Monday, February 7, 2011

Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus!

It is an endangered species that needs protecting, according to this website.
The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) can be found in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast of North America. Their habitat lies on the Eastern side of the Olympic mountain range, adjacent to Hood Canal. 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. Because of the moistness of the rainforests and specialized skin adaptations, they are able to keep from becoming desiccated for prolonged periods of time, but given the chance they would prefer resting in pooled water.

An intelligent and inquisitive being (it has the largest brain-to-body ratio for any mollusk), the tree octopus explores its arboreal world by both touch and sight. Adaptations its ancestors originally evolved in the three dimensional environment of the sea have been put to good use in the spatially complex maze of the coniferous Olympic rainforests. The challenges and richness of this environment (and the intimate way in which it interacts with it,) may account for the tree octopus's advanced behavioral development. (Some evolutionary theorists suppose that "arboreal adaptation" is what laid the groundwork in primates for the evolution of the human mind.)
Here is a video of it:

Of course this website is all a hoax. As part of a test given to 7th graders, they asked them to evaluate the site to see if it was reliable. How did you do?
Here is how they did on evaluating whether the website was reliable or not:
Anyone can publish anything on the Internet. Despite that, children aren't taught how to evaluate the reliability of information they read there. As demonstrated by a recent study, this is true to a shocking extent, and there may be dire implications for the future of today's young people.

For their study, Donald Leu, professor of education at the University of Connecticut, and his colleagues selected 53 of the best readers from seventh grade classes in low-income school districts in South Carolina and Connecticut. They made the kids believe they were helping someone else assess the reliability of information on a Web page. "They were never told the information was true; they were asked to evaluate if it was true," Leu told Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site of LiveScience.

The page in question was devoted to an animal called the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Yes, a tree octopus – an aquatic animal that allegedly lives in trees. For an unknown reason, in 1998, someone named Lyle Zapato created an extensive page describing the habitat, endangerment status, threats, and recent sightings of this creature, despite the fact that, obviously, it does not actually exist.

But the joke was not at all obvious to members of the supposedly Internet-savvy generation: 87.5 percent of the seventh-grade subjects judged the Web page to be "reliable." More than half went so far as to call it "very reliable." The small number of students who judged the page unreliable all came from the same school, and had just participated in a lesson teaching them to be suspicious of information online, in which this very tree octopus site was used as an example.

In other words, of the kids who were reading about tree octopuses for the first time, all of them fell for it.
With new technology comes new horizons and new challenges. I don't know if we are preparing them for the challenges as much as we are for the horizons.

1 comment:

opey124 said...

What do you mean tree octopi aren't real!!!
Well, one thing that has helped with the kids is to ask questions and they know if they are using a source, say to write about these tree hugging octopi, they need to find a source from something that ends in "edu" or such. Otherwise, enjoy the unreal!
People fall for it every day with "news" where they put 1% fact then add opinion. It is hard to tell what is true and what isn't and what is just someone's opinion.