A Green Marshall Plan

Introduction

After World War II, the United States provided massive aid to rebuild the shattered economies of Europe. Most experts believe this “Marshall Plan” was an overwhelming success. Most Americans at the time believed that sending aid to Europe would provide more jobs for Americans in the long run.

World War II is long gone, but the world now faces another enemy–the specter of climate change. Whether you believe we only have 12 years to live or that “global warming” is just a Communist plot, nations and international alliances are under unprecedented pressure to respond to rising levels of CO2. Some Americans support a “Green New Deal” which would spend countless trillions to decarbonize just one economy–our own. Others oppose this, arguing that this “green new dream or whatever” might do more harm than good, especially to disadvantaged people around the world. Solar powered scooters in the US won’t prevent India and China from building new coal-fired plants, and won’t keep poor people in Haiti and Gambia from burning their last bush to cook their last meal.

We believe a Green Marshall Plan can solve more problems for less money than the Green New Deal. Read on to find out what it involves!

A Green Nuclear Deal

Step one towards a Green Marshall Plan is a “Green Nuclear Deal” here in America. This would be a grand compromise between left and right; between skeptical “climate deniers” who don’t think CO2 is a problem and skeptical environmentalists who don’t think nuclear power is the only solution. As we adults fight over our old partisan differences, our children live in fear of the future. It’s time for us to act like grown-ups and come up with solutions.

The broad outlines of a Green Nuclear Deal have been addressed elsewhere, but the essentials are that:

  1. New reactors (“Gen IV”) can be built which can’t melt down; they also consume nuclear waste.
  2. No matter how inherently safe a reactor may be, it must be protected from terrorists, tsunamis, tornados, and other foreseeable threats. Every reactor needs to be adequately protected.
  3. Property values surrounding reactor sites must not suffer; neighbors deserve tax or other incentives to make up for the impact on their homes.
  4. More reactors produce more nuclear waste, but more reactors can pay for a National Greencycling Center that will initially store and ultimately transmute hazardous isotopes into safer forms of matter.

An International Carbon Tariff

Once the United States adopts the Green Nuclear Deal, it will be on its way to decarbonizing the economy. Some other nations are well ahead of the US; France has already converted the vast majority of its electrical grid to fully nuclear sources. Other nations are capable of decarbonizing but do not choose to do so. Still others lack the capital to invest in nuclear or renewable power.

The United States can impose a carbon tariff on goods produced by carbon-intensive means in countries that can afford to decarbonize but do not choose to do so. China and Russia both have large economies and nuclear capability, for example. A tariff on Chinese goods would generate a new stream of revenue that the United States can use to help the countries that can’t afford atomic power.

Safe Harbors

The United States State Department should lease cargo ships and equip them with small modular reactors that can operate on board ship. These “Greenpower” vessels should be anchored in “safe harbors” in the developing world where they can provide power to the mainland while staying safe from natural and man-made threats.

There are thousands of ports, bays, and natural harbors around the world that are sheltered enough to keep a ship safe during storm surges or other weather events. Not all of them can be protected from concerted terrorist attacks, such as happened to the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya. The State Department should consult with the national government of each host country to ensure that US forces will be allowed to protect the Greenpower ships if they are suddenly attacked, and that the ship will be free to leave the harbor if there are long-term threats.

Two of the many possible sites that could host a Greenpower vessel are (1) the mouth of the Gambia River, in West Africa and (2) Bahia Intera de Santo Tomas in Guatemala (near the border of Honduras and not far from Belize).

Trash to Treasure (and Dawsonite)

A Greenpower vessel in a safe harbor can provide plentiful, affordable energy for the citizens of the host nation, which should stimulate some economic growth without any other incentives. But the Green Marshall Plan funds can pay for a major Dawsonite plant at each host location. Dawsonite (chemical composition NaAlCO3(OH)2) may be the most cost effective way to remove CO2 from the environment. Using only seawater, aluminum scraps, and electricity, a Dawsonite plant can remove over 800 million tons of CO2 from the environment each year.

The Green Marshall Plan would pay to ship mixed recyclables to the developing nation, where nationals would sort the materials which would then be turned into steel, glass, plastic, etc. by means of the plentiful power from the reactor. Unusable aluminum would feed the Dawsonite plant, which would run at nights when power is not needed for other purposes.

States and countries with carbon offsets should pay handsomely for Dawsonite–which is good, because it has no known uses, at present. In time, scientists may discover a way to turn millions of tons of this inert material into something valuable.

Exit Strategy

Gen IV reactors may be dramatically safer than earlier models, but they still contain hazardous materials that could be used for dirty bombs or other evil purposes. The Green Marshall Plan includes a transition to an energy supply that cannot be misused. When and if fusion power becomes effective and affordable, the fission reactor shall be removed and replaced. The cost of decommissioning shall be recouped over time from the sale of power from the replacement plant.

Fusion power may not be available for some time, however, and national governments need to be able to say “no” to America, even when America comes bearing gifts. For this reason, every Green Marshall Plan agreement with a host nation shall include an optional plan to transition to some renewable power source (wind, solar, hydro, or biofuel power) under the exclusive control of the host nation or a corporation with a majority ownership of that nation’s citizens.

Incidental Advantages

The Greenpower ships in safe harbors don’t just provide opportunity for the poorest people on our planet. They bring down the unit cost of each new reactor and spread the burden of cleaning up nuclear waste. Each Greenpower reactor would need to generate enough revenue to pay the National Greencycling Center to warehouse and (ultimately) transmute any waste generated.

Americans after World War II believed that their economy would benefit if they helped Western Europe. Subsequent events have proved them right. Americas would probably benefit from global growth under a Green Marshall Plan, as well. People in Gambia save up their money to buy a machete to chop down firewood today; with a Greenpower vessel floating in Gambia Harbor, they might be buying iPhones or electric cars instead.

One final, sobering thought–the Green Marshall Plan would address the underlying issues that lead some to want a Wall with Mexico or a ban on travel from Muslim nations. Whether you think such notions are exactly right or a violation of human rights, you probably agree that they merely treat the symptoms of distress instead of curing the disease. Providing power to the people of Gambia (96% of whom are Muslim) would reduce the risk of a Gambian terrorist attack here in the US by giving Gambians something to live for. Providing power to Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize with a ship in Saint Thomas Bay would give the migrant caravans a better place to go.

Conclusion

The United States is the most generous nation in the history of this planet, and the richest. Some argue that our generosity has helped us prosper. It certainly did with the original Marshall Plan. The Green Marshall Plan draws on the best of American history, technology, and national spirit to lower CO2 and lift up hope around the world. Support the Green Marshall Plan today!

How Can I Support the #GreenNuclearDeal?

If you got here, you probably already believe that Gen IV nuclear reactors can’t melt down, consume nuclear waste, and emit zero CO2. Whether you think climate change will kill us all in 12 years or think the whole “global warming” thing is a Communist plot, you agree that a #GreenNuclearDeal is the common sense solution. So how can you help?

First, look at the following list and choose the category that best describes you. Click the hyperlink, read it carefully, and make the world a better place!

  1. Twitter user with less than 100 followers
  2. Twitter user in the developing world

Twitter User With Less Than 100 Followers

Every person on Twitter can make their voice count, no matter how few people follow them. That’s why hashtags were invented. When you post or retweet something with the #GreenNuclearDeal hashtag in it, you add to the measurable activity of that idea. Right now, #GreenNewDeal gets about one tweet per minute. #GreenNuclearDeal gets about one tweet every ten minutes. If you and nine other people keep pushing that hashtag, we can outperform the Green New Deal in activity. (We’ve already outperformed in in viability!)

Bonus–if you are one of the activists who keeps promoting the message, you won’t have less than 100 followers for long! So keep reading.

Twitter User in the Developing World

The “Green New Deal” spends up to $93T and does nothing that directly helps poor people around the world. By contrast, the #GreenNuclearDeal could include a “Green Marshall Plan” that puts Gen IV reactors on board ships and stations them in safe harbors in the developing world. The US can pay for this by imposing a “carbon tariff” on big economies that could decarbonize (but won’t) in order to help small economies that can’t decarbonize without some help.

A picture is worth a thousand words on Twitter. Send pictures that help people understand that the debate isn’t just whether to buy a pickup truck or a Tesla in prosperous America. It’s between chopping down the last tree in the last forest and having plentiful power, clean water, and a vibrant economy.

A Green Nuclear Deal

Introduction

A specter is haunting the planet–the specter of climate change. Millions of young people recently marched in the streets to demand immediate action to save the planet. Whether you agree that humanity has 12 years to prevent a climate catastrophe or believe that “global warming” is a communist plot that will plunge us into civil and/or global war, the fear is palpable. Humans need to figure out what we are going to do about CO2 emissions. The simplest and safest way to solve our problems is with a Green Nuclear Deal.

New Designs Solve Old Problems

Mark Schneider, a retired Navy nuclear technician, was the first to use the #GreenNuclearDeal hashtag. Schneider, who understands the latest technology, argues that new reactors solve the two biggest problems associated with nuclear power in the past. First, the new “Gen IV” reactors cannot melt down in the way older reactors could. Second, Gen IV reactors consume the reactor byproducts that were such a problem with older designs. Twentieth century nuclear waste can be radioactive for 100,000 years. Gen IV wastes are only reactive for about 300 years.

Americans who don’t know about the Gen IV breakthroughs are evenly balanced on the subject of nuclear power.

Gallup Poll March 27, 2019

Support for nuclear power is not a particularly partisan issue. While Republicans may be more eager for it, 42% of Democrats and Independents favor it. That is good news for a nation with divided government–Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives and Mitch McConnell’s Senate may be able to agree on a bipartisan plan that actually solves problems and saves money.

Outlines of a Green Nuclear Deal

I. The Green Guard

Gen IV reactors are dramatically safer than twentieth century models, but even a perfect reactor can be affected by outside events. Any nuclear installation needs to be protected from terrorists, tornadoes, tsunamis, and other foreseeable threats. That is why the first new installations on US soil should be on existing military bases. 

Step 1 of the Green Nuclear Deal is for the President of the United States, acting in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, to order every US military installation to develop a plan to acquire all electricity from an emissions-free source within a reasonable time. Depending on state and local laws, some bases may be able to install small modular reactors to achieve this goal.

These “Green Guard” reactors shall be used to power the base and provide free power for all residential consumers within a radius of 10 miles. Any excess electricity during peak demand hours shall be sold to electric utilities at a fair rate. During off-peak hours, these Green Guard reactors shall be used to run desalinization plants, carbon capture units, hydrogen electrolyzation plants, or other environmentally useful, energy-intensive projects.

Funding for the Green Guard may come either from an allocation of federal funds or by means of federally-guaranteed private sector financing. Personnel for the Guard shall be actively recruited, trained, and retained (nuclear power operators are in high demand now and will be in much higher demand). The President shall ensure that this project is headed by individuals with demonstrated success in projects requiring rapid expansion, as authorized by Executive Order 12344.

2. The Green Fleet

At the risk of offending members of the Army, which effectively “owns” the color green, the United States can and should build a new generation of nuclear-powered ocean-going vessels to “wage war” on CO2 emissions.

Title VIII of the Fiscal Year 1975 Defense Appropriation Authorization Bill requires, as a matter of policy, that new construction on “major combatant vessels for the strike force of the United States Navy” be nuclear-powered. This Title allows the President to request conventionally-powered ships instead of nuclear-powered ones.

Citing this authority, the President, acting as Commander-in-Chief, should immediately order the design of an ocean-going vessel capable of housing a small modular reactor and a sufficient contingent of Marines to protect that reactor from all enemies, foreign and domestic. These vessels should be designed for sufficient economies of scale to make them a cost-effective platform for portable power stations.

Carbon capture technology can now pull CO2 out of ionized seawater, which can then be used to create jet fuel for about $7/gallon. The President should instruct the Navy to design a new class of nuclear-powered tankers to support aircraft carriers. If the technology permits, these tankers should eventually supply all the fuel needed for conventional vessels, too.

The President shall also instruct the Secretary of the Navy to contract with civilian owners of container ships to lease such ships and configure them to carry a small modular reactor and housing for enough troops, specialists, and construction workers to implement the Green Marshall Plan, below.

3. The Green Marshall Plan

While the Navy is developing Green Fleet vessels and US military bases are using small modular reactors to safely provide power to consumers in the United States, the President shall order the State Department to consult with friendly, stable, developing nations to determine which, if any, are willing to harbor Green Fleet vessels carrying small modular reactors.

The Green Marshall Plan is intended to help friendly, stable, developing nations become more friendly to US interests, more stable politically, and more likely to develop their own industrial infrastructure. Power shall be sold to consumers at a fair market rate, in order to generate revenue for American citizens (see below) and to prevent disruption within the developing nation. The Green Marshall Plan is intended to retire aging and inefficient local power plants and to attract new development to sources of safe, clean, reliable power.

The Green Marshall Plan is primarily intended to wean developing nations off the “dirtiest” forms of energy, but is also intended to relieve the human suffering associated with lack of economic opportunity. Many Mexicans and Central Americans have left their homelands in order to seek a better life in the United States, whether they have entered the US legally or not. The President shall instruct the Secretary of State to give special consideration to undocumented Mexican and Central American nationals who voluntarily leave the US to work at a Green Marshall Plan site in their home country.

All Green Marshall Plan sites shall be designed to transition to fusion power when and if that technology becomes available. The intent of the plan is to hand over the assets to the developing nation as soon as the power source cannot be used to manufacture weapons, including dirty bombs. At that point, the original fission reactor shall be removed from the site, all nuclear wastes removed from the premises, and control of the operation shall be turned over to the citizens of that nation.

The Green Marshall Plan may be funded in part of whole by carbon tariffs imposed on goods imported from advanced economies that culpably neglect or refuse to address their own CO2 emissions, as determined by the President.

4. The National Greencycling Center

Nuclear waste consists of a relatively small amount of radioactive material mixed in with a vastly larger amount of harmless material. On a small scale, it is most economical to warehouse these contaminated materials. In theory, radioactive materials can be separated from inert isotopes similar to the way that rare earths are separated from the material around them. We can build a “disassembly line” that removes one element at a time from a stream of contaminated material.

The President shall order the Department of Energy to authorize the creation of several regional Nuclear Waste Transfer Stations around the country, each of which shall be designed to use pyrochemical methods for separating actinides and fission products from nonradioactive components. The hazardous materials shall be shipped to a Nation Greencycling Center; the inert materials shall remain at the transfer station, where they shall be monitored for safety on an ongoing basis.

The National Greencycling Center shall be designed to study and process concentrated nuclear wastes. Mass spectrometers are capable of separating materials into their separate isotopes, one atom at a time, but use a great deal of power in the process. The National Recycling Center shall be equipped with at least one small modular reactor for its own power needs, and as many breeder reactors as the Secretary of the Department of Energy may deem necessary to permit the study and processing of concentrated nuclear wastes.

5. Green Enterprise Zones

No matter how safe nuclear power may be, it may continue to affect the property values of the people who live near a reactor. Even if one believes that nuclear power is the only effective way to reduce CO2 emissions to net-zero or less, it seems unjust to force some people to bear an unfair share of the economic costs of that action.

There is no way to eliminate the psychological impact of a nuclear reactor in one’s neighborhood, but it is possible to axtually boost the property values around reactors. The President shall ask Congress to enact legislation creating “Green Enterprise Zones” within the “emergency planning zone” (“EPZ”) surrounding each new domestic nuclear reactor.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines a “plume exposure pathway” EPZ around each existing reactor site. For reactors now in service, this EPZ is a ten mile circle surrounding the reactor. (Next-generation reactors, including small modular reactors, may have a different size EPZ.)

The President shall ask Congress to draft and pass legislation that will create sufficient federal tax incentives to raise property values around each new reactor. The reactor shall provide free electric power to all residential consumers, free electric vehicle charging stations at all parking lots serving retail stores, and free or reduced-cost electricity to all industrial consumers within the EPZ.

In addition, every new civilian reactor shall be required to carry sufficient “Greensurance” to guarantee that in the event of an emergency, (1) every home and business within an EPZ shall be bought for three times its fair market value, (2) every person located within the EPZ at the time of the emergency shall receive free medical care for life, and (3) every radiation-related death (whether in the EPZ or beyond) shall be immediately compensated by $1M.

With these incentives in effect, industrial and commercial users should flock to these Green Enterprise Zones. Shoppers from miles around will drive to a store where they can recharge their electric vehicle for free. Energy-intensive industries should flock to free electricity and lower taxes. Rich people will be eager for the tax breaks, working class people will want the jobs. People who were raised with the specter of nuclear war and other disasters may never get over those fears, but they will be able to sell their real estate for a handsome profit. Meanwhile, people all over the world will be able to breathe easy, knowing that we are on track to lower CO2 levels instead of raise them.

6. Green Social Security

Depending on the success of the Green Defense Project and the Green Marshall Plan, Congress may choose to invest additional federal funds into nuclear energy and related infrastructure. It is impossible to project the total federal expenditure at this point, but it will be well below the $93 trillion that some claim the competing “Green New Deal” would cost. And unlike the Green New Deal, every dollar spent on the Green Nuclear Deal intended to be an asset that pays actual cash dividends to the American people who invest in it.

All federal funds invested in the Green Nuclear Deal are intended to serve as an investment in America’s future and the planet’s health and safety. The President shall order the Department of the Treasury to treat all federal expenses and resulting revenues as a “profit center,” and assign an equal share of the net profits, if any, to the Social Security account of every living, lawful resident of the United States plus all overseas military personnel. The Green Social Security account will ensure that these expenditures will return to the taxpayers with interest.

Unlike the “Social Security Trust Fund” concept of earlier generations (which was never more than an accounting device), the Green Social Security program will invest in physical assets that will generate actual profits for generations to come.

Without limiting the ultimate amount of investment that Congress may ultimately choose, the budget for the Green Nuclear Deal shall be set at $20,000 per US citizen, which is just over six trillion dollars. At a reasonable rate of return, this should pay $1,000 into every Social Security account every year. While this falls well short of Presidential Andrew Yang’s proposed $1,000/month “Freedom Dividend,” the “Green Social Security” account has the advantage of being fully funded and completely sustainable.

Steps Forward

National Energy Leadership Act (Senate Bill 903)

The National Energy Leadership Act, sponsored by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, has fourteen co-sponsors in the US Senate. Among other useful items, this bill invests in training for a new generation of nuclear engineers and power plant operators, which is essential for any serious transition to nuclear power.

Last year, Murkowski’s bill was cosponsored by seven Democrats (Booker of NJ, Durbin and Duckworth of IL, Bennet of CO, Coons of DE, Whitehouse of RI, Manchin of WV) and three Republicans (Risch and Crapo of ID, Moore of WV). The bill has been reintroduced this year, with five more Republican cosponsors: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Cory Gardner of Colorado. (One Democrat, Senator Durbin of Illinois, is no longer listed as a co-sponsor.)

With 15 Senators sponsoring a bill with such broad, bipartisan support, it should be able to get the 60 votes necessary to survive a filibuster. As of this writing, there is no companion bill in the House of Representatives.

2020 Presidential Primary

For the next 15 months, Democrats will be competing to demonstrate their courage, intelligence, and leadership. Climate change is at or near the top of every candidate’s priorities. With so many candidates competing for attention in such a crowded field, it makes sense to support a plan that appeals to 42% of Democrats who already favor nuclear power.

At present, Sen. Cory Booker of NJ is the only announced presidential candidate who is a co-sponsor of NELA (see above), but Michael Bennet of Colorado may yet enter the race. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been reported to support nuclear power, but has not yet indicated her support for NELA. Andrew Yang openly supports nuclear power.

2021 and Beyond

Nobody knows who will control the House, Senate, or White House in 2021. If the Green Nuclear Deal becomes a grass-roots, bipartisan effort, it won’t matter. Cheap, clean, plentiful power is a win-win approach. Let’s start winning now!

Action Plan

Ordinary Americans have their greatest impact on their government during a truly contested primary. There has never been a better time to get involved. Here’s how you can make a difference, in baby steps:

  1. Read this article. (Comment to make it even better!)
  2. Search for and “Like” a tweet with the #GreenNuclearDeal hashtag.
  3. “Retweet” a #GreenNuclearDeal tweet.
  4. Write your own #GreenNuclearDeal tweet.
  5. Recruit a friend and ask him or her to repeat steps 1-5.
  6. Contact your two US Senators and ask them to co-sponsor NELA.
  7. Contact the Democratic presidential candidate of your choice and ask him or her to support the #GreenNuclearDeal.

Conclusion

With an investment of approximately six trillion dollars ($20,000 per citizen), the United States can insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. We can build a system that powers our future and pays real cash dividends to every citizen. We can banish the fears that keep our children awake at night.

Let’s do it!

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Fun, Free, Easy, Efficient Logic Game Study Method

I love teaching logic games, but I don’t get to do it anywhere near as much as I would like. That is because J.Y. Ping has created one of the Seven Wonders of the Internet and put it up at 7Sage.com for FREE. With FREE video explanations of every LSAT logic game ever published, I limit myself to teaching my students the basics and then show them how to learn the most from the best… for free.

Here’s what you need to transform your logic games:

  • Approximately one hour of relatively-light concentration several times per week (perfect for full-time employees who have to squeeze in their studies after a hard day of demanding work)
  • A reliable notebook (and a demonstrated willingness to use it)
  • The ability to do some very simple logic games from start to finish
  • The conviction that there is a fast way to reliably get the right answer on most types of logic game questions
  • A stopwatch (or equivalent app)
  • At least a month before your test date
  • blank flashcards (optional)

The goal of this fun, free, easy, efficient study method is to transform your logic game experience. I want you to discover that you can do a simple logic game much faster than you imagine. Most of my students see their “easy” game times cut in half, and the skills you will gain as you achieve this goal are perfectly applicable to the harder games. 

So let’s do it! Here’s the method:

  1. Pick an “easy” logic game (that you own) from this list at 7Sage.com. Make at least three copies of it.
  2. Do the game and time yourself. (Let’s say you complete it in 9:37).
  3. Go watch the video explanation of that game at 7Sage.com. Pause the video often and write down everything J.Y. Ping does that you didn’t do.
  4. Study your notes. What did J.Y. do that you didn’t think of? Try to generalize from this incident. For example, “When the same entity appears in two rules, always check to see whether you can link them together.”
  5. If you use flashcards, you either have a card that addresses this situation or you don’t. If you have an appropriate card (i.e., “link duplicated entities”), then put a hash mark on it to indicate that you missed an opportunity to use it. If you don’t have a card that covers this situation yet, create one.
  6. Do the game again, use your stopwatch to time every step. How long does it take to draw your initial sketch? Code the rules? Make your initial deductions? Do each question?
  7. Study those times. Did J.Y. do any of those steps significantly faster than you did? Go back to your notes (or the video) to see exactly what he did that was different from your approach. Make plans to do that particular step or question the fast way on your next (and final) attempt.
  8. Do the game one last time and get a final time (let’s say, 6:02). The difference between your initial and final times is a measure of what you could do if you had made every right choice at every step of the game.
  9. Pick a new game at the same difficulty level and repeat the process until the difference between your start and finish times is under one minute.
  10. Pick a new game at the next difficulty level and repeat the process until test day!

The secret of this study method is that there really are not all that many tricks to the “easy” games. If you will take notes, create flashcards, and learn as much as possible from each game, your initial times will get significantly faster. That’s because you will be making the right choice the first time you do the game (because you learned how!) instead of after you see J.Y. do it.

I urge students to work on “easy” games until the difference between their initial and final times is under one minute. At that point, you should be making (almost) all the right choices the first time you see the game. Most of these right choices will apply to games at the next level of difficulty, so bump your game difficulty up a level and continue!

Inference Questions: Wrong Answer Types

There are several different kinds of “inference questions” on the LSAT. Some are perfect examples of pure conditional reasoning, such as the “must be true” and “must be false” questions in logical reasoning and logic games. Others are “softer” inferences, such as the “most strongly supported” –questions in logical reasoning and the “author is most likely to agree” type statements in reading comprehension. There are important similarities between these different questions, and even more important similarities between the wrong answers to these questions.

In this post, we will look reading comprehension inference questions. These are functionally identical to the “most strongly supported” logical reasoning questions, with the added challenge of searching sixty lines of reading comp to find the answer instead of the typical six-to-twelve line logical reasoning stimulus. All that text means that a clever and imaginative student can conjure up some reason a wrong answer might be right. (I’ve seen it done… and I’ve even done it myself!) That is a problem for LSAT takers and for the people who write it. The LSAT authors always include the word “most” in phrases like “which of the following is most strongly supported” to respond to students who call up to complain that some other answer is arguably correct, but they don’t want to have that conversation. They want each wrong answer to be provably wrong–and there are only so many ways to do that. Learn that handful of “wrong answer techniques,” and you will get faster and better at inference questions.

Quantities and Comparisons

The easiest wrong answer involves a “quantity” claim that is not supported by the text. The easiest way to generate such an answer is to take a sentence that is clearly stated in the text and then add one “quantity word” that isn’t in the text. Thus, if the passage says “ultraviolet light causes skin cancer” don’t be surprised if you see a wrong answer that claims that “ultraviolet light is the primary cause of skin cancer.”

“Comparison words” are common in wrong answers, for several reasons. Consider an answer like “The diversity of plant species was greater in ancient forests than in modern forest.” For that to be the right answer, we will need information about the plant diversity in ancient forests, the plant diversity in modern forests, and some common unit of measurement that allows us to compare them. It isn’t enough to say “there were lots of plant species in ancient forests” and “modern forests have many different species.” That doesn’t tell us which has more. Comparison answers can be right, but only if there is clear and specific information to support it–and that is the exception, not the rule.

Sounds good but not supported

An answer is provably wrong if it includes an element that never appears in the passage. The LSAT authors must tempt test-takers to choose such an answer, so they often write an answer choice that appeals to the readers common sense or preconceptions. If your initial response to answer is “that is probably true,” be careful! The question before you is not “what is true” but “what is supported by the text.”

Using Aristotle’s Tools

Aristotle worked out almost all of the rules of categorical reasoning more than 2300 years ago, and logic students for the last two millenia have been learning how to apply them. Since the Law School Aptitude Test is primarily a test of logical reasoning, these rules may be able to help law students, too. This post is for students who know the basics of categorical reasoning and want to learn how to use Aristotle’s tools to do better on the LSAT.

There are four types  of categorical statements:

Universal Affirmative (“A”): All subjects are predicates
Universal Negative (“E”): No subjects are predicates
Particular Affirmative (“I”): Some subjects are predicates
Particular Negative (“O”): Some subjects are not predicates

These four types of statements “distribute” their terms in different ways. A term is “distributed” if the categorical statement tells you something about every member of that category. Here is how the terms are distributed in the four types of statements:

A (“All subjects are predicates”): subject is distributed, predicate is not
E (“No subjects are predicates”): subject is distributed, predicate is distributed
I (“Some subjects are predicates”): subject is not distributed, predicate is not distributed
O (“Some subjects are not predicates”): subject is not distributed, predicate is distributed. (This last category is much less intuitive than the other three! If you say, “Some presidents are not Caucasian,” then you may assert that every Caucasian is not that president–i.e., not Barack Obama.)

There is a standard form for categorical syllogisms:

Major premise: Major term and Middle term
Minor premise: Minor term and Middle term
Conclusion: Minor term (subject) and Major term (predicate)

There are several rules for categorical statements:

  1. There must be exactly three terms, each of which is used in the same sense.
  2. The middle term must be distributed in at least one premise.
  3. If a term is distributed in the conclusion, it must be distributed in at least one premise.
  4. No argument may have two negative premises.
  5. If an argument has a negative premise, it must have a negative conclusion.
  6. If an argument has two universal premises, it cannot have a particular conclusion.

With these tools in hand, let us see how they work on some “sufficient assumption” questions. (All of the  following examples are from the June 2007 LSAT, which the LSAC has placed in the public domain.)

Section 2, Question 6

An undergraduate degree is necessary for appointment
to the executive board. Further, no one with a felony
conviction can be appointed to the board. Thus,
Murray, an accountant with both a bachelor’s and a
master’s degree, cannot be accepted for the position of
Executive Administrator, since he has a felony
conviction.

The conclusion of this argument is “Murray… cannot be accepted for the position of Executive Administrator.” If we treat “Murray” as the “category of all Murrays” we can rewrite this as “No Murray is an Executive Administrator.” “Murray” is the subject of this conclusion (which makes “Murray” the “minor term”) and “Executive Administrator” is the predicate (which makes that the “major term”). We can sketch out the “standard form” categorical syllogism as follows:

Major premise: Executive Administrator AND Middle Term
Minor premise: Murray and Middle Term
Conclusion: No Murray is an Executive Administrator

Applying our rules to what we have so far, one of our premises must be positive and the other must be negative. The conclusion is an “E” type statement (“No S is P”), which means that both the major and minor terms are distributed in the conclusion. That means they must also be distributed in at least one premise. The middle term must also be distributed. Thus, every term must be distributed.

The only way to get that many distributed terms with one positive premise is to have one “A” type premise (“All S is P”) and one “E” type premise (“No S” is “P”).  That means we must either have an “All  Murray is (Middle term)” or “No Murray is (Middle term).”

Looking at the  stimulus, we see an “A” type statement about Murray. “Murray has a felony conviction.” Let’s plug that new information into our standard form, and make the other premise an “E” type statement that uses “felony conviction” as the middle term:

Major premise: No Executive Administrator has a felony conviction
Minor premise: (All) Murray has a felony conviction
Conclusion: No Murray is an Executive Administrator

Do we have an answer that says, “No Executive Administrator has a felony conviction”? Unfortunately, no. That doesn’t mean we’re wrong in our analysis–just that there’s more information in the stimulus.

The stimulus tells us that “no one with a felony conviction can be appointed to the executive board.” That gets us very close to the answer we need! Answer Choice B says, “Only candidates eligible for appointment to the executive board can be accepted for the position of Executive Administrator. When we combine that with “no one with a felony conviction can be appointed to the executive board,” we get “No Executive Administrator has a felony conviction.” Answer Choice B is the correct answer.

Section 2, Question 15

A new government policy has been developed to avoid
many serious cases of influenza. This goal will be
accomplished by the annual vaccination of high-risk
individuals: everyone 65 and older as well as anyone
with a chronic disease that might cause them to
experience complications from the influenza virus.
Each year’s vaccination will protect only against the
strain of the influenza virus deemed most likely to be
prevalent that year, so every year it will be necessary
for all high-risk individuals to receive a vaccine for a
different strain of the virus.

The conclusion here  is “every year it will be necessary for all high-risk individuals to receive a vaccine for a different strain of the virus.” That is an A-type statement, “All years’ vaccines are vaccines for a different strain of the virus,” which we can simplify to “All Years’ Vaccines are Different Vaccines.” Putting that in standard form:

Major premise: Different Vaccines AND Middle term
Minor premise: Year’s Vaccines AND Middle term
Conclusion: All Year’s Vaccines are Different Vaccines

The  conclusion is affirmative, which means we cannot have any negative premises. The minor term is distributed, which means we must have a premise which distributes that term. That can only be “All Years’ Vaccines are (Middle term).” The middle term is not distributed in that statement, but it must be distributed somewhere, and there is only one way to do that using an affirmative statement: “All (Middle term) Different Vaccines.” We can write out  our  standard form as:

Major premise: All Middle Term are Different Vaccines
Minor premise: All Year’s Vaccines are Middle Term
Conclusion: All Year’s Vaccines are Different Vaccines

Looking at our stimulus, we see that “each year’s vaccination will protect only against the strain of the influenza virus deemed most likely to be prevalent that year.” Let’s plug that in as our middle term.

Major premise: All vaccinations against the strain most likely to be prevalent are Different Vaccines
Minor premise: All Year’s Vaccines are vaccinations against the strain most likely to be prevalent
Conclusion: All Year’s Vaccines are Different Vaccines

Looking through the answers for “all vaccinations against the strain most likely to be prevalent are Different Vaccines,” we see “Each year the strain of influenza virus deemed most likely to be prevalent will be one that had not previously been deemed most likely to be prevalent.” That is the answer!

Section 2, Question 23

Philosopher: An action is morally right if it would be
reasonably expected to increase the aggregate
well-being of the people affected by it. An action
is morally wrong if and only if it would be
reasonably expected to reduce the aggregate wellbeing
of the people affected by it. Thus, actions
that would be reasonably expected to leave
unchanged the aggregate well-being of the people
affected by them are also right.

The conclusion is “actions that would be reasonably expected to leave unchanged the aggregate well-being of the people affected by then are (also) right,” which can be simplified as “All Actions that don’t affect aggregate well-being are Right actions.”

Major premise: Right actions and Middle term
Minor premise: Actions that don’t affect aggregate well-being and Middle term
Conclusion: All Actions that don’t affect aggregate well-being are Right actions

The conclusion is affirmative, and the minor term is distributed. There is only way to write an affirmative statement that distributes a term: “all actions that don’t affect aggregate well-being are Middle term.” That leaves the middle term undistributed, which means it must be distributed in the major term, which can only be  written one way: “All Middle term are right actions.” We can write out the standard form this way:

Major premise: All Middle term are right actions.
Minor premise: All actions that don’t affect aggregate well-being are Middle term.
Conclusion: All Actions that don’t affect aggregate well-being are Right actions

We have an affirmative conclusion, so we must have two affirmative premises. One statement in the stimulus says, “An action is morally wrong if and only if it would be reasonably expected to reduce the aggregate well-being of the people affected by it.” That is a double negative, of sorts–all actions that are NOT right actions are NOT actions that don’t affect aggregate well-being, and vice versa.

Aristotle’s rules aren’t getting us very far here. Let’s peek at some answer choices and see if any of them might line up with either our major premise or our minor premise. Answer choice C is the only one that fits the pattern at all. Let’s plug it in to our standard form:

Major premise: All actions that are not morally wrong are right actions.
Minor premise: All actions that don’t affect aggregate well-being are actions that are not morally wrong.
Conclusion: All Actions that don’t affect aggregate well-being are Right actions

Sure enough, that matches–the “if and only if” statement in the stimulus is logically equivalent to “all actions that don’t affect aggregate well-being are actions that are not morally wrong.”

Section 3, Question 5

Atrens: An early entomologist observed ants carrying
particles to neighboring ant colonies and inferred
that the ants were bringing food to their
neighbors. Further research, however, revealed
that the ants were emptying their own colony’s
dumping site. Thus, the early entomologist was
wrong.

The conclusion here is “the early entomologist was wrong,” but that needs to be unpacked a bit. The entomologist concluded that “ants were bringing food,” so the opposite of that is “ants were not bringing food.” We can make that a categorical statement by saying, “No particles that ants were carrying were food particles.” Putting that in standard form, we have:

Major premise: food particles and Middle Term
Minor premise: particles that ants were carrying and Middle Term
Conclusion: No  particles that ants were carrying were food particles

The conclusion is negative and distributes both terms. Since the middle term must also be distributed and we must have one and only one negative premise, we must distribute every term with one affirmative premise and one negative premise. The only way to do that is to have one A-type statement and one E-type statement.

There aren’t a lot of choices for a middle term–the only additional information in the stimulus is about a dumping site, and that information is affirmative and relates to the particles the ants were carrying. We can pencil that in as our middle term:

Major premise: no food particles are particles from the dumping site
Minor premise: all particles that ants were carrying were from the dumping site
Conclusion: No particles that ants were carrying were food particles

Answer choice C is a match for our major premise. QED!

Section 3, Question 24

Sociologist: Romantics who claim that people are not
born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect
institutions that they form cannot be right, for
they misunderstand the causal relationship
between people and their institutions. After all,
institutions are merely collections of people.

The sociologist concludes that romantics can’t be right when they claim that people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they  form. The logical opposite of “people may be made evil by institutions” would be “no people are made evil by institutions.” This can be put in standard form:

Major premise: beings made evil by institutions and middle term
Minor premise: people and middle term
Conclusion: No people are beings made evil by institutions

The passive “things made evil by institutions” is questionable. We don’t have to write our conclusion in the passive voice. We could say, instead, that “no institutions are things that make people evil,” in which case our standard form would be:

Major premise: things that make people evil and middle term
Minor premise: institutions and middle term
Conclusion: No institutions are things that make people evil

As we have seen twice before, the conclusion is a universal negative, which means that we must distribute the major term, minor term, and middle term using one affirmative premise and one negative premise. This requires one A-type statement and one E-type statement, with the middle term undistributed in the A-type. If our first formulation is correct, one statement must read either “All people are middle term” or “All beings made evil by institutions are middle term.” If our  second formulation is correct, one statement must read either “All institutions are middle term” or “All things that make people evil are middle term.”

The stimulus states that “institutions are merely collections of people.” If we zero in on that as our middle term, we get:

Major premise: No collections of people are things that make people evil
Minor premise: All institutions are collections of people
Conclusion: No institutions are things that make people evil

Answer choice E is broad enough to include our major premise. That answer says, “The whole does not determine the properties of the things that comprise it.” That is certainly consistent with “No collections of people are things that make people evil,” and none of the other answers are anywhere close. That makes answer choice E our best bet.

Conclusion

If you can do categorical syllogisms in your sleep, using Aristotle’s rules would appear to provide a fairly reliable way to analyze sufficient assumption questions. That doesn’t mean that this is faster or better than other techniques!

Playing with a Full Deck

Countless successful students prove that people can see significant and sustained improvement on the LSAT over time. That’s great for them, but how can you get such results? Here is how I use index cards and the “blind review” process to help my students get the score they want.

There are lots of LSAT prep materials (PowerScore, Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc.). which range from “brief but useless” to “overlong and overwhelming.” You can buy a 900 page book that is “guaranteed” to raise your score, but the book won’t actually help you until something in that book enables you to eliminate a wrong answer or choose a right answer. If you’re lucky, those 900 pages might contain thirty concrete and specific insights or techniques that consistently affect your score.

I never require my students to buy any specific prep materials. I want them to make the most of whatever they start with, whether they come to me with the LSAC “SuperPrep” or the entire PowerScore LSAT Bible Trilogy. Instead, I help them figure out generally-applicable techniques that enable them to eliminate a particular wrong answer or identify a particular right answer, and write it out on my tutoring whiteboard in a format that would fit on an index card. At the end of each session, I expect them to save those whiteboards and copy out any new cards and add them to their personal card deck.

Once you have some cards in your personal deck, I will ask you to do one logical reasoning section under time pressure. For students who are already scoring at or above the national average (152), that means under 35 minutes. I don’t put a specific time limit on students who are still scoring under 152, but I do have them time each individual question with a stopwatch.

Once you complete that logical reasoning section under time pressure, don’t score it! You have completed the “testing” phase of the process, but you haven’t even started the “learning” phase. The next step is to “blind review” each question, using your personal card deck. Let’s walk through that process, using Section 2 of the  June 2007 LSAT (which is the only test that the LSAC makes generally available).

Question 1: Which one of the following most accurately expresses
the main conclusion of the economist’s argument?

Process: Do I have an index card for this? No, I don’t, because I usually get main point questions right. Looking at my test paper, I see that I originally underlined the phrase “not all efforts to increase productivity are beneficial” because it looked like the conclusion to me. I know that the conclusion is the phrase that everything else in the paragraph supports, and that’s true here. The answer I chose was B, which says,”Some measures to increase productivity fail to be beneficial.” I’m pretty sure that “Not all are” is logically identical to “Some are not,” so I’ll stick with my original answer. Since I double-checked my reasoning, I’m going to take my ball-point pen and draw a blue circle around the black pencil circle I started with. 

Question 2: Which one of the following uses flawed reasoning that
most closely resembles the flawed reasoning used in
the argument above?

Process: Parallel flaw–let’s see, I do have an index card for this one.

Parallel flaw: read the stimulus and see if you can spot the flaw.
If you can see it now, you can do it now.
If you can’t see the flaw, this will take longer than any other question and you’re still likely to get it wrong. Save it for last!
If you still haven’t seen the flaw, read the answers CAREFULLY. One of them has the hint you need.

Well, that’s good–because I couldn’t see the flaw with the clock ticking and I still can’t see it. Let’s look at the answers for hints. Nothing in A… B is interesting. If I mix something extremely toxic (like arsenic) with something non-toxic (like water), I’ll bet it’s still extremely toxic, not “moderately toxic.” That’s sort of like the stimulus–breeding a dog that barks a lot with a dog that doesn’t bark won’t necessarily give you a moderate barker. Let’s circle B with the blue pen. Since this card seems to have actually helped me here, let’s put a little tick mark in the top right corner of the card. 

Question 3: Which one of the following most logically completes
the argument?

Process: This looks like some kind of inference. I have a card for that.

“CAN’T BE FALSE” FAMILY:
1. Pick an answer.
2. Could the opposite of that answer ever happen?
3. Reread the stimulus–if the answer you picked CAN’T BE FALSE, you’re right!
4. Avoid answers that COULD BE TRUE, answers which reference something you have no information about, and answers which are EXPLANATIONS of the stimulus rather than DEDUCTIONS from it.

I picked answer A, “people at a century’s end reminisce about their own lives.” Could that ever be false? Maybe. I mean, some people may look back on their own lives but others wouldn’t. A might be wrong. Let me look at the others. B looks wrong–no information about fearing. C talks about looking forward to the next century. That COULD be true, but it doesn’t have to be true. D talks about the history of the century just ending. Could that be false? People don’t care about the century just ending, but the stimulus says that people behave toward the century much as a person behaves towards his or her own life. If we look back at our lives at the end of a century, I guess people at the end of a century must look back on the century. OK, let’s circle D in blue, and add a tick mark to the card. (Hmmm– that’s the fifth tick mark on this card. I guess I should be thinking about this while the clock is running–I want to  get this question right the first time, not just on blind review!)

Question 5: The reasoning in the consumer’s argument is most
vulnerable to criticism on the grounds that the
argument…

Process: Flaw! OK, there’s a card for every different answer to a flaw question. Let’s look at these answers. A talks about  bias. I have a card on this.

Flaw: Bias.
This is a specific form of the more general ad hominem fallacy, which attacks the person rather than the argument.
Bias may show that a witness is unreliable, but it does not prove that the witness is lying.
Any conclusion that says the opposite of what the biased witness says is flawed.

Let’s see–answer choice A starts with the phrase, “treats evidence that there is an apparent bias.” Yes, the stimulus does do that. It goes on “as evidence that the Connorly Report’s claims are false.  Yes, it does that, too. Looks like a perfect example of an ad hominem fallacy, which is what I though the first time. Keep the pencil circle around A–I’m so sure of this one that I’m not going to put a blue circle around it.

Question 6: The argument’s conclusion follows logically if which
one of the following is assumed?

Process: I hate these! OK, I know it’s an assumption question of some kind, but what kind? I have a card here somewhere…

NECESSARY ASSUMPTIONS v SUFFICIENT ASSUMPTIONS
C->A                                                   A->C
Does the question include the word “if”? Probably “sufficient.”
Does the question include words like “rely,” “depends”? Necessary.

OK, it does say “if” in the question. “If I assume, the conclusion follows.” Looks like it’s a sufficient assumption. (Add a tick mark to this card.) Now, I know I have another card about that.

SUFFICIENT ASSUMPTIONS: POWERSCORE’S “MECHANISTIC APPROACH (TM)”
1. Find the conclusion. Look for a new term. It MUST BE in the correct answer.
2. Find any term that appears both in the conclusion and a premise. It should not be in the correct answer.
3. There should not be any brand new term in the correct answer–only something that has already appeared in at least one premise.

Right. So the conclusion here is “Murray cannot be accepted for the position of Executive Administrator. Good–Executive Administrator is a new term. Knock off all the answers that don’t include that term. Oh–that’s answer A, which is what I picked! Well, put a tick mark on this card–if I had remembered this I wouldn’t have chosen that. Moving on to step 2; “Murray” appears in the conclusion and the premises, so I guess I can knock out D and E. Rule 3 doesn’t help me choose between B and C, so I guess I’ve gone as far as the “Mechanistic Approach (TM)” will get me. Good thing I have another card here…

“CONCLUSION CAN’T BE FALSE” FAMILY
(MBT, MSS, MBF*, SA, PSA)
With MBT, MSS, MBF: the ANSWER can’t be false.
With SA, PSA: the CONCLUSION can’t be false if  you pick the right answer.

So–the conclusion here is still, “Murray cannot be accepted for the position of Executive Administrator.” With answer choice B, Murray can’t be on the executive board (because he  has a felony conviction), which means he can’t be Executive Administrator. That looks pretty good. With C, there’s nothing to keep Murray from being Executive Administrator. OK, C is out and B is in. Put a blue circle around B and add a tick mark to this card. (Hmm. That’s the first time this card has actually helped me!)

Questions 7-25… repeat this process until you finish the section.

When you (finally!) finish blind reviewing that last question, you’re ready to score the section. I encourage all my students to set up a free account at 7Sage.com (which may well be the single most fabulous LSAT resource on the Internet). 7Sage makes it easy to bubble in your blind review results–there’s a black bubble for your initial answer, and then, if you click on the question number, another line of blue bubbles pops up so that you can add your blind review result. When you save and score your answers, you’ll see your score for that section (and the test as a whole). In addition. 7Sage will sort the questions into “very low priority,” “low priority,” “high priority,” and “very high priority” questions.

The “very low priority” questions are those you got right the  first time. For self-study purposes, these “very low” questions are unimportant. Since you already got it right, there’s nothing new to learn!

The “low priority” questions, by contrast, are very important. You got this question wrong under time pressure, but got it right when you worked through it with your card deck. Go over these “low priority” questions and take another look at the card that helped you get it right. Ask yourself, “What could I do different next time so that I get this right while the clock is running?” You already know how to get this question right–now you need to get it right the first time.

The “high priority” questions are also very important. If you have a card for this situation, it isn’t helping you yet. If you don’t have a card that helps you here, it’s time to get one!  I ask my students to look over these high priority questions and flag the question on 7Sage if they can’t figure it out on their own. At our next tutoring session, we’ll use those flagged questions to figure out which generally-applicable insight or technique would help you get it right.

Over time, we will build up an index card deck that enables you to get a blind review score that is consistently ten or fifteen points higher than your target score. At that point, you’re officially “playing with a full deck.” Then you’ll keep doing practice tests, using those cards over and over again until they’re second nature to you. You won’t be shuffling through your card deck on test day–it will be second nature to you.

Can you see sustained and significant progress on the LSAT? Yes, you can!

What Am I Getting Myself Into?

Many LSAT courses claim that students can expect a ten-point gain if they attend the classes, read the book, and do the homework. That’s great for students who (only) want a ten-point gain, and who do well in classroom settings. I get the ones who want more than ten points, or need more than a lecture format. I get the gifted students and the ones with special needs.

Gaining ten points on the LSAT is good hard work, but it’s not that hard. It’s like running a five kilometer race (3.1 miles). Gaining twenty points on the LSAT is more like running a marathon.

Here’s what you need to go from couch potato to finishing a 5K race:

  • Commitment to the goal
  • A good pair of shoes and a water bottle
  • A realistic start–walk before you run!
  • Real rest between workouts
  • Feeling good about the progress you make each time you train

Here’s what you need to go from your first 5k to a marathon

  • 12-20 more weeks of training
  • Three to five solid workouts per week
  • One long run every week
  • Work up to running 50 miles each week
  • Hydration and nutrition
  • Intervals and speed training

I don’t promise that you can improve 20 points if you spend 20 weeks preparing for the LSAT, but I firmly believe that the average young healthy human can finish a marathon if they really want to, and the average intelligent college graduate can score above average on the LSAT if they work at it the way marathon runners do.

I can’t raise your LSAT score. Only you can do that; you do it by working and thinking. I can tell you how to work and how to think to raise you score more effectively.