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
be fun to show them sites that proclaim the
first male pregnancy, or that
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
requires illustrating the point with
sites that appear valid at first
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
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
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
Dihydrogen Monoxide Research
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
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
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
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.
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
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.