Gary Brown: No frogs need to die

Gary Brown

Dissecting a frog in science class is one of the school memories that I was hoping to leave behind.

In fact, I rank the lingering smell of formaldehyde right up there with forgetting most of the words to a poem I was supposed to recite in English class and backing into the locker room after my shorts ripped during a gym class.

These are moments that most students don’t want to recall. That’s why you so seldom see anybody write “I’ll never forget cutting up the dead frog with you” in your high school yearbook.

Brought to mind

But I was reminded of the traditional educational experience -- slicing into animal cadavers -- when I read a newspaper article Sunday about a computer program that allows students in biology classes to “skip the slime,” as the headline explained.

The odor of formaldehyde came wafting back to me as I read about West Virginia animal rights activists supporting something called “The Digital Frog,” which the article said “offers an alternative to students who find dissection repulsive.”

Finally, science has provided an odorless alternative to fingering dead things. I will endure the renewed stench of my personal recollection if it means future students will be able to go home from science class one disgusting experience short of what we used to consider a complete education.

It wasn’t an education I ever wanted. There was nothing inside a frog -- or a worm or a pig, either -- that I needed to know about. A plastic frog, with take-apart color-coded parts, satisfied my needs for a liberal educational.

According to the article, there are educators who would disagree with me. The story quoted a Wisconsin science teacher, who said doing a computer dissection is “not the same as the real thing.”

“To actually cut through the tissue, see how the skin layers feel, the textures, the way the organs look inside the body. I think that can’t be duplicated.”

Probably not. But is that knowledge necessary for every student required to take biology? How many of them are going to continue their education to become frog surgeons?

No frogs need die

The important thing, of course, according to animal-huggers, is that computer dissection would eliminate the need for cutting up innocent frogs.

And, although I hadn’t given it much thought, it occurs to me now that these frogs -- hundreds in just West Virginia -- indeed were killed specifically for dissection. Not that many frogs could have died naturally and donated their bodies to science.

And I would guess that after the smell of formaldehyde fades, we will find that dissecting virtual frogs has not limited students in any way.

One of the other computer dissection programs available is called “Froguts.” Saying that over and over in class has got to be as much fun for students as flipping frog parts at lab partners.

Reach Repository Living Section Editor Gary Brown at (330) 580-8303 or e-mail