Boiled Frog Syndrome

5 mins read

The world has become increasingly difficult to live in. Climate change on the one hand, epidemics, disappearing species, sudden and destructive weather patterns on the other. Have you noticed? If not, it’s because we tend to normalize everything that happens. As a result, we don’t react appropriately to the dangers. This is summarized by the metaphor of the boiled frog.

Let’s first introduce this metaphor for those who don’t already know it, and then the actual studies on the subject.

What is the Scalding Frog Syndrome?

If you throw a frog into boiling water, it will throw itself out. Because naturally it will be terribly hurt. But if you put the same frog in cold water and then gradually heat the water, the frog will remain insensitive. Because it is programmed not to react to quiet, slow changes. It is even content in the gradually boiling water. But eventually this contentment will end up on a plate.

When we realize that the modern people of modern societies have also turned into frogs, how easy it is to twist their fingers. However, when we understand the temperature of the water, the horse has already crossed Üsküdar. Some things that affect social and individual life change slowly, and most people don’t realize it. Nor do they want to realize it. Because awareness brings responsibility. Let’s give an example about this.

Boiled Frog Syndrome 1

A study reveals the unprecedented adaptability of 21st century humans in the face of climate change. The team that conducted the study analyzed more than two billion tweets from different parts of the world. They tried to understand people’s sensitivity to climate change. Basically, it was to determine what kind of weather people find normal or unusual.

This is what the team found. People were reacting to things they were not used to, like warm weather in winter or cold weather in summer. But as time progressed, their reactions diminished as they took more recent experiences as a reference point. In short, we get used to extreme conditions.

The story of the boiled frog is often told as a warning to people to be aware of gradual change so that they don’t ultimately suffer undesirable consequences. While this is a metaphor, it is actually based on a real experiment.

The Boiled Frog Experiment

In the 19th century, various experiments were conducted to observe the response of frogs to slowly heated water. However, when the findings did not agree with each other, in 1888 William Thompson Sedgwick suggested that the apparent discrepancy between the results of these experiments was a result of the different heating rates used in the experiments.

Later, in 1897, Edward Wheeler Scripture wanted to address this issue. He finally wrote the following words. “If water is heated slowly enough, a live frog can be boiled without moving. In the experiment the temperature was increased by 0.002 degrees per second and the frog was found dead after 2.5 hours without moving.” But this is not what the math says.

Boiled Frog Syndrome 2

Water boils at 100 degrees, which means that an increase of 0.002 degrees per second over a period of 2.5 hours means that the initial temperature of the water is 82 degrees. At this temperature, a healthy frog would definitely try to jump out of the pot.

In addition, various studies were conducted on frogs in the following period. All these studies came to the same conclusion. Frogs don’t stay still even in cold water. It is also not reasonable to expect a frog to sit still for two hours.

Although scientific experiments on real frogs do not support this metaphor, it is clear from various experiences from the past to the present that the scalded frog syndrome is indisputably real in terms of social science.

Ali Esen

Istanbul University, Department of Mathematics. Interested in science and technology.

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