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GRE Argument 26: Headaches In Mentia - With A Free Essay Review
Prompt: “A recently issued twenty-year study on headaches suffered by the residents of Mentia investigated the possible therapeutic effect of consuming salicylates. Salicylates are members of the same chemical family as aspirin, a medicine used to treat headaches. Although many foods are naturally rich in salicylates, food-processing companies also add salicylates to foods as preservatives. The twenty-year study found a correlation between the rise in the commercial use of salicylates and a steady decline in the average number of headaches reported by study participants. At the time when the study concluded, food-processing companies had just discovered that salicylates can also be used as flavor additives for foods, and, as a result, many companies plan to do so. Based on these study results, some health experts predict that residents of Mentia will suffer even fewer headaches in the future.”
Instructions [SEE NOTE BELOW] : “Write a response in which you discuss what specific evidence is needed to evaluate the argument and explain how the evidence would weaken or strengthen the argument.”
The argument is not convincing. The author tried to relate the increasing commercial use of salicylates to a decrease in the average number of headaches people suffering. However, the evidence provided is far from sufficient to warrant such a conclusion. Some additional details have to be presented.
In the first place, studies have to be conducted to explore whether taking salicylates will also reduce the probability of the occurrence of headaches, in addition to cure headaches. If that is the case, then we can easily understand that as the quantity of salicylate in food is increased, people eating the food will take in more salicylates, and thus have fewer headaches. However, if salicylates does not have such a positive effect, then the whole conclusion is ungrounded.
What's more, whether the result provided by the study is reliable is dubious. Evidence has to be provided that the participants chosen are representative, tweed by other related studies. Otherwise, for example, if the sample is just comprised of people who are less likely to have headaches, such as children and young people, then the statement that there is a decline in the average number of headaches of the citizen of Mentia is untrue. Likewise, if clinical evidence proved that twenty years is not the appropriate time scale to investigate the effect of Salicylate, then that result cannot be reached. Or if the result contradicts with all the other related researches, then the possibility is high that there is something wrong with the study. Therefore the reliability of the result of the study is central to obtain such a conclusion.
Last but not the least, With Salicylate's additional positive effect and the reliability of the result, it must also be established that eating food containing more and more Salicylate is the only factor leading to the decline in the average number of headaches. Only then can we draw a relatively safer conclusion that using Salicylate as food flavor additives may result in a continued decline in the average number of headaches suffered by the citizen of Mentia. Otherwise there may be other real reasons precluding the conclusion from true.
It seems obvious that a substance being able to cure headaches may also reduce the possibility of its occurrence. It will make the argument more cogent if the additional evidences above are provided.
Note: on the ETS website, the instructions for this prompt, different from those you cite, are: ”Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the prediction and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the prediction.” I review your essay based on the prompt and instructions you provide, but for your test preparation, it is important to keep the difference in mind.
Now your first argument is that “studies have to be conducted to explore whether taking salicylates will also reduce the probability of the occurrence of headaches.” That is rather like saying that the study to which you are responding is no good, so we need other studies. And it seems to me that that is skirting the issue, the issue being what, if anything, is wrong with this particular study.
Your second argument also skirts the issue. It questions the integrity of the study as a scientific study with a view to questioning the alleged decline in the average number of headaches. If a sample that was not representative of the population was used, you argue, then the conclusion about such a decline “is [surely you mean ‘might be’] untrue.” In this case, you are taking issue with a factual claim in the original statement. But since you are being asked to evaluate the _argument_, the appropriate strategy is to assume that factual claims are true. Look rather at the structure of the argument itself. Look at the reasons offered for the conclusion. Examine the assumptions. And then, depending on the prompt, identify evidence that might help assess the validity of the conclusion, or questions that would need to be asked to assess its validity.
Your final argument is, I think, closer to the mark. You say “it must also be established that eating food containing more and more salicylates is the only factor leading to the decline in the average number of headaches.” Given the original statement, it is possible to be a lot more specific than this, however. The statement notes that salicylates belong to the same “chemical family” as aspirin. That does not mean, obviously enough, that it is the same as aspirin. It is conceivable that the salicylates have no impact whatsoever on headaches. It is also possible that the poor residents of Mentia were, at long last, targeted by Bayer; that Bayer launched a major advertising campaign to enlighten the population; that the seduced Mentians started purchasing aspirin in droves, at least until they realised that ibuprofen is much more effective.
Note finally that cats are evil and are known to deliberately cause headaches. It is possible that an enlightened country like Mentia recognized this problem and eradicated the beasts, making a heaven of their hell!