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Atticus Finch
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Q4 - Ecologist: Before finding a mate

by mshinners Fri Dec 31, 1999 8:00 pm

Question Type:

Stimulus Breakdown:
Male birds stop decorating their nests with smelly plants once the egg-laying starts. Therefore, they probably do it to attract mates.

Answer Anticipation:
This question falls into the phenomenon/explanation pattern, which is similar to a causal argument. Generally, the correct answer in a Strengthen version of this will rule out an alternative explanation, or it will give evidence to boost this explanation (answers which will be similar to our regular Correlation/Causation Strengthen answers).

Correct answer:

Answer choice analysis:
(A) Tempting. This answer choice is trying to get you to think it's ruling out an alternative cause (getting rid of parasitic insects). However, the issue is with parasites attacking nestlings, so this answer about adult birds being protected is out of scope.

(B) Opposite. This answer choice suggests that the practice is done to protect from parasites, an alternative theory.

(C) Opposite. This answer choice suggests that the practice is done to get robust children, an alternative theory.

(D) Bingo. This answer is similar to a Same Cause/Same Effect answer. When a female is around (but can't get to the male), it brings out the big guns to attract her - more smelly plants (is this like bird cologne?).

(E) Out of scope. If the ecologist is correct, the male birds just care about attracting female birds, so the impact of the plants on the nestlings is out of scope.

Arguments that offer an explanation for a phenomenon are almost identical in approach to Correlation/Causation arguments.

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Vinny Gambini
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Re: Q4 - Ecologist: Before finding a mate

by KelliW299 Wed Sep 13, 2017 8:57 pm

Question about the stem - when it asks us to strengthen the support - isn't that asking us to strengthen the evidence (premises)?

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Re: Q4 - Ecologist: Before finding a mate

by christine.defenbaugh Thu Sep 14, 2017 12:46 am

No, it's just (in my opinion) somewhat sloppy wording.

Usually, strengthen questions have phrasing such as:
  • ...most strengthens the argument...
  • ...provides the most support for the conclusion...
  • ...adds the most support for the argument...
  • ...most strongly supports the reasoning...

This phrase, "most strengthens the support" hasn't shown up all that often. It does appear on PT75, S1, Q9, but that may be the only other location.

I don't love the phrasing, but I believe what they really mean is "strengthens the support by adding new evidence to the existing evidence - thus making the overall 'support stuff package' better/stronger." The answers to both this question and the one from PT75 confirm that this is meant to behave exactly like a typical strengthener.

Since we're meant to treat premises in arguments as accepted facts, it would be really, really weird for the LSAT to ask us to make those premises more likely than they are already taken to be. That alone should make you skeptical of reading this as anything other than a regular strengthen question.
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Vinny Gambini
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Re: Q4 - Ecologist: Before finding a mate

by xjiang.xj Fri Nov 24, 2017 5:12 am

When I read the stimulus, I thought it might be that males stopped using it because the aromatic plants were harmful to egg laying. When I read D, I didn't know how a caged female is related here. Then I came to E and E seemed to rule out my alternative explanation...

If E said the compounds were harmless to egg laying, would it rule out an alternative explanation?
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Re: Q4 - Ecologist: Before finding a mate

by ohthatpatrick Fri Nov 24, 2017 6:52 pm

I feel ya, with how you were thinking about (E).

It's possible to lean on the fact that (D) seems like stronger evidence that the aromatic plants are related to adult females, and that type of answer would have more effect in making me believe the author's hypothesis than would simply ruling out one possible alternative explanation for why the birds remove the greenery once egg laying starts.

If I argued:
Jason is crying. Thus, he must be cutting onions

Which would strengthen more?
(A) He wasn't crying until he started cutting produce on the cutting board
(B) His dog didn't die today

(B) does strengthen, somewhat. But ruling out one alternative explanation for Jason's crying isn't making me as likely to believe the "cutting onion" hypothesis as (A)'s fact, which seems like pretty compelling evidence that his crying is connected to his cutting.

Another thing with (E) is this ... we have two different hypotheses for why male starlings put aromatic plants on the nest:
1. it's to protect their babies
2. it's to attract mates

If I told you that "the aromatic plants are harmless to the babies", then that would support #1 and be compatible with #2.

If I told you that "the aromatic plants are harmful to babies", that would undermine #1 and therefore strengthen #2.

You're thinking about "how ELSE can we explain why they got rid of the greenery once the egg laying started"?

But the causal question the conclusion is meant to address is
"What is the function of the decorations?"

The two available answers to THAT question are "to protect nestlings" or "to attract mates".

(E) seems to help strengthen the plausibility of the first answer, rather than the author's.