Cause and Effect Questions

June 2007 LSAT, II, #22

Section 2, #22, of the June 2007 LSAT presents us with a loose, but reasonable, causal chain of events: First, the media does a shitty job of covering politics. Simultaneously, politicians conduct their business in secret. The result of these two things is that citizen action is less likely to influence politics. And the result of THAT, in turn, is that citizens lose interest in politics. I think that's basically what's happening here. There are TWO initial causal factors (bad media and government secrecy), and one end result: people give up on politics.

The question asks us "Which one of the following is most strongly supported by the editorialist's statements." I am not, by nature, a conservative.  But I'm going to pretend I'm conservative when I'm answering this question.

We're not asked to support the argument, or attack the argument. We're simply asked to find an answer choice that, if the editorialist's statements are true, must also be true. Or at least has the best support from the evidence the editorialist has presented. When I say I'm going to be conservative, what I mean is that I'm going to avoid all answers that seem in the least bit speculative. I'm going to be very critical of the answer choices, and I'm going to try to pick the one that makes me say "well, yeah, I mean that's pretty much exactly what the editorialist said." I can't really predict this one in advance. I just have to get rid of the four shittiest answers, and pick the answer that has the strongest support from the given facts.

A)  No. It's true, according to the editorial, that isolation is contributing to the failure of politicians to respond to citizens. But maybe there are other, even more powerful factors. Like, for example, the overwhelming influence of corporate campaign contributions. Maybe isolation is part of it, but dollars are a much bigger part of it. So even if the isolation wasn't happening, politicians might still ignore the citizens. I don't know that that's not true, so it's possible. So this isn't the answer.

B)  No. Even if the secrecy weren't happening, the reporters would still be doing a terrible job. And, again, there could still be other factors (like campaign cash) that might be discouraging citizen participation. This is too speculative. I want the answer that basically says exactly something that the editorial actually said.

C)  Nah. The chance of making an impact is one factor that impacts whether citizens participate in politics, according to the editorial. The editorial never says this is the most important factor. There could be other, unnamed factors--the chance of getting laid, perhaps?--that motivate folks to join campaigns. I'm still looking for a conservative, non-speculative answer choice.

D)  There we go. Shitty reporting was mentioned as one cause of citizen disengagement. So if the reporting were better, that would be one less cause of possible citizen disengagement. This is directly supported by the editorial. This must be true according to the editorial's facts. So it's going to end up our answer here.

E)  This one just gets all the facts ass-backward. Citizen disengagement is caused by isolation, not the other way around. This is the worst answer of the lot, because it actually misunderstands the evidence. A, B, and C were speculative. E was outright wrong. So our answer is D--that's the answer that is best supported by the facts presented in the editorial.

June 2007 LSAT, II, #21

Take the driver's argument in question 21 of Section 2 of the June 2007 LSAT with a giant grain of salt. Imagine you're this guy's friend--you're one of the friends that has been telling him he's going to die someday because he drives like an A-hole. He tells you, in response, that he's going to lower his risk of having an accident by switching to a minivan, which has a lower accident rate. What are you going to tell him? STOP. DO NOT LOOK AT THE ANSWER CHOICES! The answer is more easily found by criticizing the argument, rather than by sorting through the answer choices. Argue with the driver. He says a minivan will protect him. What are you going to say?

I'm going to say "minivans have lower accident rates because they're usually driven by Soccer Moms and other folks who drive safely. You, my soon-to-be-former friend, drive like an A-hole. Switching to a minivan is unlikely to stop you from driving like an A-hole. If you blast your new minivan around town like you're driving the A-Team van, I don't think the magical safety powers of the minivan are going to accrue to you. (Hell, the way you drive, you could make this thing dangerous.)

Catch my drift? The driver has assumed that just because minivans are correlated with lower accident rates, that minivans must cause lower accident rates. That's a logical no-no. Correlation does not prove causation.

The question says "The reasoning in the driver's argument is most vulnerable to criticism on the grounds that this argument..." In other words, why is the argument bullshit? What's the flaw? I think the flaw has something to do with the correlation-causation problem I've already identified. NOW it's time to go on to the answer choices.

A)  Yep. This is exactly what I was looking for.

B)  This is sometimes the correct answer, but it can only be the correct answer if the facts that were presented give us a solid reason to believe that the sample was too small or unrepresentative. We were given no such clues. No way.

C)  This would be the answer if the argument had said "minivans have less accidents, so I definitely won't have any accidents in a minivan." That's not quite what the argument did, though.

D)  This would be the answer if the argument had said "B.A. Baracus hates flying, so everyone who hates flying is B.A. Baracus." That's a common flaw on the LSAT, but it's not the flaw that actually happened here.

E)  Just like B, this can only be the correct answer when we are given reason to believe that a source is biased. Here, the driver doesn't even mention any of his sources. Our answer is A.

June 2007 LSAT, II, #19

No outside knowledge of the world is really required on the LSAT.  All the information you need, for the most part, is already on the page.  You do need to think critically about what you read, of course, but you don't need to have prior knowledge of the topics that are being discussed.  Question 19 in Section 2 of the June 2007 LSAT is a good illustration of this.  You definitely don't need to know anything about the nation of Banestria, and if you do know something about Banestria it can surely only hurt you.  Because "Banestria" doesn't even exist. The LSAT is a game.  It frequently features made-up people, in made-up countries, doing made-up stuff.  As I've written, the central goal in the game is fill-in-the blank:  "The argument is bullshit because ______________."  It's okay to have fun playing this game!  The more fun you have, the better you'll probably do.

Here, the historian's conclusion is about Causation.  (Here's an easier question about Causation--you might want to start here, if you haven't already.)  The historian says the Land Party's success in 1935 was due to, i.e. caused by, "the combination of the Land Party's specifically addressing the concerns of [agricultural and small business] groups and the depth of the economic problems people in these groups were facing."  Now let's look critically at the evidence for that assertion:

1)  The Land Party specifically targeted agricultural and small business groups in 1935, and this was that year was the only year the Land Party won a national victory.  Okay, but how do we know that the Land Party didn't target those groups in other years as well?  How do we know that the Land Party didn't always target these groups?  Moreover, how do we know that every party doesn't always target these groups?

On a different track, do we even know that the Land Party ran national campaigns in any other year?  Maybe 1935 was the only year they ran, and the only year they won!  The facts seem to imply that there's a correlation between the economic events and political strategy of 1935 and the Land Party's sole victory, but implying things on the LSAT is not good enough.  The argument has huge holes in it.

2)  The Land Party got most of its support that year in rural and semirural areas.  Yeah, but isn't that probably true of all parties?  It says that's where the bulk of the population lived at that time!  Furthermore, it's probably reasonable to assume that the agricultural groups lived in rural and semirural areas, but how do we know that small business groups weren't mostly in the cities?  More holes.

3)  The economic woes of the years surrounding that election hit agricultural and small business interests the hardest.  Okay, but how do we know that they voted for the Land Party because of these economic woes?  Couldn't they have just voted for the Land Party because the Land Party had the sexiest candidate?  Or because all the other candidates from other parties were more horrible than usual?  Maybe everyone was going to vote for the Land Party anyway, regardless of the specific targeting and the economic woes?  Even more holes.

As you can see, this argument is bullshit for a lot of reasons.  It's barely even coherent, to be honest.  Any time you see causation on the LSAT, you need to start asking questions.

The question says "Each of the following, if true, strengthens the historian's argument EXCEPT."  This means four of the answers (the incorrect ones) will each strengthen the argument.  The correct answer might weaken the argument, but it doesn't have to.  The correct answer could also be something completely irrelevant here.  If an answer choice says "Jim Nantz is a God-awful sports announcer," I will definitely pick it.  It's definitely true in real life, but it can't possibly strengthen the Historian's argument.  Let's see what we've got here:

A)  Hmm.  If this said "economically distressed rural and semirural groups" then it would strengthen the argument by addressing one of my questions above.  But since this answer is about urban groups, I'm not sure it's relevant to the historian's argument.  What do urban groups have to do with anything?  They're not mentioned anywhere in the argument.  This could be the correct answer to an EXCEPT question.

B)  This answer strengthens the connection between "the Land Party targeted these groups" and "this caused the Land Party to win."  This is a strengthener, so it's not the answer to this EXCEPT question.

C)  This answer strengthens the connection between "the economy for these groups was really bad" and "this caused the Land Party to win."   This is a strengthener, so it's not the answer to this EXCEPT question.

D)  This answer strengthens the connection between "the Land Party targeted these groups" and "this caused the Land Party to win."  This is a strengthener, so it's not the answer to this EXCEPT question.

E)  This answer strengthens the connection between "the economy for these groups was really bad" and "this caused the Land Party to win."   This is a strengthener, so it's not the answer to this EXCEPT question.  Our answer is A, since it was about the wrong group of people and is therefore irrelevant to the argument.

June 2007 LSAT, II, #14

Onward through the June 2007 LSAT. Section 2, Question 14 presents yet another bogus argument.  The ultimate conclusion here is Cause and Effect:  Raw milk, raised to 50 degrees Celsius in a microwave, loses its enzymes because of microwaves, not because of heat.  The evidence for this assertion is the fact that exposure to a conventional heat source of 50 degrees won't lead to the same enzyme loss.  There's a problem here, and you'd better figure out what the problem is before you stumble blindly into the answer choices.  Think about it for a minute.  Take your time.

It's a subtle thing, but if you do enough LSAT questions you'll become attuned to the subtleties.  Why did the argument say, in a straightforward way, that the milk was "heated to 50 degrees" in the microwave, and then say something slightly different and more convoluted ("the milk reaches that temperature through exposure to a conventional heat source of 50 degrees") regarding the experiment on the stove?

Be a trial attorney:  Sir, in your earlier testimony you said "heated in a microwave to 50 degrees"--why didn't you then say "heated on a stove to 50 degrees"?   What does "raised to temperature through exposure to a conventional heat source of 50 degrees" mean?  Does this just mean "heated on a stove to 50 degrees"?  Or does it mean something else?  Can you please elaborate for us?

If you can get that far, then you've already answered the question.

The question says "Which one of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the argument?"  Our task is to pick the answer choice that we would seek to admit into evidence if we were the opposing attorney.  This witness is shifty.  We're looking to discredit the witness' testimony in the eyes of the jury.  I think the witness is in trouble if we can prove that "raised to temperature through exposure to a conventional heat source of 50 degrees" is not the same thing as "heated on a stove to 50 degrees."  Isn't the stove a hell of a lot hotter than the food that comes off the stove?  How long would it take to raise a pan full of milk to 50 degrees if the burner itself were only 50 degrees?  Wouldn't this take all day?

The witness didn't just compare, plainly, heating something in a microwave to heating something in a stove.  The witness put special conditions on the stovetop heating--special conditions that don't sound very realistic to me.

I can't predict the answer exactly here, but I think my inquiry above is at the heart of the matter.  One last thing before we look at the answer choices:  Let's refocus on the witness' conclusion.  The witness wants to prove that it's microwaves, not heat, that causes enzyme loss.  Let's find an answer choice that suggests that it's not microwaves--let's prove that it's heat, or anything else besides microwaves, that causes enzyme loss.

A)  I don't see how this could possibly help us, because our enemy would always say "it was the microwaves that killed the enzymes, not the heat."

B)  Wow, what a terrible answer.  Whether or not the enzymes can be replaced is totally beside the point.  The only relevant issue here is what causes the enzyme loss.  The enemy says microwaves, we say something else.  This answer doesn't help anybody.

C)  This is on the right track, but it feels incomplete.  I can make a case for this one, but I won't do it until I read the rest of the answer choices.  Ideally, I'd pick something that doesn't require me to do much explaining.  If I have to work too hard to justify it, it's rarely the correct answer.

D)  Taste is totally irrelevant.  We're looking for an answer that has something to do with the cause of enzyme loss.  This ain't it.

E)  Ahhh.  Maybe it's not microwaves that are the culprit--maybe it's superheating.  If this answer is true, then the witness' stupid experiment is invalid, because the witness carefully heated milk on a stove using a heat source no higher than the eventual temperature he was trying to reach, but didn't do the same thing in the microwave.  If this answer is true, then the heat pockets in the microwave could have caused the enzyme loss, not the microwaves themselves.  I like this answer better than the case I was going to make for C, so I'm not even going to bother making that case.  Our answer is E.


June 2007 LSAT, II, #5

Continuing through the June 2007 LSAT, we arrive at an argument about global warming.  Please read the argument critically, then come back. This one feels a little different, huh?  That's because the argument, for once, seems close to being reasonable--there's no glaring flaw.  All we have here is a description of a phenomenon and then an explanation of that phenomenon.  There aren't a lot of moving parts.  Still, the argument is far from complete.

According to the scientist, it is a fact that the Earth's average annual temperature has increased by about 0.5 degrees Celsius over the last century.  We can't argue with this part.  But the scientist goes on to explain this fact with a claim about causality:  The warming is primarily the result of the buildup of gases in the atmosphere, which blocks the outward flow of heat from the planet.

Uh-oh.  That's a claim of causation.

The LSAT has a field day with Cause and Effect arguments--I've seen Logical Reasoning sections where almost one half of the questions had something to do with Cause and Effect.  Here, we are asked to identify "evidence against" the Scientist's explanation.  Before I look at the answer choices, I'm going to think about two main problems that commonly pop up with this type of reasoning:

1)  Is it possible that the Effect actually caused the alleged Cause?  An obvious example of this is "Rich people own Bentleys, so Bentley ownership causes one to be rich."  Silly, right?  That's obviously backward.  Well, we need to see if that might be happening in the Scientist's argument.  Here, the Effect was global warming, and the purported cause was a buildup of greenhouse gases.  So ask yourself:  Is it possible that the Scientist has it the wrong way around?  What if the warming actually caused the buildup of the gases?  If that were true, then wouldn't the Scientist look silly for claiming that the gases caused the warming?

2)  Is it possible that some other Cause actually caused both the purported Cause and Effect?  An obvious example of this is "Smokers make a lot of new friends outside bars, and they also get a lot of cancer.  So making a lot of new friends outside bars causes you to get cancer."  Silly, right?  Clearly smoking is the underlying cause both of making friends outside bars AND getting cancer.  There's no causal relationship between making friends and getting cancer.  So ask yourself:  Is it possible that the Scientist is ignoring some other factor?  We can get creative here.  What if, I don't know, radiation from Uranus was causing both the temperature increase and the buildup of atmospheric gases?  If that were true, then wouldn't the Scientist look silly for claiming that the gases caused the warming?  (I'm sure that "Uranus" is not going to appear in the correct answer.   But something like this could be perfect.)

I don't think either of these predictions is guaranteed to be correct.  But both of them appear over and over and over as correct answers on old LSATs, so I'd be dumb not to look out for them.  Okay, here we go.  Remember, we're looking for the answer choice that would make the Scientist's argument look stupid:

A)  This doesn't matter.  The cause of the gases themselves really isn't in question here.  They could have been caused by industrial pollution, automobiles, cattle, who cares?  If Answer A were true, the Scientist would say "So what?  The gases still caused global warming."  We're looking for an answer choice that leaves the Scientist no reasonable response... we want to shut him up for good.

B)  Hmm.  If this is true, then the Scientist's purported Cause happened after the Scientist's purported Effect.  Hey Scientist, I have a question for you:  How can the gases have caused global warming if the global warming happened first?  ... Hello? ... Scientist? ...

I like this answer, because the Scientist really can't say anything in response.  (Also, notice that it kinda fits with my first prediction, the possibility that the warming actually caused the gases, instead of the other way around.)  This one is a keeper.

C)  Huh?  Who cares.  If this were true, the Scientist would say something like "My argument had nothing to do with solar radiation, but I am unsurprised that solar radiation fluctuates slightly from year to year.  This does nothing to change the relationship between a buildup of atmospheric gases and the resulting global warming."  There's no way this can be the answer.

D)  Again, I don't see how this is relevant.  The Scientist would say "I am not surprised that volcanic dust reflects the Sun's radiation.  This fact does nothing to change the relationship between a buildup of atmospheric gases and the resulting global warming."

E)  This would actually strengthen the Scientist's argument, but we were looking for a weakener.  If this were true, the Scientist would say "yes, yes... since the Earth has been warming over the past century, this fact confirms my hypothesis that a buildup of gases has been causing global warming."  The answer that most weakens the Scientist's argument is B, so that's our answer.

Thanks for reading!  I'll be back tomorrow with our first look at the wonderful world of Assumption Questions.  (Sufficient Assumptions, to be precise.)