Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I'm Hopping Mad About This!

In an article about Chicago's traffic being second worst to Los Angeles, the Chicago Tribune repeated an urban legend:
"If you take a frog and try to dump him into a pot of boiling water, he immediately will jump out. But if you put the frog in a pot of cool water and heat it gradually, he doesn't jump out and eventually he gets boiled," said David Schulz, executive director of the Infrastructure Technology Institute at Northwestern University.
I'm sure you've heard that story at least a hundred times. But it's not true! At the venerable Urban Legends Reference Pages (aka snopes.com), Dr. Victor Hutchison, a man who should know, says
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.
The Tribune blew this one. Just because it's a quote doesn't make it acceptable, either. Repetition by people who should know better is what perpetuates such myths. Politicians, educators (the guy quoted is from Northwestern University, for goodness sake), businessmen, and other so-called authority figures repeat this story regardless of its falsehood. In the name of Kermit, I demand a correction/clarification by the Tribune!

(Full disclosure: As a teenager, I used to imitate Kermit's voice for my brother and his friends, so I may be biased in defense of frogs and their intelligence.)

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