It's on the internet, so it must be true right? If you answered "yes" to that question, perhaps you are in the market for a nice bridge.
There is a truly startling new study from the University of Connecticut and the U.S. Department of Education. Researchers decided to see just what web-savvy, albeit gullible students would take as fact, without checking said facts.
According to the International Business Times, the researchers, led by by Dr. Donald Leu, created a web-campaign to save a fictitious octopus from extinction; the Pacific Northwest tree octopus. They set up a fictitious website about the fictitious creature that travels on tree tops, and made up threats to its survival.
These are some of the claims about said octopus.
"The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) can be found in the temperate rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast of North America. These solitary cephalopods reach an average size (measured from arm-tip to mantle-tip,) of 30-33 cm. Unlike most other cephalopods, tree octopuses are amphibious, spending only their early life and the period of their mating season in their ancestral aquatic environment."
The researchers purported that the octopus was on the verge of extinction, in part because of the fashion industry, which used the octopi to create ornamental decorations for hats.
Here's where the story gets really frightening. Most people who took part in the study, fell for it, hook, line and tentacle. In fact, not only did the students believe that the tree octopus was real, they actually refused to believe researchers when they told them the creature was fake.
Following the experiment, Dr. Leu said, according to the International Business Times that most students "simply have very little in the way of critical evaluation skills...They may tell you they don't believe everything they read on the Internet, but they do." Going beyond that, Dr. Leu said students simply don't know how to critically search the web and will often just "click on the first listing at the top of the search results page and take a quick look at that, then continue down the list without looking closely at the source of the website to determine if it is the best provider of the information they need."
Somewhere Melvil Dewey is rolling over in his grave. For those of you who need to look it up, he developed the Dewey Decimal System by which library books are organized. We know that's right, because we read it online.