Teaching Legal Professionals How To Do Research
Teaching Legal Professionals How To Do Research

Home > Internet Research Articles > Web Sites for Teaching Evaluative Skills

Web Sites for Teaching Evaluative Skills


Genie Tyburski, Web Manager, The Virtual Chase


del.icio.us [Slashdot] [Google]    

14 May 2008. While there are plenty of parody Web sites, or sites that for one reason or another, serve to teach students about the pitfalls of blind reliance on information, not all of them are appropriate for getting the point across to law students or new lawyers. These groups for the most part comprise savvy, educated people with better-than-average technical skills. It might be fun to show them sites that proclaim the first male pregnancy, or that declare cats react negatively to men with dark beards, but it's not educational. Helping these groups understand that Web-based research demands constant diligence with respect to the quality of information available, requires illustrating the point with sites that appear valid at first blush.

Some of the Web sites I use for this purpose include:


Except that the concept of dehydrated water makes no sense, this site helps get the point across. It is a particularly well-designed site that pokes fun at useless products. Note that I said it is "well-designed" -- not well-written.

The site looks like a professional blog. It bears a PayPal Verified logo at the top of the page and Google Ads at the bottom. It has an online store, an FAQ, testimonials, and more.

But once the group begins to read the text, it should quickly become apparent that the site is a joke.

Stop drinking tap water. Stop drinking well water. Refuse to touch water from desalination plants. And remember that mountain spring water is a disaster waiting to happen. Do you know how many people and animals urinated in your spring water, upstream? (Home page)

"What in the world is this dehydrated water stuff? Let me guess, next you're going to come out with caffeine free caffeine, right?"
Response: It's a very simple yet complex process; take water and dehydrate it. The end product is dehydrated water. I'm not sure about the caffeine free caffeine thing. It doesn't seem to make sense. I'll run it by our Marketing Department to see what they think. Thanks for the idea.

Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division

This is another well-designed Web site for its purpose, which is to prove how gullible people can be. In fact back in 2004, it fooled one California city into considering a ban on the use of foam cups because the manufacturing process uses dihydrogen monoxide. City officials scheduled the matter for a vote before learning they had based their concern on bad information.

How could the joke have been carried so far? The name of the bogus entity sounds impressive unless, of course, you have a handle on chemistry. A logo at the top left-hand side of the home page appears to be that of a government agency. The site makes it clear it takes credit cards and PayPal. The use of red font for select text supports the site's message that a danger exists.

But the danger is not an environmental one. It's gullibility.

The home page is well-written:

Welcome to the web site for the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division (DMRD), currently located in Newark, Delaware. The controversy surrounding dihydrogen monoxide has never been more widely debated, and the goal of this site is to provide an unbiased data clearinghouse and a forum for public discussion.

But when law students delve into the site by following links for the "controversy" or "alerts and advisories," suspicions should surface. For instance, a graphic implies that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a front for the CIA. Doubts may also surface if someone questions the non-existent federal agency, the U.S. Environmental Assessment Center.


GATT.org is a parody Web site, which has been a thorn in the side of the World Trade Organization for many years. Run by an anti-corporate activist group known as The Yes Men, the site has fooled at least one group of lawyers.

Several years ago, the Center for International Legal Studies visited GATT.org and used the "Contact Us" link to send a speaker invitation to the World Trade Organization. What ensued, The New York Times later described as a "long and winding cyberhoax."

In a nutshell, the association unknowingly arranged for someone from the parody site to speak at its annual conference. The speaker/imposter offended several attendees. A staged pie-throwing incident followed the presentation, and the fiasco later culminated in the faked death of the speaker/imposter. (More details here.)

The site is not as well-done today as it was several years ago. Perhaps the joke grows stale. But it still bears the WTO logo and the hazardous "Contact Us" link. If students fail to read the text, they may be fooled.


If you don't pronounce the phony brand or chemical (avafynetyme) names of this drug, you might believe it's the real deal. The Web site looks better than some of those for existing drugs.

But don't read the fine print on the home page. It's a dead giveaway.

HAVIDOL is not for you if you have abruptly stopped using alcohol or sedatives. Havidol should be taken indefinitely. Side effects may include mood changes, muscle strain, extraordinary thinking, dermal gloss, impulsivity induced consumption, excessive salivation, hair growth, markedly delayed sexual climax, inter-species communication, taste perversion, terminal smile, and oral inflammation. Very rarely users may experience a need to change physicians.

The Case for Skepticism

These sites serve as good examples when teaching the importance of skepticism in Web-based research. The design of each site looks professional. While there are small clues that something is up - the bogus government logo at DHMO.org, for instance -- many law students and new lawyers won't pick up on them right away.

The clue at each site is the writing. Once the group starts to read, the chuckling -- and learning -- will begin.




5-star rating in The Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web

Copyright: 1996 - 2008 Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP all rights reserved. Select graphics copyrighted by Jupiterimages Corporation.

Disclaimer: The materials in The Virtual Chase® are informational and provided "as is" without express or implied warranty.


Created: 14 May 2008
URL: https://www.virtualchase.com/articles/web_sites_for_teaching_evaluative_skills.html

Suggestions: Genie Tyburski, tvceditor [at] virtualchase [dot] com