Aaron Speaks Up
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Another Test Question: Analyzing an Argument
Here is another practice GRE question on Analytical Writing, and my answer follows. How do you think I did?
Six months ago the region of Forestville increased the speed limit for vehicles traveling on the region's highways by ten miles per hour. Since that change took effect, the number of automobile accidents in that region has increased by 15 percent. But the speed limit in Elmsford, a region neighboring Forestville, remained unchanged, and automobile accidents declined slightly during the same six-month period. Therefore, if the citizens of Forestville want to reduce the number of automobile accidents on the region's highways, they should campaign to reduce Forestville's speed limit to what it was before the increase.
Although prima facie, this looks like a reasonable argument, the evidence given in this argument is insufficient to warrant the conclusion. There are too many unknown factors that may be relevant to weakening the argument. The argument must assume there are not possible alternative plausible explanations of the data that may lead to identifying a different cause for the increase in automobile accidents. For example, the evidence does not contain information about whether or not the accidents are taking place in parking lots and backroads or on the actual highways where the speed limit was changed. What if the 6-month period is during the winter and all the increase in accidents could be traced to a few hot spot areas on steep backroads in Forestville, and Elmsford does not have comparable steep backroads? What if the amount of accidents increases by 15 percent during the winter in Forestville every year, not just the year in which the speed limit was increased by 10 miles on the highways? What if the speed limit in Forestville was changed because of an increase in traffic, which increase in traffic might also account for the increase in accidents for the same reasons that crime activity goes up in proportion to the increase in human population? The argument could be strengthened by ruling out these possible alternatives through demonstrating that this 6-month increase in accidents does not occur every year, and that the backroads and parking lots have not been the key areas where the accidents have occurred.
A GRE Practice Test Question on Analytical Writing: GRADE ME
"Both the development of technological tools and the uses to which humanity has put them have created modern civilizations in which loneliness is ever increasing."
The claim in question would be very difficult to demonstrate unless the methods for testing and measuring the extent and intensity of depression were very similar today as they were in the pre-modern periods. Even then we would need considerable access to the results of such testing from population samples that covered the majority of the human population. Such research has never been done. Furthermore, methods used to measure social phenomenon are extremely vulnerable to various weaknesses. For example, are depressed people going to know they are depressed, claim to be so in a survey, be honest with themselves when asked about their experience, or actively seek a doctor? Are those who do become diagnosed based on their own testimony of experiencing symptoms telling the truth? Such methods would also need to show, for example, that when the same tools are used in different ways they do not tend to cause the same level of melancholy risk, otherwise the particular uses per se could not be identified as the cause of such melancholy. Between the weakness of the logic of statistics and the scope of the subject of research itself, it is difficult to tell whether the claim is even verifiable.
Perhaps a more modest claim would be easier to agree with. For example, it would be easier to justify a claim that certain technological tools are used in such a way that they appear to have a causal role, among other causes, in the complex processes that contribute to symptoms associated with depression. Video games, for example, may be shown to appear to play a causal role when a particular teenager uses them in such a way that keeps him from the personal interaction that would otherwise occur.
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When Experience Intersects Academic Theology, Karl Barth
For me personally, one day in the beginning of August of that year  stands out as a black day, on which ninety-three German intellectuals, among whom I was horrified to discover almost all of my hitherto revered theological teachers, published a profession of support for the war policy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his counsellors. Amazed by their attitude, I realised [sic] that I could no longer follow their ethics and dogmatics, or their understandings of the Bible and history, and that the theology of the nineteenth century no longer had any future for me.