Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

  Souder, William. 2000. A Plague of Frogs. Hyperion Press.

This 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.

Read 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. More...

Read 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.

Read 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. More...

Souder 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).

Souder 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 only cause.

Souder describes a conversation with Pieter Johnson:

 

When 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.

"I'd have to say I agree with you," Johnson said.

 

And 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."

Souder ends by acknowledging that the investigation is far from over.

 

So 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 responding.

 

 

 

 
     

 

 

 

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