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GRE Argument: West Meria Public Health Council - With A Free Essay Review
'The following report appeared in the newsletter of the West Meria Public Health Council. "An innovative treatment has come to our attention that promises to significantly reduce absenteeism in our schools and workplaces. A study reports that in nearby East Meria, where fish consumption is very high, people visit the doctor only once or twice per year for the treatment of colds. Clearly, eating a substantial amount of fish can prevent colds. Since colds represent the most frequently given reason for absences from school and work, we recommend the daily use of Ichthaid—a nutritional supplement derived from fish oil—as a good way to prevent colds and lower absenteeism." 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 author gives a “slippery slope” recommendation based on several causes and effects, which are flawed. Thus, the author’s recommendation is not very convincing. First of all, the author implies that fewer people get colds in East Meria, because people rarely visit the doctor for the treatment of colds. However, based on the common sense, not all people who get colds need to go to see the doctors. Thus, we need evidence such as statistics to show that more people get colds in East Meria, instead of showing there are fewer people who visit the doctor for the treatment of colds, which does not accurately reflect the actual number of people who get colds.
Moveover, the author argues that eating substantial amount of fish can prevent colds, because a study shows that in nearby East Meria, where fish consumption is very high, people rarely visit the doctor for the treatment of colds. Even though it seems like that there is a correlation between eating fish and preventing colds, it is possible that this correlation between preventing colds and fish consumption is coincidental. Is it possible that alcohol regulation in East Meria contributes to fewer colds? Thus, the author needs to give evidence to rule out other possibilities that can potentially contribute to fewer colds, such as regulation of alcohol consumption or banning smoking. Alternatively, if the author can give evidence that directly indicates eating more fish can indeed prevent colds, then, the author’s argument would be more cogent.
Further, the author claims that colds are the most frequently given reason for absences from school and work, and eating fish can prevent colds, which may not be true, thus, eating fish can lower absenteeism. Although colds represent the most common reason for absences, it is possible colds may not be the real reason for these absences. For instance, a student, who wants to stay at home playing computer games, uses getting a cold as an excuse. Therefore, the author needs evidence to show that getting a cold is the real reason for the majority of absences, or how many people fail to go to work or schools indeed get colds? If we find out getting colds is just an excuse for most absences, and getting colds has nothing to do with these absences, then, eating fish would not help lower absenteeism.
Overall, since the recommendation is based on a series of causes and effects, thus, the author has to give direct evidence to valid the causality. Otherwise, the recommendation is not valid.
Your first sentence is incorrect; there is no slippery-slope fallacy in the argument (you are thinking of an error that is not an instance of the slippery-slope fallacy). Beyond that you do recognize two of the main issues here: the people of West Meria are possibly incorrigible liars who feign illness to skip class; the people of East Meria may have fewer colds than the West Merian liars for reasons other than their inordinate fish consumption (the most economical explanation is that Jesus, that excellent physician and fisherman, lives in East Meria). You miss the other main issue: Even if fish consumption is effective in the suggested way, perhaps that is just because the fish are, say, full of zinc, and unpronounceable fish-oil derivatives such as Ichthaid have nothing to do with. You also identify a fourth issue: perhaps East Merians don't in fact suffer from fewer colds than West Merians, they just go to the doctor to complain about their suffering less often. Perhaps indeed West Merians are lily-livered cry babies compared to their stout-hearted eastern neighbors, in which case, if you think the comparison is based on number of doctor visits in both areas, you might be right to be suspicious. This would be a minor issue for me, but if you want to stress it, then you need to identify more specifically than "statistics" the evidence that you would like to see.
The evidence that you seek should not be too specific, however. Obviously in order to test the hypothesis that fish consumption prevents colds (let's call it "The Fish Hypothesis") it would not be enough just to rule out tighter regulations in the east on alcohol and smoking. You need something a bit more general than that. (For example: "we would need evidence about any other differences in lifestyle, or differences in public health policies or programs, between the East and West Merians.) And then of course you need to explain how such evidence "would weaken of strengthen the argument" (For example: “If there are significant lifestyle differences other than the consumption of fish, or if there are programs that, for example, educate East Merians in the art of washing hands, then there is no reason to privilege the fish hypothesis; if there are no other significant difference of that kind, then the fish hypothesis would be strengthened.)
You have the same kind of problem in the final argument, although you might be forgiven for that since it is damned difficult to specify the kind of evidence that would allow you to prove the craven caitiffs of West Meria are liars too.