Boiled Frog Does a Surreal Meta-Backflip

More

It's probably a mercy in this case that the "Categories" feature of our old web site has not yet been ported over to the new design. That means I can't at the moment provide a link to all the countless old entries in the "Boiled Frog" saga. Summary for those joining us late: It's not true!!!! The frog in the slowly-heated pot of water will do his best to escape once things get too hot, and a frog thrown right into a pot of already-boiling water will be scalded, wounded, or worse before he gets out. Exception: if the frog's brain has been removed, he'll sit in the pot and let himself be slowly cooked. See this by Michael Jones for more.

Imaginary frogs, in fools' paradise:
boiling_frogs1.jpg

Real-world frog, doing his best to escape. Yes, those seem to be lily pads in the background, but you get the point:
boiling-frog.jpg


When Paul Krugman discussed the metaphorical frog in a column last year -- and emphasized that it was only a metaphor, since real frogs didn't behave this way -- I figured that my work on this topic was done. I have stored up other instances but not mentioned them.

But now we have a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School doing an "ideas" essay for the Boston Globe about the difficulty of separating truth from fiction in public discourse -- and resting his case on the parable of the boiled frog! Eg, "But slowly increase the temperature, and the frog doesn't realize that things are getting warmer, until it's been boiled. So, too, is it with humans and how we process information... "

Such is my respect for Harvard Medical School, which was my late dad's alma mater, and its postdoctoral fellows that I have convinced myself that the title of the essay, "Warning: Your reality is out of date" must be a slyly knowing wink. Perhaps to me! Because otherwise, in an essay by a well-pedigreed scientist about how hard it is to recognize real facts,  it would mean....
Presented by

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.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

It's the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?


Elsewhere on the web

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In