Can we please throw the boiling frog metaphor into some boiling water?
Can we retire the whole frog-in-boiling water metaphor? Can we collectively, as a society, take its amphibious body, throw it in a pot, and crank up the fire until it explodes? I swear, I’ve heard pundits on talk radio mention frogs and boiling water over a dozen times in the past two weeks, and each time I hear it makes me want to punch my radio.
The boiling frog metaphor is so ubiquitous these days I doubt it needs an explanation. But on the off chance someone reading this has been lucky enough to avoid ever hearing it, the gist of the metaphor goes something like this: If you put a frog the frog in boiling water, it will jump out and avoid being cooked. However, if you put a frog in cold water and slowly raise the temperature to boiling, it will happily hang about until it’s cuisses de grenouilles soupe. Back in the mid-1990s it was used as a metaphor by business consultants to convince people that investing heavily into tech companies that lost money hand over fist was the way of the future. (And to be fair, up until the bubble broke it was). Over the past several years, however, it’s become a fashionable tool for terrible political pundits.
I really, really hate this metaphor. It’s constantly thrown into political discussions and presented as either a reasoned argument for action or evidence that proves a supposition, despite the fact that it is clearly neither. Rather, the boiling frog is just a lazy excuse not to have to bother thinking critically about whatever ludicrously hyperbolic comment one can dream up. It’s not bad as a folksy, Ross-Perot-y throw way line, I guess, but the way the punditry use it today renders it entirely meaningless.
For example, it’s often used as an “argument” to “prove” pretty much any Obama-conspiracy theory, no matter how silly:
Conservative Pundit: It’s obvious that Obama is trying to create a hybrid Stalinist-Nazi state and destroy America; in fact, he will soon make churches illegal and shut them down.
Normal Person: That’s absurd. Do you have even a shred of data to back that up?
Conservative Pundit: It’s true, you just won’t listen! If you put a frog in cold water and turn on the stove, it doesn’t notice and then it dies!
Of course, you can also use the boiling frog metaphor as an “argument” to “prove” that opposing Obama is part of a conspiracy to create a hybrid Stalinist-Nazi state, or that the entire world economy is on the verge of collapse, or that the dolphins must be stopped because soon they will have the technology to sweep across the lands and enslave us all. Because really, the frog-in-boiling-water metaphor is just a pseudo-deep way to say “because I said so, that’s why.”
And if that’s not enough reason to retire the metaphor, there’s also this: it isn’t actually true. In fact, it’s literally the opposite of true. As Professor Douglas Melton of Harvard Biology points out, “If you put a frog in boiling water, it won’t jump out. It will die. If you put it in cold water, it will jump before it gets hot—they don’t sit still for you.”
So I say it’s time to take this terrible, lazy and inaccurate metaphor and throw it into boiling water until it explodes and I never, ever have to hear it again.
That is all.