Frogs, Boiling Water, and Climate Change: For the Record

Catching up on my LegalPlanet reading after being gone for a couple of weeks (and who doesn’t do that first?), I noticed Dan’s post referencing the famous story about frogs not jumping out of hot water if you put them in when it’s tepid.  Referring to humanity’s inability to combat climate change, Dan asks: “are humans smarter than frogs?  Remains to be seen.”

But actually it doesn’t.  Humans are unquestionably dumber than frogs because frogs will in fact jump out of the water when it becomes hotter.  The whole non-frog-jumping story, like its Mark Twain predecessor, is a complete fiction (although Twain’s story was actually good fiction).

James Fallows over at The Atlantic has been on this one for the last several years (in addition to doing other things).  And interestingly, he has made the comparison of the frog myth to global warming (although for different reasons)!

How do I know? Let’s just say that, as with global warming, the scientific evidence is all on one side of this one. Fast Company magazine did an admirable early myth-busting story on the topic in its very first issue, more than a decade ago. The best quote (of many good ones) in the article was from the Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at the National Museum of Natural History, who when asked about the boiled-frog story said: “Well that’s, may I say, bullshit.” There is much more to the same effect, eg here. The most interesting scientific report is on Google Answers, in response to a request for a “biologically valid” example of animal behavior that would illustrate the same point.

He concludes, in a LegalPlanet-like way,  “Frogs have a hard enough time as it is, what with diminishing swampland and polluted waters. Political rhetoric has its problems too. For the frogs’ sake, and that of less-idiotic public discourse, let’s retire this stupid canard, or grenouille.”  I couldn’t have said it any better.

Frogs over human beings, by a knockout.

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Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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