Monday, February 14, 2011

Thirteenth Aniversary of the Tree Octopus

What does it take to get readers to suspect a hoax?

As a computer tech, I get emails from clients all the time, warning me about butt-biting spiders hidden under airport seats, or AIDS infected hypodermic needles in coin return slots on pay phones (as if there are payphones any more).

Most recently I received an email complaining about the Tree Octopus website posted by Lyle Zapato in 1998.  My correspondent was upset that students were being shown this site:

and being asked “Is the tree octopus real or fake?”

The website that says the Tree Octopus is endangered because Sasquach are major predators, a claim that tree octopi were once popular hat ornaments, and a suggestion that readers can raise awareness of the plight of the tree octopus if they “Participate in tree octopus awareness marches. You can demonstrate their plight during the march by having your friends dress up as tree octopuses while you attack them in a lumber jack costume.” 

What more do they need in the way of a hint?

But students often come to the conclusion that the tree octopus is real and is really endangered.
Like my clients who never ask if butt biting spiders really lurk in airport restrooms, students don’t ask if this website makes a convincing case. Even after they are told that the site is a hoax, some students continue to believe in tree octopi.

This reminds me of all the people who still think Iran was behind the Sept 11, 2001 plane hijackings.

What’s going on here?  Why don’t people question statements made by seeming authorities?

If a Tree Octopus endangered by sasquach and hat-makers won’t do it, what will spark curiosity? Doubt? The spirit of adventure?  Even if students did at first believe that Tree Octopus was real, why didn’t they look for other websites to learn more? 

I’m stumped.

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