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RC practice Passage with Explanation -36

No one is eager to touch off the kind of hysteria that preceded the government's decision to move against Alar, the growth regulator once used by apple growers. When celebrities like Meryl Streep spoke out against Alar and the press fanned public fears, some schools and parents rushed to pluck apples out of the mouths of children. Yet all this happened before scientists had reached any consensus about Alar's dangers.

Rhetoric about dioxin may push the same kind of emotional buttons. The chemical becomes relatively concentrated in fat—rich foods—including human breast milk. Scientists estimate that a substantial fraction of an individual's lifetime burden of dioxin—as much as 12%— is accumulated during the first year of life. Nonetheless, the benefits of breast—feeding infants, the EPA and most everyone else would agree, far outweigh the hazards. Now environmentalists say dioxin and scores of other chemicals pose a threat to human fertility—as scary an issue as any policymakers have faced.

But in the absence of conclusive evidence, what are policymakers to do? What measure can they take to handle a problem whose magnitude is unknown? Predictably, attempts to whipsaw public opinion have already begun. Corporate lobbyists urge that action be put on hold until science resolves the unanswered questions. Environmentalists argue that evidence for harm is too strong to permit delay. This issue is especially tough because the chemicals under scrutiny are found almost everywhere.

Since many of them contain chlorine or are by—products of processes involving chlorine compounds, the environmental group Greenpeace has demanded a ban on all industrial uses of chlorine. The proposal seems appealingly simple, but it would be economically wrenching for companies and consumers alike. With the escalating rhetoric, many professionals in the risk—assessment business are worried that once again emotion rather than common sense will drive the political process. "There is no free lunch, " observes Tammy Tengs, a public—health specialist at Duke University. "When someone spends money in one place, that money is not available to spend on other things. " She and her colleagues have calculated that tuberculosis treatment can extend a person's life by a year for less than $10,000—surely a reasonable price tag. By contrast, extending a life by a year through asbestos removal costs nearly $2 million, since relatively few people would die if the asbestos were left in place. That kind of benefit—risk analysis all too rarely informs the decisions made by government regulators.

As the EPA raises anew the dangers of dioxin, the agency needs to communicate its findings to the public in a calm and clear fashion. John Graham, director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, suggests that people should strive to keep the perils posed by dioxin in perspective and remember other threats that are more easily averted. "Phantom risks and real risks compete not only for our resources but also for our attention, " Graham observes. "It's a shame when a mother worries about toxic chemicals, and yet her kids are running around unvaccinated and without bicycle helmets. "


If it appeared in an article that the author read, he would most strongly agree with which of the following statements?

[A] Asbestos and radon have caused serious health problems in the past that many government officials chose to ignore.
[B] Dioxin is the foremost threat to human fertility and needs to be addressed in order to prevent serious health problems in the future.
[C] Environmental groups and corporate lobbyists often take polarized stances which eventually are modified by governmental agencies.
[D] Thorough research and investigation of environmental problems should be performed by the government before any unnecessary hysteria spreads throughout the public.
Option: 4

Predict by recalling the author's main points: fears about certain toxins are often overblown and should be tempered by common sense and science. (D) simply repeats this.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. There's no evidence from the passage that the government has ignored these problems. The author might also dispute the seriousness of these health problems, as it's argued in paragraph 4 that asbestos fears are exaggerated.

(B): Opposite. The author argues roughly the opposite: dioxin isn't the threat many make it out to be.

(C): Out of Scope. While this might be true, there's no evidence from the passage that the government modifies extreme environmental stances.


According to the passage, it is dangerous to react drastically to recently posed health hazards for all of the following reasons EXCEPT:

[A] proven precautions are overlooked.
[B] public fear leads to irrational action.
[C] insurance premiums will increase.
[D] economic burdens can occur.
Option: 3

Look for an answer choice that either contradicts something that the author says about reactions or simply isn't included in the passage. (C) fits the latter: the author never mentions the effect of drastic reactions on insurance premiums.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Opposite. This is the point made in the last paragraph: it's more effective to worry about safety methods that have been proven to improve safety.

(B): Opposite. This can be inferred from various statements in the passage: the author believes that drastic reactions generally represent irrational thought that can itself be dangerous if it leads to the neglect of proven safety measures.

(D): Opposite. The author makes this point in paragraph 4.


In the context of the passage, the author uses the term "whipsaw public opinion " (3rd paragraph) to refer to:

[A] changing the needs of the community.
[B] convincing citizens to accept a polarized viewpoint on health hazards.
[C] offering a variety of alternatives for health hazards.
[D] acting irrationally in response to government policy.
Option: 2

Refer back to the passage. Who wants to "whipsaw public opinion? " Both corporate lobbyists and environmental groups, each of represent extreme viewpoints. Each of these groups want to convince the public of their own view. (B) matches this.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. There's no discussion about changing the needs of the public, only the opinion.

(C): Opposite. Groups with an extreme viewpoint won't present a range of alternatives, as evidenced by the examples in paragraph 4.

(D): Distortion. Though the author might believe that extreme groups are acting irrationally, this isn't related to the attempt to change public opinion.


For which of the following reasons does the author cite the Alar incident in paragraph 1?

[A] To show the bureaucracy involved in changing a chemical plant's mode of operation
[B] To illustrate the problem in publicly announcing health hazards before conclusive scientific evidence has been formulated
[C] To show that drastic reaction is often the best way to solve a crisis
[D] To demonstrate that it takes a celebrity to effect public change
Option: 2

An evaluation question. Why does the author mention Alar? It's another example of a situation in which mass hysteria took hold before science was able to give a clear view of the risks of the toxin. (B) repeats this.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. The author doesn't discuss this.

(C): Opposite. The author believes that drastic reactions are a bad way to respond to public health crises, and that measured response is better.

(D): Opposite. The author is suggesting that the publicity that Alar generated wasn't necessarily warranted, and so the celebrity appearance would also be unwarranted.


Which of the following statements, if true, would most weaken the author's argument?

[A] The EPA carefully considered the research results of a highly—qualified team of scientists, economists, and public policy makers who researched the asbestos and Alar threats before any governmental action was performed.
[B] Large numbers of babies have been born with defects over the last 20 years when levels of Alar have been extremely high.
[C] Activist groups, such as Greenpeace, believe that the use of chemicals in our society has reached overwhelming proportions and needs to be regulated immediately.
[D] Corporate lobbyists consider economic factors that may make certain precautions economically unfeasible.
Option: 1

Look for something that counters the author's main point, which you should review briefly again before hitting the answers: health fears are often exaggerated and should be tempered by careful study. (A) is an example of a situation in which the sort of careful study that the author suggests took place, and its subject was a health crisis the author believes was overblown. If government action on asbestos and Alar took place only after careful study, the author's main examples in favor of her point would be worthless and the argument therefore would be weakened.

Wrong Answers:

(B): Out of Scope. The author argues that public fears about Alar outpaced science, but doesn't suggest that Alar was completely harmless. This choice would only weaken the author's argument if that contention had been made.

(C): Out of Scope. The author considers at least one view of Greenpeace extreme, and her argument thus wouldn't be affected by further opinions of the group absent any additional evidence.

(D): Out of Scope. As above, this is another example of an extreme viewpoint. Even if this is true, the author has acknowledged extreme viewpoints in the argument already.


All of the following are mentioned by the author in the passage in support of the main argument EXCEPT:

[A] the idea that people often overlook health threats for which we already possess remedies.
[B] biased groups will try to sway citizens into believing that their stance is the only correct way of handling health hazards.
[C] public reaction has lead to unnecessary actions that have wasted time and money.
[D] chemicals in food and homes have caused too many deaths in modern society.
Option: 4

A scattered detail question. Look for a choice that isn't stated or conflicts with the author's main ideas. (D) conflicts with the author's suggestion that fears about chemical toxins have been overblown, a point made most clearly in the last paragraph.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Opposite. The author quotes Graham, who makes this point in the last paragraph.

(B): Opposite. This point is made regarding lobbyists and environmental groups in paragraph 4.

(C): Opposite. The author mentions this most clearly when discussing asbestos in paragraph 4.

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