William. 2000. A Plague of Frogs. Hyperion Press.
powerful book combines beautiful, compelling writing with a scientifically-careful
exploration of the epidemic of frog deformities that began to attract
scientific and public attention in the US in the mid-1990s.
it and you will get some sense as to what it must have been like
to be at the epicenter of the discovery, in the pondsides of Minnesota
where inexplicably and suddenly deformed frogs were found in many
of the state's wetlands. More...
Or along the St Lawrence River in Quebec, where Martin Ouellet discovered
even more dramatic outbreaks, even before the Minnesota episode
began, and linked them to agricultural pesticides.
it and you will also gain insight into how what seemed to be a simple
scientific problem when it first appeared in 1995 mushroomed into
a complex, multi-faceted controversial investigation that 5 years
after the initial discovery still lies far from resolution.
it and you will also emerge with a deeper knowledge of what makes
frogs tick... their natural history, breeding requirements, behaviors...
all those things that for 350 million years have made frogs frogs.
carefully works through scientific investigations of each of the
major hypotheses that have been proposed to explain the epidemic:
parasites, predation, UV radiation and chemical pollution. These
explorations reveal not only the strengths and weaknesses of the
science, but also provide rich insights into what happens when practitioners
a low-profile area of modern science, herpetology, get thrust unexpectedly
and prominently into the public spotlight. Some handle themselves
with grace. Others do unexpectedly unprofessional things. One proponent
of the parasite hypothesis went so far as to write letters to the
heads of federal agencies and Minnesota's Governor in an attempt
to stop funding investigations into chemical causes (p 269).
description of investigations into the role of parasites is especially
helpful, because his direct interviews with the main players draw
out the nuances of the work and the people involved. Even the most
vocal proponents of the parasite hypothesis, Stan
Sessions and Pieter Johnson,
lead authors of the two articles that appeared in Science in spring
1999, which were treated by industry
flacks as thoroughly resolving the issue in favor of "natural
causes," acknowledge that parasites are unlikely to be the
describes a conversation with Pieter Johnson:
I spoke with him about this in August 1999, I said I thought
it was unclear whether parasties would ultimately explain
most of the deformities seen across North America or only
a tiny fraction.
have to say I agree with you," Johnson said.
he reports "Both Sessions and Johnson said they had tried to
convince reporters they spoke with not to present parasites as a
final answer to the deformities question."
ends by acknowledging that the investigation is far from over.
the frogs are telling us a lot--so much, perhaps, that we
cannot yet fully understand the message. Frogs are succumbing
to parasites, to pesticides. to increases in ultraviolet radiation,
to global warming. The earth is changing and the frogs are