The “Some People Say” Principle

I teach my students to “find the conclusion” as their top priority in answering any LSAT logical reasoning question. That means sifting through the “evidence” in a stimulus to find the main point of the paragraph. In doing so, they often run across sentences that are neither evidence nor the conclusion.  One recurring pattern is a sentence near the start of the stimulus that presents some other person’s position on the topic at hand. I call these the “some people say” statements. Here is an example:

It is now a common complaint that the electronic media have corroded the intellectual skills required and fostered by the literary media. But several centuries ago the complaint was that certain intellectual skills, such as the powerful memory and extemporaneous eloquence that were intrinsic to oral culture, were being destroyed by the spread of literacy. So, what awaits us is probably a mere alteration of the human mind rather than its devolution. [June 2007 PrepTest, Section II, Question 11, emphasis supplied.]

The “common complaint” in this stimulus is not the author’s own view, so it isn’t the conclusion.  It’s more like the opposite. After reviewing many LSAT questions, I have found that the actual conclusion of the paragraph usually rejects or revises what “some people say.” In fact, the fastest way  to find the conclusion may to underline what “some people say” and then negate it.

Let’s test this with all the “some people say” questions on the only publicly available LSAT test (June 2007), beginning with Section II, Question 11 which I quoted above.

Some people say: “electronic media have corroded the intellectual skills required and fostered by the literary media.”

Negation: electronic media have not corroded these intellectual skills.

Conclusion: “what awaits us is probably a mere alteration of the human mind rather than its devolution.”

Section II, Question 16 is a “point of disagreement” question. Taylor, the first speaker, quotes “researchers at a local university.”

Researchers at a university say: “61 percent of information is communicated through nonverbal signals.”

Negation: It is not true that 61 percent of information is communicated through nonverbal signals.

Conclusion: “This claim, like all such mathematically precise claims, is suspect.”

Section II, Question 17 quotes “several computer experts,” but their words are used to support the main argument. This is “evidence,” not what I call “some people say” statements.

Section II, Question 20:

Muñoz says: “the Southwest Hopeville Neighbors Association overwhelmingly opposes the new water system, citing this as evidence of citywide opposition.”

Negation: The SHNA does not overwhelmingly oppose the new system.

Conclusion: “One should not assume that so few votes represent the view of the majority of Hopeville’s residents.”

Section II, Question 21:

My friends say: “I will one day have an accident because I drive my sports car recklessly.”

Negation: I will not have an accident because I drive my sports car recklessly.

Conclusion: “trading my sports car in for a minivan would lower my risk of having an accident.”

Note: this is the only example in this PrepTest where the conclusion is not logically identical to the negation of what “some people say.”

Section III, Question 5:

An early entomologist says: “ants were bringing food to their neighbors.”

Negation: ants were not bringing food to their neighbors.

Conclusion: “the early entomologist was wrong.”

Section III, Question 9:

Recent claims: “the Tasmanian tiger is not extinct.”

Negation: the Tasmanian tiger is extinct.

Conclusion: “recent claims that the Tasmanian tiger is not extinct are false.”

Repeated conclusion: “the Tasmanian tiger no longer exists.”

Section III, Question 19 begins with “Many candidates say that if elected they will reduce governmental intrusion into voters’ lives.” This is a promise of future action, not a statement that can be negated. As a result, this is not an example of the “some people say” rule.

Section III, Question 24:

Romantics claim: “people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form.”

Negation: people are born evil or people are not made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form.

Conclusion: “Romantics who claim that people are not born evil but may be made evil by the imperfect institutions that they form cannot be right.”

Section III, Question 25:

Some anthropologists claim: “the human species could not have survived prehistoric times if the species had not evolved the ability to cope with diverse natural environments.”

Negation: the human species could have survived prehistoric times if the species had not evolved the ability to cope with diverse natural environments.

Conclusion: “the anthropologists’ claim is false.”

The bottom line: the vast majority of “some people say” statements point right towards the conclusion.  You need to exercise a little caution with this–the “some people say” phenomenon is not some rule of logic that is always necessarily true. Think of it as a principle, not a rule. But if finding the conclusion is still hard for you, the “some people say” principle may help you find it faster!

8 thoughts on “The “Some People Say” Principle”

  1. One exception, special case, or counterexample appears in PrepTest 77, Section II, Question 18. This stimulus begins with, “Those who claim that Shakespeare did not write the plays commonly attributed to him are motivated purely by snobbery.” The “claim” in this stimulus is not really what the argument is about. While it is true that the author probably disagrees with their claim, he or she is only expressly arguing that they are snobs.

  2. PrepTest 77, Section IV, Question 10 has a “cannot be true” question which begins with “some people argue.” There is no conclusion in a “cannot be true” question, so this is not an example of the “some people say” rule.

  3. PrepTest 77, Section IV, Question 20 begins with, “Selena claims to have psychic powers.” The “some people say” rule would lead one to look for a conclusion like, “Selena does not have psychic powers.” That is NOT what happens here. The actual conclusion is, “If Selena’s claim is true, then [psychic powers exist].” This is an unusual construction, which deserves more thorough analysis.

    Question 20 is a “sufficient assumption” question. When you plug in the correct answer, the argument goes like this:

    Premise: Selena claims to have psychic powers.
    Assumption: If it is possible to have psychic powers, then Selena has them.
    Conclusion: if we can determine whether Selena’s claim is true, we will determine whether psychic powers exist.

    The odd part about this argument is that the assumption (“if it is possible to have psychic powers, then Selena has them”) works as an “if and only if” relationship. The same is true for Selena’s claim. Selana has psychic powers if and only if her claim to have psychic powers is true. This means that we can write out the following “if and only if” syllogism:

    If and only if psychic powers exist, then Selena has them.
    If and only if Selena has psychic powers, then her claim is true.
    THEREFORE if and only if psychic powers exist, then Selena’s claim is true.

    This is the first “if and only if” syllogism I have ever seen on an LSAT PrepTest, so I don’t know whether to consider this an exception to the “some people say” rule or a special case.

  4. Runniggyrun, a mentor at 7Sage.com, pointed out a counterexample. He wrote:

    PT 68.S3Q5 “Some musicians claim they are robbed of royalties by music sharing sites”. If you just go ahead and blindly negate, you come to the conclusion that musicians are not robbed of royalties. However, the author goes ahead to concede that musicians are in fact robbed, and the actual conclusion in the argument is that “the sites are not to blame” (because other people shortchange musicians too). The “blame” appeared nowhere in the original statement by the musicians.

    I could quibble with Runniggyrun’s assessment. This is a “flaw” question, and the “some people say” claim is that the musicians are “robbed.” The author admits that they don’t get all the royalties they deserve, but seems to imply that they aren’t being robbed by the music-sharing companies. If the word “robbed” is intended to express a moral and/or legal wrong, then the word “blame” in the conclusion is, in fact, a negation of the original claim.

  5. PrepTest 63, Section I, Question 8 has an extreme case of “some people say.” I won’t quote the actual text, since it is copyrighted, but the logic of it is identical to this:

    Student complaint: Professor Smith was wrong to say that “climate science deniers” falsely claim that the earth has not gotten hotter over the last eighteen years. He claimed that surface temperature measurements show a steady increase in temperature over time. But satellite measurements, which are not subject to local “hot spots” and other instrumentation problems, do not show an increase in temperature.

    Question stem: what is the main point?

    (A) The increase in surface temperature measurements does not support the professor’s rejection of the “climate science deniers” claim.

    This question pushes the “some people say” principle to its limits… but it also shows the value of the principle. This is a case of “some people say that some (other) people say.” Despite the exponential complexity of the case, the right answer happens to be exactly what the “some people say” principle would indicate–the correct answer is, in effect, “What some people say that some (other) people say is wrong.”

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