Is was intrigued by this letter to the editor in the Sun-Sentinel:

Re the June 7 letter, “What is museum exhibit teaching?” stating that the scientific dissection of frogs would cause children to go out and start cutting up small animals: Quite the leap from “budding scientist” to “crazed animal mutilator,” solely because the museum included frog dissection in its exhibit.

The letter writer should keep in mind that scientists and innovators like Richard Lower, who discovered the methods of modern blood transfusion in the mid-17th century, or Leonardo DaVinci, whose anatomical sketches revolutionized the 15th century’s medical world, both used human and animal dissection to reach their incredible conclusions. The Museum of Discovery and Science, by including frog dissection as part of its exhibit, is simply living up to its name and reputation of bringing “discovery” and “science” to children and adults alike.

It’s such a shame to see that even positive and incredibly interesting aspects of our children’s education are going to be scrutinized, criticized and, in some cases, attempted to be stopped. Instead of concerning ourselves with our children learning about science and the inner workings of such fascinating creatures, why not focus our energies on safeguarding and supporting these museums and their programs in order to ensure that the children who inherit this Earth are the innovators and scientists of the future?

Here is the original letter:

Why is the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale dissecting frogs?

The museum is touting “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors” as a special exhibit. It would seem that they believe that the correct way to celebrate frogs is by dissecting them.

I spoke to a museum representative. Her response was “dissecting frogs is science.” I told her that I didn’t believe dissecting frogs in front of children the smartest thing the museum could do. She told me to look at “Bodies”: It’s drawing huge crowds. One assumes that means that drawing crowds is what the museum is after, not science.

Many high schools and colleges use computer programs like “Virtual Frog Dissection.” But I guess that wouldn’t turn any of those impressionable children into budding scientists.

I wonder how many kids will leave the museum and then decide it’s OK to start taking small creatures apart?

The museum exhibit in question is Frogs, a chorus of colors. Personally, I don’t think a frog dissection on display at a museum will cause kids to go out and start mutilating critters. What do you think?

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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14 Responses to Frogs

  1. Mike O'Risal says:

    I teach the lab section of Introduction to Biology at the university I’m attending as a PhD student. One unit that we covered had to do with circulatory systems and to demonstrate the difference between an open and closed system, the students dissected a grasshopper and a rat.

    I informed the students a week before the exercise that we’d be doing this and made it clear to them that if any of them had moral objections to dissecting the animals that a computer-based alternative would be made available. Out of 32 students, not a single one opted for this.

    I’m glad for that because I think there’s entirely too much emphasis on screen-time in education. Doing the actual dissection and doing it virtually are not the same thing. Virtual dissections are cartoonish; real ones are not. The experiences are only as equivalent as driving a car and playing a video game in which one drives a car. Reality is not virtual.

    I think that doing the real thing, or at least seeing the real thing, actually leads to a greater appreciation of the intricacies of living things. Dissection exercises are not just about looking at the inside of an animal and saying, “Oh, that’s the liver.” It’s not just visual. It’s tactile and olfactory as well. Students learn from the mistakes they make; it’s so easy to accidentally sever a blood vessel, puncture an organ, what have you — and that, too, is part of the experience that helps to drive home just how intricate, how delicate and how exquisite the life around us is. Students cannot get the literal feel for this by using a computer simulation.

    Respect for life comes from experiencing it first-hand, not from experiencing and artist’s rendition of it, no matter how visually realistic that rendering might be.

    Personally, I think that the author of the original letter doesn’t understand any of this. Moreover, if some child is already possessed of a violent disposition that would allow them to make the jump from a careful process of scientific investigation to animal torture, I submit that they don’t need to view a dissection in the first place. A child who pulls the wings from flies doesn’t need the advice of an entomologist on technique.

  2. John says:

    I dissected frogs in the 8th grade.
    I am now 37 years old, and seem fine…

    She’s nuts.


  3. zygosporangia says:

    Dissection is an important part of biology. Had it not been for dissection in science class, many of the facts that my teachers attempted to teach me would not have been driven home.

    It is one thing to be told about brain structures, circulatory systems, and digestive systems. It is quite another to be able to see these systems up close.

  4. PatrickHenry says:

    Everyone in my 10th grade biology class dissected a frog. Well, we sat at two-man tables, with one frog for every two us, and we took turns doing the dissection. The girls thought it was yucky, the boys thought it was neat, and the smell of formaldehyde was overpowering.

    We’re all serial killers now. Mmmrrruuuhahahahaha!

  5. wright says:

    Mike O’Risal said:

    “I think that doing the real thing, or at least seeing the real thing, actually leads to a greater appreciation of the intricacies of living things.”

    Hear, hear. My sister, to get into her chosen field (occupational therapy), had to take a human cadaver dissection course. She braced herself for revulsion when the class began, but instead experienced wonder and profound respect for the subject and the donors. Our mother had a nearly identical experience training to become a physical therapist.

    It’s too bad the writer of the original letter can’t see past what is just one part of that exhibit. They are missing a lot.

  6. Green Earth says:

    I have disected a shark (small) many worms, 2 frogs, 3 cats (1 in HS A&P and 1 each in undergrad A&P I & II), and other marine inverts. Can you tell I majored in bio and have taken many science/bio labs?

    I love animals, but the disections did not bother me. As others have already said, you can look at pictures in a book or even an animation on the computer all day long, it is not the same. My “alegory of the cave” moment was my first cat disection in HS.

  7. MaryB says:

    One of the highlights of my 7th grade science class is frog dissection. It takes up at least a week of our curriculum and starts with reading, writing and discussion about dissection ethics. I also have an opt out in which my students can do an alternative assignment. Very few over the years do so. We do consider the sacrifice of life to do this lab and think it is an important and valid question that needs to be discussed and that students should have the option of a personal choice. In the end for me personally watching my students go through this 7th grade rite of passage I see them making a connection with real world inquiry as they take on the challenge of working as a group to accomplish this rather daunting task. we schedule the dissection about half way through the study of human body systems. I make sure we have covered circulation, respiration, digestion. this part of my curriculum is so memorable and “real” for my students that although I personally agonize over it I will do it as long as I can find the funds for it (more difficult every year). Also I like using the digital frog dissections as a follow up and review of the actual dissection. This year we reviewed using a document camera as well.

    I would wonder if this person who questions dissection eats meat. Have they observed the way our factory farms and industrial meat processors treat the animals that provide our hamburgers and steaks and chicken fingers? I think that is a much more valid question when it comes to animal rights and treatment. DO they know the pigs, one of our most intelligent animals, are commonly traumatized as they are electrocuted on the kill line?

  8. S.Scott says:

    I wish I could deal with such things! 🙂 I have trouble even watching ‘House’ – I have to close my eyes evenwhen they show a needle being inserted somewhere, which stinks cuz’ I love that show.

    I think my sense of empathy is too great for me to deal with anything.

  9. S.Scott says:

    Oh Mary … I wish you hadn’t told me …

    DO they know the pigs, one of our most intelligent animals, are commonly traumatized as they are electrocuted on the kill line?

  10. firemancarl says:

    I wonder how many kids will leave the museum and then decide it’s OK to start taking small creatures apart?

    He’s right! After my kids get thier tetanus shots, they started jumping on rusty nails!

  11. Karl says:

    The only personal issues I have with dissection is the initial killing. After that, it’s down to business. I still remember the horrible writhing when we insert a metal probe into the skull right above the tympanic membrane of those skinny tree frogs, manually scrambling the brains, and jamming it down the spinal column to paralyze the limbs. Of course, all seriousness goes out the window once someone tosses an eyeball across the lab. The larger bullfrogs are even worse. Assuming you don’t get bitten, the entire top of their skulls have to come off, leaving grotesque half-headed bodies with tongues wagging out which may or may not flop around off your board depending on your prep work.

  12. CJ says:

    I’m fine with dissection. Unfortunately, my joker of a lab partner in h.s. named our frog Kermitina and started playing with it like a puppet, complete with silly voice.

    He had nothing against dissection, he was just being silly. But it threw me the heck off my game.

  13. I learned a great deal in middle school from dissecting starfish, frogs, pigs, and fish.

    I also dissected a roadkill armadillo in middle school, and compiled a census of the incredible variety of organisms that were in the animal’s stomach. The learning occured slowly, gradually, cut by cut, and resection by resection. The armadillo project was done in the presence of a biologist from IFAS, who provided a vivid, insightful running commentary on what we were finding, and what could be determined about the animal’s life and habitat.

    That kind of face-to-face learning simply cannot be beat or simulated, and it’s silly to pretend otherwise.

    A computer simulation of a dissection is only a vague facsimile of a true dissection. I think it’s fine to offer the simulation as an option, but I certainly don’t agree with the proposition that most students could and should learn a great deal from several dissections.

    If you’re going to learn to play football, at some point you’ve got to put down the PlayStation controller and pick up a real football and get the stuffing knocked out of you.

    If you’re going to learn real astronomy, at some point you’ve got to outside late at night and look at Saturn and its swam of moons through a telescope and be gobsmacked by its beauty.

    If you’re going to learn biology, at some point you’re going to have to use a microscope, a scalpel, and a notebook and actually put your hands on some critters so you can be gobsmacked by the beauty of life. (Some of them need to be alive, so you can observe their behavior. Some of them need to be dead, so you can study their structure.)

    Science is a way of knowing the real world, so if you’re going to learn science, then at some point you’re going to have to actually experience the real world.

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