It’s in the Daily Mail, so I’m confident it got everything wrong

Actually, I know they got a lot wrong. The Mail reports that a study “proves” students believe everything they read on the internet. They cite some work done with the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site, which they claim was created as part of a study to test student gullibility. This is wrong; that site has been available for years, and it’s a satire and humor site; look at the rest of to see what I mean.

Also, I actually use the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus every semester, in the first lecture of our introductory biology course! After giving an overview of the scientific method and how to ask good scientific questions, I use it as an example: I show them the page, read a few excerpts, and ask them what they think…and always the majority of students are skeptical. The few who will grant it tentative plausibility always follow up with specific questions about the site and about where they can get additional information to confirm it.

Then we discuss how to validate scientific information, what we look for to trust a source, and further, I ask them to think more deeply about how, if the website passed a routine sniff test, we’d also go on to test unusual claims in nature. My experience has been that students are much more rational and practical about evaluating material on the web than we’d give them credit for (of course, there are also always a few students who still turn in papers with wacky web sites cited as sources — but they’re a minority).

And speaking of sources that rely on the gullibility of readers for credibility…the Daily Mail should not be casting aspersions. If you want to know everything you need to know about the Daily Mail, read this horrifying story.