LSAT 90 – Section 4 – Question 06

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Type Tags Answer
Curve Question
PT90 S4 Q06
Flaw or descriptive weakening +Flaw
+Medium 148.293 +SubsectionMedium

This is a Flaw/Descriptive Weakening question.

The stimulus says that if the proposed air pollution measures were to be implemented, ozone levels in the city's air would be one fifth lower, i.e., 20% lower, than current levels. Since the ozone in our air is currently responsible for $5 billion in health costs (premise), we would spend about a billion dollars less on these ozone-related health costs should the proposal be adopted (conclusion).

We always have two options when approaching Flaw questions. Either we identify the flaw in advance and go hunting for it in the answer choices, or use process of elimination. If you think this argument makes sense, keep an open mind as you go through the answer choices because the correct answer will point out something that you had not considered.

Answer Choice (A) says the argument fails to consider the possibility that other types of pollution not involving ozone might rise, perhaps even producing an overall increase in health costs. Sure, maybe particulate matter pollution or carbon dioxide pollution will rise. But the argument is completely contained to ozone and does not contemplate non-ozone-related health costs. So to criticize it for failure to do that is not a criticism of the logic of the argument.

(A) might be a fair criticism if we were having a discussion about health costs in general. But when we evaluate arguments in Weakening or Flaw/Descriptive Weakening, we have to limit that evaluation to the actual premise and conclusion presented, all of which are limited to ozone here. If (A) flies, then I can also say that the biggest contributor to health costs is heart diseases, not ozone, so we should talk about heart diseases if we really want to reduce health costs.

Correct Answer Choice (B) says the argument presumes, without providing evidence, that ozone-related health costs in the city vary roughly in proportion to ozone levels. This means if you reduce ozone levels by 20%, health costs would also go down by 20%. At a minimum, you should recognize that that is an accurate description of the assumption made. The argument is in fact presuming this, so (B) passes step one of the two-step test.

Now ask yourself if it is in fact reasonable to assume this. It turns out it is not. Ozone levels could generate health costs once the level of ozone passes a certain threshold. So it could be that ozone pollution is negligible until after a critical mass of the pollution has been accumulated, after which it becomes very damaging. If that were the case, then the 20% reduction might bring ozone levels under the threshold, which would result in health benefits of $5 billion. The opposite could also be true. Ozone levels could still be above the threshold even after the reduction, in which case we might not reduce health costs at all.

I am not saying this is how ozone levels actually work, but the point is that because we do not know how they work, we cannot make the naive assumption that the relationship between ozone levels and health care costs is proportional. There are so many other non-proportional relationships. And finally, in reality, the economic concept of diminishing marginal returns cuts against the assumption of proportionality.

Answer Choice (C) says the argument provides no explicit reason for believing that the proposed air pollution measures will in fact be adopted. Like (B), (C) is descriptively accurate. We do not know if the measures will be adopted or not. However, this is not the flaw. The premise says, “if the proposed air pollution measures were to be implemented,” so it is contemplating a hypothetical world. If we adopt it, what would happen?

Answer Choice (D) says the argument attempts to support the conclusion by making an appeal to emotions. The conclusion is supported by an appeal to math, not emotions. We think we would reduce health costs by 20% because the ozone levels will go down by 20%. An argument that did appeal to emotions would say something like “we should adopt the new ozone control measures because Timmy lost his mother to ozone pollution.”

Answer Choice (E) says the argument discusses air pollution to draw attention away from more significant sources of health-related costs. An argument actually guilty of this vulnerability would establish that a more significant source of health cost was, for example, heart disease. And the author would say, have you guys considered air pollution? There is ozone, nitrogen, volatile organic compounds, etc. That is trying to draw attention away from heart disease, which does not happen here.

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