Feeds

'Tree Octopus' proves journos no smarter than 13-year-old Americans

We believe anything we read on the wire

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Top three mobile application threats

During Saturday – at least to this writer, it may have started Friday in the lagging time-zones – a story started to take off on Twitter, news sites and blogs.

Picking up – either marginally re-written or verbatim – a wire release, journalists were gratified to discover that the Internet makes kids stupid. Specifically, the research (from the University of Connecticut’s New Literacies research team, led by professor Donald Leu) asked the children to research as real information a species, the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, which was actually a decade-old hoax.

The idea is that if the research subjects – “digital natives” – were any good at evaluating information on the Internet, they would catch the hoax. They didn’t, therefore the Internet is turning children into poor researchers.

And because the children believed the research materials, the researchers – and the credulous and lazy journalists that ran with the story – concluded that the Internet is destroying research skills.

Certainly, reporters’ research skills were tested. Almost nobody treated the story with even the mildest skepticism.

In a talk called The New Literacies of Online Reading (warning: it's a PowerPoint), Professor Leu says: “In our recent work, 96% of 7th graders (24/25) recommended The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus Site as reliable to another classroom”.

To put this in context: a sample of 25 students is almost double the sample size that Andrew Wakefield used to prove the link between vaccination and autism.

Those reporting that “the Internet is making children stupid” also failed to ask:

“Was this the only task set for the children?” – this is important because if other tasks were included, they could impact the research. The children may have been put in a trusting frame of mind by other tasks; or they might have been asked to follow up the “Tree Octopus” information at the end of their attention span.

“Did anything about the research protocols, or the interactions between researchers and children, influence the results?” – For example, did the “Tree Octopus” information come after the researcher had been accepted as a trusted source by the children?

“Could any other factors affect the childrens’ research skills?” – For example, have they been taught well? What’s their educational and/or socio-economic background?

“How do you create a control to differentiate between the research skills of different student cohorts?” – Without a control, the research fails to tell us whether the problem is particular to research conducted using the Internet.

Finally, journalists could have asked whether their instinctive response to this story reflected their own selection bias, rather than the research outcomes.

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Opportunity selfie: Martian winds have given the spunky ol' rover a spring cleaning
Power levels up 70 per cent as the rover keeps on truckin'
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts Dragon on third resupply mission to ISS
SpaceX snaps smartly into one-second launch window
KILLER ROBOTS, DNA TAMPERING and PEEPING CYBORGS: the future looks bright!
Americans optimistic about technology despite being afraid of EVERYTHING
R.I.P. LADEE: Probe smashes into lunar surface at 3,600mph
Swan dive signs off successful science mission
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.