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GRE Argument Essay: An Ancient, Traditional Remedy For Insomnia—with A Free Essay Review
Prompt: ‘“An ancient, traditional remedy for insomnia—the scent of lavender flowers—has now been proved effective. In a recent study, 30 volunteers with chronic insomnia slept each night for three weeks on lavender-scented pillows in a controlled room where their sleep was monitored electronically. During the first week, volunteers continued to take their usual sleeping medication. They slept soundly but wakened feeling tired. At the beginning of the second week, the volunteers discontinued their sleeping medication. During that week, they slept less soundly than the previous week and felt even more tired. During the third week, the volunteers slept longer and more soundly than in the previous two weeks. Therefore, the study proves that lavender cures insomnia within a short period of time.” 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.’
First of all, the author claims that lavender cures insomnia within a short period of time, since the quality of sleep of tested subjects seems to be improved overtime. In order to test the veracity of the claim, we need evidence about the experimental result of a control group, in which group members do not receive any treatment. It is possible that it is some psychological effects that make tested subjects sleep better, or insomnia cures by itself overtime even without any treatment. If the quality of sleep in control groups is also improved within three weeks, then, the improvement in sleeping quality might not be mainly due to the effectiveness of the scent of lavender, and the claim would be false and weakened.
Secondly, the author implies the link between the effectiveness of lavender and the improvement in sleeping quality. To test the validity of the implied link, we need evidence that the observed alleviation in insomnia is solely due to the scent of lavender flowers instead of the medication during the first week. It is possible that the drowsiness observed during the first week is due to the side effect of the sleeping medicine, or it is due to the synergistic effect of both lavender and medicine, and can worsen insomnia. If the evidence shows that the observed drowsiness is indeed the side-effect of the medication, and the sleep medicine typical shows its effects during the second or third week, then, the observed relief in insomnia might not be solely due to the effectiveness of the lavender, the implied link might not be valid, and this can weaken the author’s claims.
Finally, the author suggests the improvement in sleeping quality is due to the effectiveness of lavender. To validate this conclusion, we also need evidence about whether the sleeping environment in the controlled room is the same as those at homes or not. It is possible that it is quieter in controlled rooms compare to people’s home. If the alternative possibility is valid, then, the claim that lavender cures insomnia would be false, and the conclusion would have no grounds.
To sum up, in order to evaluate the author’s conclusion, we need evidence about whether a control group shows improvements in sleeping quality, and whether the alleviation of insomnia is solely due to lavender rather than medicine or a better sleeping environment.
If there were a control group sleeping on ordinary pillows and that control group demonstrated similar sleeping patterns, then that would certainly weaken the argument. So your point in that respect is reasonable, although if you are going to talk about control groups you may as well complete the argument: If the control group slept poorly in the third week, then, all other things being equal, we would be inclined to think that lavender had a positive impact. Evidence from a control group can make interpretation of other possible evidence moot, so it might be a good idea to leave your comments about a possible control group until last for the purely pragmatic reason that once you've brought it up, there's seems little else that needs to be said; although, one could always carry on by saying something like, "in that absence of a control group, then evidence about X would be helpful."
In your second paragraph, X is poorly specified. You tell us what you want the evidence to show (e.g., whether the observed drowsiness is indeed the side effect of the medication) but you don't specify what evidence would show this (which might be something as simple as "the history of reported side-effects of the drug"). It's also not clear how that evidence would be helpful (note that the report makes no claim about whether participants "wakened feeling tired" in the third week). The problem with the rest of the paragraph, where you speculate that the medicine might "show its effects during the second or third week" (again, you don't specify what evidence would allow you to determine this) is that it ignores the fact that the medicine is described as the study participants' "usual medicine"; you presuppose that they take it for the first time in the study.
Your speculation about the possible impact on sleeping patterns of the changed environment is more reasonable, although even if the environment is different (and even if it is different in the way you suggest it might be; i.e., "quieter'), it could still be the case that lavender cures insomnia. The claim would be falsified only if one knew with certainty that the original cause of the insomnia was in fact the nature of the sleeping environment. The conclusion, in other words, you could reasonably say, would be weakened and might be false.