The Corner

How to Boil a Frog

A reader enlightens us:

“Dear Mr. Derbyshire—In the Corner you refered to a Harpers writer using the ’seriously tired how-to-boil-a-frog analogy.’ I presume you mean the notion that if the temperature is slowly raised in a pot of water a frog sitting in it won’t notice and will complacently allow himself to be boiled alive. I also find this analogy seriously annoying not only because it is used ad nauseam by lazy writers and thinkers but also because it simply isn’t true! A frog will in fact try to escape from water once it becomes too hot. After all, cold-blooded animals become more active, not less, in hotter temperatures, as this entry points out:

“Excerpt — ‘[Is] it is literally true? Not according to Dr. Victor Hutchison, a Research Professor Emeritus from the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Zoology, whose research interests include “the physiological ecology of thermal relations of amphibians and reptiles to include determinations of the factors which influence lethal temperatures, critical thermal maxima and minima, thermal selection, and thermoregulatory behavior”: The legend is entirely incorrect! The “critical thermal maxima” 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. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

[Derb] Now I call that dispositive. I’d like to think that it will knock that stupid frog analogy on the head once and for all, but I guess that is too much to hope for.

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