do a fair bit of reading but hadn’t actually come across that one before. (Here’s an example of the term in a different context.) This particular question provided relatively little resource material: a graph comparing the tempo of biological and cultural evolution in hominins (divided into four time periods), plus … Read More

A new take on out-of-Africa - BioBlog

Oct 23, 2018

One of the key features of science is that its findings aren’t set in stone. Bring forward a new body of evidence, and it’ll be reviewed and considered, and may just result in a particular model or view being changed. I remember, back when I was in the 7th form (year 13), learning about how the human lineage went back about 12-14 million years to a species called Ramapithecus. (It’s now known as Sivapithecus, a genus of ape from India.) These days we believe that our hominin line parted company with that of the ancestors of chimpanzees, just 5-6 mya. However, up until now, the general view has been that Homo sapiens arose from a single African population. A paper published in June this year (Scerri et al., 2018) argues otherwise: that Homo sapiens evolved within a set of interlinked groups living … Read More

Agenda 21 and crank magnetism - BioBlog

Oct 08, 2018

What with WAVES, and anti-1080 groups, and Rethink Fluoride (which, like FFNZ, opposes water fluoridation), there’s quite a lot of ‘alternative’ activity online these days. It’s actually quite interesting to look at the similarities that you can see in attitudes & opinions expressed on those sites. I mean, Agenda 21, anyone? Back when Making Sense of Fluoride was first set up, we had a regular commenter (hi, Ray!) who was most insistent that fluoridation was all part of an Agenda 21 plan to depopulate the planet (& also to dumb us all down). Now, here in the Tron the City Council is a signatory to Agenda 21. In fact, back when we signed up to it, I had a look at what we were – as a city – committing to. It turns out that Agenda 21 … Read More

Testing the accuracy of another claim from WAVES - BioBlog

Oct 05, 2018

Glyphosate is another of those substances (like fluoride and 1080) that can be the focus of a lot of unease. So it wasn’t entirely surprising to see the claim on WAVES’ FB page that glyphosate is found in vaccines. Predictably, various little Gish gallops saw Yellow told that injection and ingestion aren’t the same, and by the way what about mercury? However, Yellow also asked for “evidence that [glyphosate] is above the background levels in drinking water or mother’s milk. Please cite evidence that glyphosate levels are at dangerous levels in vaccines, as hinted at by “Glyphosate has also been found invaccines” (sic)”. Which is exactly what I’d have asked. For I suspect that WAVES’ claim is based on either a very poor study done by the activist group Moms Across America (MAAM), or claims made by researchers … Read More

Anti-vaxxers’ dangerous misinformation - BioBlog

Oct 03, 2018

That image is a visual counter to a now-removed billboard put up on an Auckland motorway by the NZ group WAVES (Warnings Against Vaccine Expectations). If you haven’t seen the offending item, this was it: That’s not a warning, that’s a scare tactic, and will surely have led to complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. After all, the ASA’s Rule 6 states that “advertisements should not exploit the superstitious, nor without justifiable reason, play on fear”.  Rule 2 is even more detailed about what can and can’t be done: Truthful Presentation – Advertisements must not mislead or be likely to mislead, deceive or confuse consumers, abuse their trust, or exploit their lack of knowledge. This includes by implication, inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, unrealistic claim, omission, false representation or otherwise. Anyway, what’s in a vaccine, that has got … Read More

Using images to misinform - BioBlog

Oct 02, 2018

The internet, while it can be a godsend if you need to find something out (gotta love google maps for directions), can also be a wretched hive of wrongness and misinformation. That misinformation can take many forms, but when it comes to 1080 it’s clear that those opposed to NZ’s use of this chemical firmly believe that a picture is worth a thousand words. Any picture. Thank goodness for the ‘reverse image search’ function in Google. For example, on the Facebook page for the group New Zealands not clean green, in amongst photos of animals that may or may not have been killed by 1080, we find several of animals that weren’t. For example: It’s fairly obvious that this one was simply lifted straight off the internet – the shutterstock watermark should give it away! What’s … Read More

Science & 1080 - BioBlog

Sep 18, 2018

This one is cross-posted from The Daily Blog. As Hayden Donnell said yesterday morning in The Spinoff, anti-1080 activism has become both noisy, and ugly. And, as is probably apparent to anyone with an internet connection and a social media account, that activism has taken to hijacking unrelated issues to attempt to spread its message. On The Daily Blog, Christine Rose has likened this movement and its approach to the activities of those who believe in a range of conspiracy theories, all of which have a strong thread of science denialism running through them. And a lot of similarities in the statements that are made by their supporters: If you look at the evidence, you’ll see that we’re right. Yet, a very large number of good quality scientific studies show that, no, that’s not the case. Read More

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 In other words, you can talk at my place, but I can’t talk at yours. Read More