Frog Follies

By Michael Fumento

American Outlook, Summer 1999
Copyright 1999 Hudson Institute, Inc.

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File this one under "Utterly Shameless Exploitation."

Peter Montague, publisher of Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, has discovered the real reason for the massacre at Columbine High School. And it just happens to be the thing he hates most in the whole world: "No one seems to be asking whether pesticides, fertilizers, and toxic metals are affecting our young people’s mental capacity, emotional balance, and social adjustment." Well, Mr. Montague, there may be a reason for that.

The habit of tying every bad thing to man-made pollutants, no matter how bizarre or tenuous the link, is de rigeur among environmentalists. Consider the "Mystery of the Deformed Frogs." Recently, it seems, we have been swamped with frogs qualifying for redress under the Amphibians with Disabilities Act. They’ve developed hideous deformities, such as extra legs. That this was man’s fault was beyond doubt; it was left only to identify the specific cause. Activists who hate pesticides jumped in quickly, providing lots of scary headlines:

  • "What’s Wrong with the Frogs? How Pesticides Are Creating Deformities in Frogs" — Sierra Magazine
  • "Frog Deformities Linked to Pesticides" — Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
  • "Chemicals Seen as Firm Link to Frog Deformities" — Minneapolis Star-Tribune
  • "Deformed Frogs Spark Multi-State Investigation for Genetic Mutations Caused by Environmental Pollution" — CNN News

To the few heartless persons who wondered how this affects us, other than making frog legs more plentiful and driving prices down, the Des Moines Register answered: "Deformed Frogs Stun Scientists/Sightings in the Past Year Stir Fears of Pollution’s Effects on Humans."

The British newspaper The Express blared, "The Frogs with Five Legs That Warn Us of Global Catastrophe."

Those who believe that mankind is destroying the ozone layer also jumped on their hobbyhorse:

  • "Yale Professor: UV Rays Could Explain Rash of Frog Deaths" — Yale Daily News
  • "Scientists Say UV Rays Cause Deformity in Frogs" — CNN News
  • "Ultraviolet Rays Linked to Deformities in Frogs" — Washington Times
  • "UV Link to Frog Deformities Suspected" — United Press International

And for those who just couldn’t choose, the Palm Beach Post rode to the rescue: "Study Blames Deformed Frogs on Interaction of Sun’s Rays, Pesticides."

Then Science magazine had to go and spoil all the fun. Its April 30th issue included two articles indicating that the problem is neither ozone nor pesticides; it is caused by tiny parasites made in factories operated by Mother Nature, Inc. The findings were repeated among five species of frogs in twelve different locations across the nation.

Whoops! The lesson here, of course, is not that humans never harm other species but that nature has been wreaking havoc on plants and animals since long before we started clubbing dodos and shooting passenger pigeons. Ask any dinosaur. When people blame pesticides or ozone depletion for deforming amphibians, or indict global warming for both floods and droughts and both heat waves and blizzards, it’s always wise to ask by what mechanism the suspected human agencies are creating these effects. And it’s only reasonable to investigate whether Ma Nature, rather than people, might be responsible.

Otherwise, you’re just hopping to conclusions.


Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on pesticides and on the media.