I found this study cited on the "Terra Incognita" page of the March 2007 issue of Liberty magazine. It was originally reported by Beth Krane in UConn Advance, a faculty and staff publication at the University of Connecticut:
When researchers in the Neag School of Education asked 25 seventh-graders from middle schools across the state to review a web site devoted to a fictitious endangered species, the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, the results troubled them:I was surprised to learn from Krane's story that
* All 25 students fell for the Internet hoax;
* All but one of the 25 rated the site as “very credible;”
* Most struggled when asked to produce proof – or even clues – that the web site was false, even after the UConn researchers told them it was; and
* Some of the students still insisted vehemently that the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus really exists.
The students – identified as their schools' most proficient online readers – are taking part in a federal research project, funded by a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
The project is currently underway in six Connecticut middle schools.
“These results are cause for serious concern,” says the project's lead researcher, Don Leu, who holds the John and Maria Neag Chair in Literacy and Technology at UConn, “because anyone can publish anything on the Internet and today's students are not prepared to critically evaluate the information they find there.”
Connecticut is in the bottom one third of states when it comes to integrating Internet into classroom instruction, lagging behind such states as Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.Those interested in finding out more about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus can look here.