LSAT 92 – Section 1 – Question 19

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Type Tags Answer
Curve Question
PT92 S1 Q19
Weaken +Weak
+Medium 147.037 +SubsectionMedium

This is a Weaken question.

This is a really difficult question. It's difficult in a way that's quite similar to how other questions are difficult. The test writers engineered a terrible argument that made a number of different kinds of questionable assumptions.

The argument proceeds from premises to conclusion and it also proceeds from a high-level phenomenon to a low-level phenomenon.

The first sentence tells us that productivity growth in industrialized nations has dropped substantially since computer technology became more widespread in the 60s and 70s. This is a correlational phenomenon at the level of nations. At the level of nations, we observe that the ones that have adopted computer technology have seen their productivity growth drop. Does that mean computer technology is what caused the decrease in productivity growth? We don't know. It could be or could be something else.

The next premise presents a phenomenon one level lower. We learned that in industries that rely most heavily on computer technology, productivity growth has dropped the most. I'll ask the same question here. Does this mean that computer technology caused the decrease in productivity growth? Again, we don't know. But the argument is edging towards precisely that causal hypothesis, that computer technology caused the decrease in productivity growth at the level of the industry and at the level of the country.

Now we get to the conclusion which is one level lower still. It says that a business that has increased its reliance on computer technology probably has not improved its productivity growth by doing so.

This conclusion rests upon that causal assumption: computer technology causes decrease in productivity growth (at the level of a business). And we've already talked about why that assumption is questionable. It's the classic correlation causation flaw. Just because two things are correlated doesn't necessarily mean that one of them caused the other. But even if you recognize this causal assumption, you might still be stuck between Answer Choice (A) and Answer Choice (D). This is why the question is difficult.

Answer Choice (A) says the industries that rely most heavily on computer technology have been burdened by inefficiencies that have substantially hindered their productivity growth. It sounds like (A) is providing an alternate hypothesis, an alternate cause to explain the slowdown in productivity growth for industries that rely most heavily on computer technologies. (A) says don't blame computer technologies. Rather, it’s these other things, these other inefficiencies that are truly responsible for the decrease in productivity growth. Doesn't this seem like it weakens the argument? It sure looks like it's cutting against the causal assumption that the argument needs.

Answer Choice (D) says within any given industry, the businesses whose productivity growth has been the greatest have been those that invested most heavily in computer technology. (D) also seems to be cutting against the causal assumption. After all, if it's true that computer technology causes a decrease in productivity growth for businesses, then we certainly would not expect to find what (D) is telling us to be true. In fact, we would expect to find the opposite. (D) exhibits a pattern in causal arguments: confirming the predictions of a causal hypothesis counts as evidence in favor and disconfirming those predictions counts as strong evidence against.

So how do we decide between (A), which seems to be providing an alternate hypothesis, and (D), which seems to be providing facts inconsistent with the causal assumption’s predictions?

That requires our recognition that there is something other than causal logic taking place in this argument. Notice the shift from high-level phenomena to low-level phenomena. We start at nations, then we talk about industries, and finally the conclusion talks about particular businesses. Where the premise talked about industries that rely most heavily on computer technologies, the conclusion picks out a business that may or may not even be part of that industry. There’s been a set change. We can use concrete examples to make this more tangible. Finance is an industry that relies heavily on computer technologies, so we can take the premise to mean that finance has experienced productivity growth slowdowns. The conclusion, on the other hand, is only about a business that has increased its reliance on computer technology. That could mean an investment bank, or it could mean a space company. This is a crucial gap between the premise about what's happening in industries versus the conclusion about what we expect happened in particular businesses. Because of this change in sets, it's not even clear that the causal forces at play for the industries (whatever they may be) are even relevant for the particular businesses the conclusion is talking about.

This is what makes Correct Answer Choice (D) much more relevant to the argument than (A). Even if it's true that at the level of the finance industry, the real explanation for the productivity growth slowdown has nothing to do with computer technology but rather has to do with these other inefficiencies that (A) talks about, the conclusion is still about businesses that may or may not even be in the finance industry. Offering alternative causal explanations at the level of industries may not even matter at the level of particular businesses if those businesses aren’t members of the industry.

This is not so for (D) because (D) is at the level of the businesses. The phenomenon (D) described is straight-up inconsistent with the assumption that a business’ investment in computer technology is bad for its productivity growth. If it’s true that within any industry, the businesses that most heavily invested in computer technologies also saw the greatest productivity growth, then something else explains the industry- and nation-level correlation.

Answer Choice (B) says productivity growth in many less industrialized nations has also dropped substantially since the 60s and 70s. Who cares? We already know that productivity growth in industrialized nations have dropped, and beyond that we know that the industries that rely most heavily on computer technologies have dropped, and so the argument goes on. The strength of the logic of the argument has nothing to do with what's happening in the less industrialized nations. Now, if you're thinking, “Well, productivity growth has also dropped in the less industrialized and therefore less computer-technology-dependent nations, doesn’t that mean there’s some other causal force at work? In other words, it is not computer technology that's responsible for the decrease in productivity growth for the industrialized nations since the less industrialized nations also experienced decreases.” If that’s the line of reasoning, then (B) is just a worse version of (A). For one thing, (A) offers an alternative cause, “inefficiencies.” (B) merely hints at the existence of some other explanation. More than that, (B) is at a level even further removed from that of businesses. (B) is talking about nations.

Answer Choice (C) says productivity growth in industries responsible for producing computer technology has increased substantially as computer technology became more widespread. (C) might be tempting because it's telling us that there are at least some industries that experienced increased productivity growth and there's a reason to assume that those industries rely on computer technology because they produce computer technology. But the problem here is that we have very good reasons to believe that these industries are outliers, that they are unrepresentative. We already know that for the last several decades, computer technologies have been increasingly adopted, so we would of course expect the industries that supplied those technologies to have experienced growth. But the fact still remains that the other industries, the ones that didn't manufacture the computer technologies but merely adopted them, those industries still experienced decreased productivity growth.

Answer Choice (E) says within the two years, recent technological advancements will almost certainly make investments in computer technology among the most effective ways for any business to improve productivity. This is a predictive statement about the future. It's not clear if what is stated here will come to pass. There is a high probability as signaled by “almost certainly,” but there is still a chance that this won't happen. But even if it does, what does that have to do with the past? The entire argument is situated in the past. It describes phenomena that have taken place in the past and it makes a conclusion guessing at what happened in the past. What will happen in the future cannot affect what has already happened in the past.

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