Boiled Frog Does a Surreal Meta-Backflip

By James Fallows

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mater, and its postdoctoral fellows that I have convinced myself that the title of the essay, "Warning: Your reality is out of date" must be a slyly knowing wink.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....

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/03/boiled-frog-does-a-surreal-meta-backflip/36934/