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#18 - In a highly publicized kidnapping case

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Complete Question Explanation

Flaw in the Reasoning. The correct answer choice is (B)

The flaw in the stimulus is a fairly common flaw presented in this type of Logical Reasoning question:
Uncertain Use of a Term or Concept. The key to quickly identifying this flaw is to recognize that the
term “public interest” shifts in meaning in the local citizen’s argument. When the citizen says, “they
aroused the public interest,” this term indicates that the public became aware of or even fascinated by
the case as citizens helped to find the victim and provided tips. In the next clause, however, “public
interest” means something more akin to that which is best for the public (the public’s best interests). By
allowing this term to have a somewhat ambiguous meaning the local citizen makes the judge’s actions
seem inconsistent (the conclusion of the citizen’s argument), despite the fact that the actions taken by the
judge may not be inconsistent at all. This leads to the credited answer choice (B), which states that the
argument is flawed because it “trades on an ambiguity with respect to the term ‘public interest.’”

Answer choice (A): Generalization is a common logical fallacy, but is not one of the flaws in the
citizen’s argument. There is also no evidence to suggest that this case is atypical.

Answer choice (B): This is the correct answer choice. By using the term “public interest” imprecisely
in the argument, the local citizen attempted to prove that the actions in this case should have been more
harmonious with one another. If “public interest” has different meanings in each of the stated contexts,
then the citizen’s argument becomes much harder to defend.

A key to recognizing this type of flaw is to look for the repetitive use of a word or phrase by an author in
an attempt to support a conclusion. This type of flaw is also a common incorrect answer choice in other
Logical Reasoning scenarios that can be somewhat tempting if not fully understood.

Answer choice (C): Although this answer choice is incorrect, it is still a weakness in the argument. The
citizen’s argument depends on a broad definition of the term “they,” which includes the judge as well as
those who aroused the public interest. But the more broadly that “they” is defined, the less meaningful
the term “inconsistent” becomes (if the judge did not specifically plead with the public for help, then her
actions in barring the public would seem less inconsistent). Nonetheless, answer choice (B) remains the
stronger answer choice.

Answer choice (D): Sensationalism involves grossly overstating the potential consequences of a given
course of action. Since the citizen does not describe any possible consequence of these actions, this
argument cannot be described as sensationalistic.

Answer choice (E): Although it is possible that the citizen’s argument is motivated by a concern for
the public’s right to know, the stimulus does not provide any evidence to confirm this supposition.
Furthermore, any belief that one principle is more important than another cannot rightly be called a flaw,
since such a belief is strictly a matter of personal judgment.
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I had a general question about what kind of situation would be described as having the flaw- "attempts to support its conclusion by making sensationalistic appeals"?


- Arindom
Nikki Siclunov
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As you probably know, the citizen's argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. The phrase "public interest" is used in two different senses in the argument: in the premise, "public interest" refers to the public's curiosity toward the kidnapping case; in the conclusion, "public interest" refers to the welfare or well-being of the general public. Such use is inconsistent, and exemplifies an error of equivocation. Answer choice (B) is therefore correct.

Answer choice (D) describes an entirely different argument. What's a sensationalistic appeal? Such an appeal is likely made with the purpose of arousing public interest, stir controversy, etc. Personally, I consider pretty much all cable news to be thriving on sensationalistic appeal. In this particular argument, it is the kidnapping case itself that seems to have sensationalistic appeal, with all the bruhaha that it seems to generate. The judge, however, is clearly not making the sensationalistic appeals herself. If anything, she is trying to suppress them.

Hope this helps!

Nikki Siclunov
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Ok, gotcha. Thanks.

- Arindom
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I totally understand why (B) is the correct answer here, but am having a little bit of trouble eliminating (C). Is the conclusion of the local citizens argument what definitely makes (C) wrong? ''These actions are inconsistent" Since the actions are inconsistent, it does not matter where they originated from and so their origination has no bearing on the argument.
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Hi TOgren,

The actions might not actually be inconsistent. The "public interest" can be served by finding the victim, arresting the perpetrator, and conducting a fair trial. Wall-to-wall media coverage might be helpful in finding the victim and suspect, but not in conducting a trial.

The speaker refers to "they" throughout his statement which seems to refer to the government in a general sense ("they pleaded with us to help find the victim ... and then they claimed that allowing us to attend the trial wouldn't serve the public interest"). It's not critical whether the judge or the police chief asked the public for tips in finding the victim, as they're both part of the government apparatus in charge of the investigating and prosecuting the case. The citizen can still criticize the government for inconsistent behavior even if the inconsistencies are carried out by different government agents at different times.

I hope this makes sense. Good luck studying! :-D

Athena Dalton
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I am struggling with D. Isn't the argument sensationalist in its dramatizing of actions and linking together things that aren't clearly related? It seems the way sensationalism is described above is too limited as it focuses on consequences. Sensationalism can also mean describing a way that is "overhyped to present biased impressions on events, which may cause a manipulation to the truth of a story". If that's the case, then that seems to be what the local citizen (not the judge, as mentioned above) is doing.

I'm also confused about the explanation for B and C. It seems we are acknowledging the ambiguity with the term "public interest" to explain why B is correct, but for D, we aren't acknowledging the ambiguity in the term "they", which would highlight the possibility that the judge's actions has nothing to do with those the other "theys" actions in the argument. What am I missing here?

Thank you!
Malila Robinson
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Even if there were some type of sensationalism going on in the stimulus we have to ask whether that is the flaw. The language is certainly dramatic in its use of terms like pleaded and aroused, but as you mentioned, the problem is that they are using that language to link things that are unrelated. And what is the thing that is unrelated? The different types of public interest. One is the type of interest that gets people to focus on something, the other type of interest is related to fairness and justice. The argument tries to use a single phrase "public interest" to show that the court is being inconsistent, but it actually shows that the person making the argument is using the phrase inconsistently.

The term "they" is not referring to any specific person, it just refers to the government in general, so while there is an ambiguity it is not inconsistent.
Hope that helps!