Monday, December 15, 2014

Does the frog REALLY let itself get boiled alive?

Short answer - of course not!

Long answer - I've been reading self-help and business books recently, and it's surprising how many of them have this story:

A frog immersed in boiling water will jump out immediately, but a frog immersed in cold water that is gradually heated will never jump out, and will boil to death.

I wondered if it was true - it certainly didn't seem true.

So I did about a minute of research (thank you, Professor Google!). And I found that it's completely untrue. There's multiple debunkings - here's one from 2006: The boiled-frog myth: stop the lying now!

But there's also still recent references to the boiling frog myth, usually using it as a parable to encourage us to beware of complacency. For instance: Forbes: Leadership And The Boiling Frog Experiment

Why do myths like this stick around? Probably for the same reason that the bible is full of parables - they allow us to easily illustrate the point that we'd like to make, in a way that's understandable and culturally accessible. You could also quite easily find a story that would illustrate the opposite argument, but of course that's not the point. The larger take-away here is the immense power that stories have over us.  A great book on this topic, along with tips on how to tell a good, convincing story, is Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die


Blogger Kobi Reiter said...

There was a Radiolab podcast I heard on NPR where they were talking about...something - don't remember what. BUT, one of the stories they brought up was about the researcher who originally made the claim about the frogs and the boiling water. According to the podcast, apparently the researcher had actually lobotomized (or something equivalent) the frogs before performing the experiment. Can't find it right now.

9:16 PM  

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