Reply To: Strengthen & Weaken Strategies

March 1, 2016 at 1:09 pm #1546

Just to add on to Mike’s outstanding detailed explanation, there are a few specific ways in which strengthen and weaken questions often seem to function.  These are just things to be on the lookout for:

  1.  Weaken questions often provide, and Strengthen questions often eliminate alternate explanations for observed evidence.  I don’t have tests in front of me, so I can’t reference the specific tests that the questions are from, but they may ring a bell.  I might look them up and do them later.  There’s a weaken question about camellia tea causing kidney damage, because of a correlation between higher than normal incidents of kidney damage found among people who drink it.  The right answer is that people who drink camellia tea also tend to drink other things suspected of causing kidney damage – in other words, the right answer gives us another suspect: Maybe it’s not the tea; maybe it’s the other things that tea drinkers tend to drink.  There’s a strengthen question that also asserts cause and effect.  Actually, there are several, but the one I’m thinking of involves snoring and throat abnormalities.  The conclusion is that snoring causes the throat abnormalities; the right answer is that the throat abnormalities don’t cause snoring.  It eliminates a possible alternative explanation.
  2. A second common situation is that a strengthen question will often tell us that an asserted cause has been found to be paired with a certain effect OR the lack of the purported cause is found with a lack of the purported effect.  In other words, if I claim that bananas cause cancer, it’s good for my argument if a bunch of people who eat bananas all the time get cancer; but it’s ALSO good for my argument if a bunch of people who never eat bananas don’t get cancer.  In a weaken question, the right answer often shows the cause without the effect OR the effect without the cause.  One example question is Preptest 33, Section 1, Question 25: Certain airplane equipment has been in wider use over the last two years, and certain information has disappeared from air traffic controllers’ screens over that time period.  The argument concludes that the equipment causes the disappearance.  The right answer says that the information started disappearing 3 months before the equipment came into use.  In other words, we had the alleged effect WITHOUT the alleged cause.  That weakens the argument.
  3. Finally, in S/W questions that are based on analogy, the right answer will typically be something that tells us either that it’s an appropriate comparison, or that it’s “apples to oranges.”  In other words, the two things in question differ in some key respect that makes it a bad analogy.  See, for instance, Preptest 30, Section 2, Question 8.  The argument analogizes food production to oil drilling; the right answer points out a key difference between the two.