Steve Fenton

Lessons from the debunked boiling frog

There are still some lessons from the fable of boiling a frog.

I hardly dare repeat it, but the idea is that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. However, if you put it in cool water and gradually raise the temperature, the frog will not realise the danger and remains in the water until it’s Rane alla Camuna.

Now, the original fable is bunk, and so are the variations. Let’s look at an actual study and then work out what we can still learn from the fable.

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.

Dr. Victor Hutchison

The “critical thermal maxima” is the point at which the animal becomes woozy, can’t move in an organised fashion, and is likely to die. It’s better not to think about how you work out this temperature because it is likely to be done in precisely the way you’d imagine.

However, here are at least two lessons we can learn from the myth of the boiling frog.

First, people like a tidy narrative, and facts are not enough to make them drop a good story. It’s a similar case when you create a phrase that rhymes. It’s neat, so it sounds true. “Bed at eleven, wake fresh at seven.” I made that up, but it rings with ancient-sounding wisdom. If you hear something pithy, you must engage rational skepticism before your brain laps up a lie.

Second, people don’t fact-check their tales before posting them, liking them, or sharing them. For some reason, nobody can be bothered to check if something is true before they spread it. This is the primary reason Theory-X management still persists despite all the evidence that contradicts its fundamental premise.

Our businesses, communities, countries, and planet really need us to do better. It starts with a story about a boiling frog. It escalates with governments being permitted to lie and claim it’s part of normal politics. It ends with the planet being turned into a hot lifeless rock floating through space.

Next time you see a tidy story, take care before you share (you’re welcome for that one). Do a bit of research before you spread potentially false information.

Written by Steve Fenton on