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General questions relating to LSAT Logical Reasoning.
 Zarie Blackburn
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We recently received the following question from a student. We will post a response below shortly .
Hi. I am wondering if you would consider "since" to be a causal indicator or conditional indicator? PowerScore literature has suggested that it is merely a "premise indicator." But does it tell us that we are seeing a causal arg? or Conditional? Would so appreciate your providing the answer to this question. Thanks!
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 Dave Killoran
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While "since" can be used to introduce situations that contain causal or conditional reasoning, it does not do so in every case. thus, we can't classify it as an indicator for either of those two types.

When we do classifications for indicators, it's a tricky thing, but the guiding rule is that an indicator would introduce the concept the majority of the time (and preferably always, but that's not typical given the flexibility of the English language). That doesn't happen in either instance here, so we don't see it as a classic indicator.

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Hi Dave - I understand what cause & effect is and how to deal with it when it’s present, my problem is recognizing it on the LSAT when there aren’t clear causal indicators. For instance in the Powerscore blog ( ... soning.cfm) this is given as an example of causal reasoning:
Scientists have long suspected that isoflavones, a class of biologically active organic compounds, tend to improve one's cognitive performance. Now these views have acquired strong support from a recent study showing that college students who took soy isoflavone supplements for 3 months did significantly better on various reasoning tasks than students who never took such supplements.
I read this as:
- There has always been a suspicion that isoflavones cause improvements in cognitive performance
- The results of a recent study provided additional support for this suspicion

In short, I would’ve never classified this conclusion as causal just because a recent study has provided additional support. After all, isn’t that what studies typically do? There’s a hypothesis out there about a relationship between A & B; scientists perform studies to independently verify the results. If they find a statistically significant correlation, that serves as ADDITIONAL SUPPORT for the hypothesis but by no means does that imply A causes B or vice versa. I realize causation on the lsat is different from causation in real life - it’s much more limiting on the lsat because the author is assuming there is only one cause for a stated effect. Given that nuisance, I find myself even LESS likely to see causation in arguments when it’s not explicitly stated.

My question is: in the absence of clear causal indicators, when is it safe to think causation is present in the argument?

Here’s another example from the blog:
Pump3D is a nutritional supplement that can greatly reduce athletes’ fatigue after anaerobic exercise. This was shown by a study investigating the relationship between fatigue and high doses of guarana extract—the main ingredient in Pump3D—which showed that people who regularly take guarana extract supplements have a significantly lower level of fatigue after anaerobic exercise than people who do not take the supplement.
I read this as:
- A study shows people who take A have a significantly lower level of B (a negative correlation between A & B)
- This drug contains A & therefore CAN lead to a significantly lower level of B (because of the correlation, not because of causation)

If the blog had not told me the conclusion was based on an underlying causal assumption, I never would’ve gotten there on my own. This is a problem for me because oftentimes on the lsat, I’m hesitant to pick an answer that implies an error relating to causation unless the stimulus contains the word “cause” or “effect”. Even some of the “causal indicators” give me pause under timed conditions: “because of”, “played a role in”, “was a factor in”, to name a few ( ... erpt_2.pdf). I’m not questioning whether these are actually causal indicators, I’m just having a hard time identifying them as such when I read the stimulus.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’m starting to realize that causation occurs on the lsat a lot more than I thought & I have no idea how to recognize when it’s there. I’d appreciate your insight on this. Thanks in advance.
 Adam Tyson
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I'm with you, Lily - the bit about the study confirming the results is NOT a causal conclusion. The study isn't causing anything - it's just confirming an earlier causal claim. But the underlying claim IS causal, and the key is the use of the active language in the form of "improve." If one thing "improves" another, then it is having an effect - it is causing an improvement.

The same kind of language exists in your second example, where the author talks about one thing "reducing" another - that's clear, active, causal language. It's not the presence or absence of a study or other support that makes the argument causal, but that active relationship between one phenomenon and another.

A typical causal argument describes a correlation (two things happen together) and posits a causal relationship (one of the things causes the other). These studies do that by showing that something was correlated in the study, which the author concludes supports a causal relationship, when it fact it still may not be. When I see arguments like these, I expect to be asked to weaken them by attacking the data (the study isn't valid for some reason), or to identify a flaw (probably pointing out some potential problem with the study), or maybe to strengthen them (by supporting the validity of the study, perhaps showing that a proper control group was used).

In short, causal arguments are present when you see an active relationship between two things, rather than a passive one (which is more typical of conditional reasoning). Studies aren't causal, but they are often used as evidence to support a causal relationship. When that happens, be skeptical of the validity of the study!

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