The Liberals' Equivalent of Birtherism ...

... yes, it's our old friend the boiled frog. You might just possibly have come across mention of the poor hot frogs previously in this space. But just in case: the story's not true!! A frog won't, in fact, sit there and let himself get boiled. Unless you've removed his brain. And if you throw him into a pot that's already boiling... well, you don't want to know about the results, though you will if you keep reading.

But comes now the chairman of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope, to speak to us about Earth Day. In search of a fresh, arresting image to convey the idea that sometimes we get used to slowly-developing problems until it's too late, he leads off his important Earth Day appeal this way:


Disappointingly, the header "The Pursuit of Ignorance" appears to be a link to some other entry on the site.

I declared cease-fire in my anti-boiled frog campaign several years ago and now mainly mention new instances to illustrate the persistence of cliche. With maturity I have come to realize that, as with the Birther belief, boiled-frogism is impervious to such forces as "factual disproof." But if you were, quaintly, in the market for the "facts," here's the latest word from science-land, as conveyed by the new issue of the excellent Conservation magazine:

>>First, a frog cannot jump out of boiling water. Remember the last time you dropped some egg white into boiling water: the proteins coagulated into a mess of thin, white strands. Unfortunately, the proteins in the frog's skinny legs would do the same thing. So the frog in boiling water could not jump anywhere. It would die a nasty death.

Dr. George R. Zug, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and Professor Doug Melton of Harvard University both agree on this point. Second, a frog would notice the water getting hot....  So real-life experiments show that the frog-in-boiling-water story is wrong. If only this fact could make it into real life, too.<<

If only. For those still with me, Conservation also mentions that there is a scientist at the University of Oklahoma whose research specialty is (yes!!) "the physiological ecology of thermal relations of amphibians and reptiles." That is, how they behave when hot. And this scientist, Prof. Victor Hutchison, has described an experiment in which a frog is put in a pot of water that is slowly heated up. What then? Well, let him tell it:

"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."

Happy Earth Day. To celebrate, an old favorite, from the otherwise impeccable Tom Toles:

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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