The frog metaphor that will not die (alas)

In which Conservation magazine demolishes the deathless metaphor/myth of the frog that supposedly will not jump out of a pot of water brought slowly to a boil. To wit:

Dr. Victor Hutchison, a herpetologist at the University of Oklahoma, has dealt with frogs throughout his professional life. Indeed, one of his current research interests is “the physiological ecology of thermal relations of amphibians and reptiles.” Professor Hutchison states, “The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ [the maximum temperature an animal can bear] of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water.” 

The article appears to be a backhanded slap at Wikipedia, which suggests that "some 19th century experiments" found that the idea might be true, if the heat under the frogs was increased gradually enough. Conservation takes a second look at Scripture's 1897 experiment and scoffs: 

Well, the numbers just don’t seem right. If the water comes to a boil, that means a final temperature of 100 degrees Celsius. In that case, the frog would have to have been put into the water at 82 degrees Celsius. Surely, the frog would have died immediately. Scripture also wrote that the frog was found “without having moved.” How do you convince a frog not to move for more than two hours?

The point of the metaphor was to say that we humans can be as dumb as frogs.

If only that were true!


The frog has no problem with denial — but we do. 

[image courtesy of Wikicommons]

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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