Viewing 2010 Through LSAT Goggles
Hello out there to all you February LSATers. I’d like to personally congratulate you on making it through a quarter of the Blueprint curriculum. While you’ve only completed about 25% of the course, 2010 is about to be 100% wrapped up by this weekend. I have no doubt that all of you will be drinking exactly two glasses of red wine this New Years Eve (it’s heart healthy, just ask the LSAT).
Lesson 6 is upon us, and for those Logical Reasoning enthusiasts out there, this is going to be quite a treat. L6 introduces all of the major flaws that pop up repeatedly on the LSAT. You haven’t covered these yet, (pipe down and play along, retake students) but it can’t hurt to get a quick introduction while fondly looking back at a few of this past year’s big moments and gaffes. Adios 2010, it’s been real…
Whoops. We all remember this quote during the BP oil crisis. I know I shed a few tears for Tony while watching that clip. If nothing else, we learned that this guy probably shouldn’t be the public face of a multinational corporation. There are a couple different fallacies at play here. When Tony said “no one wants this to stop more than I do,” he committed a fallacy of exclusivity. Specifically, he didn’t eliminate all possible alternatives. There were probably a few fishermen who could have given Mr. Hayward a run for his money in the “I really really want these 200 million gallons of oil to stop flowing into the ocean” department. It’s just too strong of a statement to say he wants it the most. I mean, how the f*** does he know?
You could argue that the most egregious flaw in Tony’s statement was that he was equivocating with respect to a key term, namely his life. When he said he “wanted his life back”, he was likely referring to all the cool stuff you get to do when you are the CEO of an oil company, like golfing with Senators and sitting in big leather chairs drinking 18 year-old scotch (that’s what they do, right?) He still had his “life” in the literal sense, and choosing those words probably wasn’t wise considering the circumstances.
There’s no doubt about it: Tiger had a tough year. There are plenty of fallacies on display in everyone’s favorite scandal of 2010. Of course, correctly identifying the fallacy depends on what this hypothetical argument said. For example, if it said “Tiger Woods is widely considered to be one of the top 3 golfers of all time, and he has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from endorsements and tournaments over his illustrious career. Polling data consistently ranks him among the most admired global icons. Therefore, when Tiger talks about how to make a marriage last, you should follow his advice.” Now, this stimulus was clearly written a couple of years ago by Tiger’s agent at a botched meeting with eHarmony, but either way it is a classic case of appealing to an inappropriate authority. There is no evidence in the stimulus that suggests Tiger should be providing relationship advice. Unfortunately for Tiger’s bank account, some corporate sponsors have decided that he might not be the right person to ask about shaving products or sports drinks, either.
If your golf ball is stuck in a sand trap and you need some help picking out the appropriate golf club, I’m sure Tiger would be a great person to ask. The Blueprint staff would like to take this opportunity to wish Tiger all the best in 2011.
Where to begin? If the stimulus read: “Anyone who has a fever is contagious. Sarah overheard Jessica say she has a stage 5 case of Bieber fever. Therefore, Jessica is contagious.” There’s a lot going on with this transitive argument, and none of it is good. You could make a good argument for either of two fallacies. Right off the bat, there is an equivocation with the term “fever.” In the first instance, the argument is clearly talking about the type of fever you have when your body is actually infected with bacteria and your temperature rises, leaving you miserable for a few days. Jessica’s stage 5 Bieber fever refers to the pandemonium that ensues when middle school girls hear a new Justin Bieber song. This shift in meaning would invalidate the transitive argument, although this is the type of question that would get removed from scoring (right before someone at the LSAC was violently fired).
I was honestly indifferent, but I know some of you out there got your mellow serioussssly harshed. The argument might go something like this “A poll asked 5,000 self-described regular marijuana users if they supported the legalization bill, and 98% replied that they did support the bill, with 89% of those respondents saying they planned to vote in the election. A second poll asked a large, representative sample of California voters if they believed marijuana should be legal. 68% said that it should be. It is therefore very likely that this bill will pass.”
The first poll is a non-representative sample. Someone who describes themselves as a “regular marijuana user” is probably a black belt stoner. This group wouldn’t be a reliable sample of the voting population so we can’t make any conclusions. The other problem with the first poll is that even if those marijuana users were a significant portion of all voters, they simply said that they planned to vote. I hope they make it to the polls, but sometimes things get in the way. Like a pop tart. Double Rainbow!
The second poll seems much better because it is a representative sample of voters. However, notice that 68% of voters said they believed “marijuana should be legal.” Is this the same thing as “68% of voters support the bill?” Hopefully you said no. This is an exclusivity flaw (could be both). They could both support legalization and disapprove of a flawed legalization bill. Better yet, voters might be paranoid that supporting the bill will lead to their name being sent to the Feds, who are an especially potent form of hippie repellent.
I may or may not be a lifelong Dodgers fan, so it is very easy for me to turn this 2010 headline into a flaw. A very common one that we haven’t discussed yet is causation. This is where the argument will conclude that because two events are correlated in some way, that they are causally related. A simple example would be “Each team that has won the World Series over the last 20 years has done so in front of a sold out stadium. Therefore, if you San Franciscans want the Giants to clinch the series, it’s time to buy up those tickets when they go on sale next week.” A sellout crowd obviously doesn’t create World Series champs. Rather, there is another cause that leads to both the sellout and the championship (namely, the fact that they’re playing the World Series).
Yet another group of flawed arguments involve composition fallacies. This is when the argument assumes that since a part of something has a characteristic that the whole must also have that characteristic, or vice-versa. Here is a perfect example that sticks with our sports theme: “Blake Griffin is one of the most athletic and entertaining players in the NBA. He plays on the Los Angeles Clippers, who must therefore be one of the most athletic and entertaining teams in the NBA.” I am confident that you understand why this reasoning is flawed.
The examples above are obviously meant to be funny. If you see any questions about Justin Bieber or Tiger Woods on your real LSAT, you should quietly leave the test center because someone is playing a very elaborate joke. HOWEVER, you will be tested on many of the same simple concepts, but they will be part of an intentionally confusing stimulus. Make sure you pay close attention to Lesson 6, because it will pay off later! Happy New Year!