Tree Octopus Story Dupes the Gullible


Uploaded on February 12, 2011 by newsydotcom


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The internet is making your kids gullible! At least, if you believe the headlines. This week, a story broke that highlighted how easy it is to fool children and journalists.

Researchers assigned internet-savy 7th graders to report on the fictional Pacific Northwest tree octopus. The students found a site full of information, and failed to figure out that it was a hoax. (Image source: The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus)

Journalists ran with the story that the internet is making kids gullible, despite the fact those very reports got a lot of things wrong. Here are some of the headlines:

The Daily Mail wrote: “Elusive ‘tree octopus’ proves how gullible web generation is.”
Technorati wrote: “Internet Creates Learning Crisis for American Schools.”
Live Science wrote: “Kids Believe Literally Anything They Read Online.”

Many reports claimed the researchers created the web page for the study, even though the spoof site has been available for years. Reports also framed the story as though today’s kids are especially gullible, but the researcher said on CNN that isn’t the case.

Dr. Leu: “This study doesn’t show that the internet is making us more gullible or more stupid. … the internet demands additional new reading skills and we need to prepare the next generation for those.”
Anchor: “ you think they’re a little bit more gullible than other generations?”
Dr. Leu: “No, actually, I think they’re probably brighter and more informed...”

He went on to say adults generally don’t check their sources on the internet either. Media critics, including a writer for Physorg, say -- apparently -- neither do journalists.

“One problem with the story is that it is not news. According to the University website the experiment was done on 25 students in 2006. … and the information on which the current batch of stories is based is a Pearson press release...”

One part of the story that raised eyebrows is some students continued to insist the tree octopus was real even after the researcher told them it was a hoax. But a neurologist explained on his blog Neurologica, this is a well-known phenomenon that also applies to adults.

“...people will maintain a belief once it is formed (a phenomenon called belief perseverance) even in the face of later disconfirming evidence. In fact, when people are told that the scientific evidence contradicts their beliefs they simply distrust the science...”

So what do you think? Did journalists screw up the story? Or is Newsy pulling your leg, and the tree octopus really is endangered? Post your research in our comments section.

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Transcript by Newsy

Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, Hoax, Gullible, Children, Journalists, Spoof Site, Webpages, Websites, Report, Youth, Science News, Multisource, Generation, Video Tree Octopus, Research, Fact Check, Pearson, Science, Belief Perseverance, Evidence, News & Events
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