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The weird thing is, I'm part of the problem. If I see a site with a big Times New Roman H1 tag, my first thought isn't how easy to read it is... instead, I think, "must be that guy's first attempt at web design..." And when I see a red background with some big, bold images and a tiny row of yellow type in the middle, I think, "they hired a design pro for this job".
Do our brains interpret small type in funky fonts and colors as "high design content" just because simple HTML pages don't normally incorporate that look? It seems like the less usable the page is, the "better" the design looks. If I'm working on a design, the left side of my brain is telling me to use simple, readable, user-resizable text while the right side is whispering, "ugly! ugly!"...
Screens create more shock - the iris tends to contract so your ability to focus on bigger things are diminished. It is actually easier to read small font sizes on screens if you have average eyesight.
Interesting point. One of the reasons I dislike Verdana and Georgia is that they're too bold for easy reading in body text. The contrast between the very black text and the white background makes the text painful to read, even at a "small" font setting at a fairly high resolution (1280 x 1024 on a 20" monitor).
Still, there's a difference between "small type" and "tiny type." To make matters even worse, font sizes are often coded in a way that makes it impossible for the reader to adjust font size with the browser controls unless the reader is using Opera (which has a "zoom" control). That's a violation of the Web's fundamental principles, and it suggests that the designer is ignorant or arrogant.