10/26/2008

A GRE Practice Test Question on Analytical Writing: GRADE ME

Grade me.

Here was the statement I was asked to agree with, qualify, or disagree with, and my response follows.  

"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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