June 2007 LSAT, III, #14

Section 3, Question 14 of the June 2007 LSAT is a reading comprehension question in disguise. The argument provided is a beast, and the first, most important thing to do here is simply to stay awake and pay attention. Ready?  Here it comes:

Commentator: In academic scholarship, sources are always cited, and methodology and theoretical assumptions are set out, so as to allow critical study, replication, and expansion of scholarship. In open-source software, the code in which the program is written can be viewed and modified by individual users for their purposes without getting permission from the producer or paying a fee. In contrast, the code of proprietary software is kept secret, and modifications can be made only by the producer, for a fee. This shows that open-source software better matches the values embodied in academic scholarship, and since scholarship is central to the mission of universities, universities should use only open-source software. 

This question should be manageable, as long as you're still conscious. The enemy here is letting your eyes glaze over, losing focus, and "reading" without really reading. Do you understand the basic gist of what the argument says? If you can't recap it for me in a sentence, then you don't really understand. Read it again if you need to... make sure you understand the basic point of the argument.

OK, here's my understanding of the argument. Basically, the commentator is saying "since open source software matches the same values as those embodied in academic scholarship, universities should use only open-source software." You don't have to articulate it in exactly that way, but you do need to get pretty close. Otherwise, you didn't read closely enough, and you don't really understand what the commentator is saying.

Of course, I will try to argue with this point because arguing helps me predict answer choices in advance and more deeply understand the argument. I don't think the argument is horrible here, but I don't think it's rock solid either. What if there is a critical piece of software that is simply unavailable as open source? You've said "universities should only use open-source." Does this mean the university should just shut down, or go old school and use pencil and paper, maybe an abacus, whenever it can't find an open source solution for every problem?

Now I can proceed to the question. Here it is:

The commentator's reasoning most closely conforms to which one of the following principles? 

In other words, the question is asking us to identify a principle that underlies, or matches, the commentator's argument. Again, the commentator is basically saying "since open source software matches the same values as those embodied in academic scholarship, universities should use only open-source software." Let's find an answer that matches.

(A)  Whatever software tools are most advanced and can achieve the goals of academic scholarship are the ones that should alone be used in universities.

Not even close. This would be a perfectly reasonable strategy--let's just use whatever software is best!--but that's definitely not what the commentator was saying. The commentator wants to use only open source, regardless of how advanced the software is. 

(B)  Universities should use the type of software technology that is least expensive, as long as that type of software technology is adequate for the purposes of academic scholarship.

Again, not even close. "Least expensive" might, in the real world, mean "open source." But you're not allowed to bring in that outside information. The commentator didn't say "let's choose open source because it is the cheapest"... she said "let's choose open source because it matches the values of academic scholarship."

(C)  Universities should choose the type of software technology that best matches the values embodied in the activities that are central to the mission of universities.

Yep, exactly. This matches our prediction. Let's just skim D and E quickly, so we can move on.

(D)  The form of software technology that best matches the values embodied in the activities that are central to the mission of universities is the form of software technology that is most efficient for universities to use.

Nah. The commentator never spoke about what is "most efficient" for universities to use. This answer is overly convoluted, and misstates the commentator's proposal.

(E)  A university should not pursue any activity that would block the achievement of the goals of academic scholarship at that university. 

Again, this just doesn't match the commentator's statement. She didn't say "let's not do things that block academic scholarship." Rather, she said "let's pick software that embodies the values of academic scholarship." Our answer is C, because it's the best match.