I was delighted to learn about a Web site devoted entirely to that hitherto unknown (to me), unsuspected (by me) and (decidedly) unreal creature, the Tree Octopus. The 'My San Antonio' blog reports:
Donald Leu, a researcher from the University of Connecticut, conducted a U.S. Department of Education-funded study of internet literacy among so-called 'digital natives', fabricating the tree octopus to test students’ ability to evaluate information they find on the internet.The 'Tree Octopus' (image courtesy of http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/)
Researchers asked students to find out information about the endangered Pacific Northwest tree octopus. Students had no problem locating a Web site dedicated to the cause, "but insisted on the existence of the made-up story, even after researchers explained the information on the website was completely fabricated", according to a press release.
Most students "simply have very little in the way of critical evaluation skills," Leu said. "They may tell you they don’t believe everything they read on the Internet, but they do."Poster for a campaign to 'Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus'
(image courtesy of Cafepress via http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/)
The study also found that students shunned search engines in favor of typing what they think is the right site directly into the address bar, such as Georgewashington.com. When they did use a search engine, they skipped right over legitimate pages "because it didn’t look like what they had in mind," Leu said.
"That’s what children do with their rock stars and their other cultural stars. They are accustomed to typing in the name and adding '.com'. That often doesn’t work for real academic research," Leu said.
There's more at the link.
I find it hard to stop laughing at the thought of students insisting that the Tree Octopus was real "because the Web says so!", despite their lecturers' assurances to the contrary! It's a wonderful spoof, and a great way to demonstrate to them that there's more to research than a cursory glance through the Internet.
Intrigued, I looked for more information, and found a whole raft of videos on YouTube about this mythical creature, including one purporting to show a monster specimen in a tree, and another showing - of all things - a tree octopus being born from an egg! Clearly, the subject has inspired many people to not only perpetuate the myth, but extend it into realms hitherto undreamed of!