Most diseases or conditions improve by themselves, are self—limiting, or even if fatal, seldom follow a strictly downward spiral. In each case, intervention can appear to be quite efficacious. This becomes all the more patent if you assume the point of view of a knowing practitioner of fraudulent medicine.

To take advantage of the natural ups and downs of any disease (as well as of any placebo effect), it's best to begin your treatment when the patient is getting worse. In this way, anything that happens can more easily be attributed to your wonderful and probably expensive intervention. If the patient improves, you take credit; if he remains stable, your treatment stopped his downward course. On the other hand, if the patient worsens, the dosage or intensity of the treatment was not great enough; if he dies, he delayed too long in coming to you.

In any case, the few instances in which your intervention is successful will likely be remembered (not so few, if the disease in question is self—limiting), while the vast majority of failures will be forgotten and buried. Chance provides more than enough variation to account for the sprinkling of successes that will occur with almost any treatment; indeed, it would be a miracle if there weren't any "miracle cures. "

Even in outlandish cases, it's often difficult to refute conclusively some proposed cure or procedure. Consider a diet doctor who directs his patients to consume two whole pizzas, four birch beers, and two pieces of cheesecake for every breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and an entire box of fig bars with a quart of milk for a bedtime snack, claiming that other people have lost six pounds a week on such a regimen. When several patients follow his instructions for three weeks, they find they've gained about seven pounds each. Have the doctor's claims been refuted?

Not necessarily, since he might respond that a whole host of auxiliary understandings weren't met: the pizzas had too much sauce, or the dieters slept sixteen hours a day, or the birch beer wasn't the right brand. Number and probability do, however, provide the basis for statistics, which, together with logic, constitutes the foundation of the scientific method, which will eventually sort matters out if anything can. However, just as the existence of pink does not undermine the distinction between red and white, and dawn doesn't indicate that day and night are really the same, this problematic fringe area doesn't negate the fundamental differences between science and its impostors.

The philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine ventures even further and maintains that experience never forces one to reject any particular belief. He views science as an integrated web of interconnecting hypotheses, procedures, and formalisms, and argues that any impact of the world on the web can be distributed in many different ways. If we're willing to make drastic enough changes in the rest of the web of our beliefs, the argument goes, we can hold to our belief in the efficacy of the above diet, or indeed in the validity of any pseudoscience.


The claim that "it would be a miracle if there weren't any ?miracle cures' " would be most weakened by evidence that showed that:

[A] some crackpot treatments have turned out to have authentic medical benefit.
[B] the possibility of improvement is nonexistent during the course of many illnesses.
[C] the number of fraudulent medical practitioners has dwindled considerably.
[D] some patients recover from illness without any sort of intervention at all.
Option: 2

Paraphrase the point behind the claim: health usually improves naturally, and so miracle cures almost have to work from time to time. (B) weakens the author's claim that most disease improve at times by themselves, and therefore is correct.

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. The author isn't concerned with treatments that truly work.

(C): Out of Scope. The number of frauds wouldn't have an effect on whether the occasional blind squirrel can find the nut.

(D): Opposite. This would strengthen the author's argument that most quack cures are superfluous.


In the context of the passage, its discussion of various medical conditions, and the particulars of those conditions, the term self—limiting refers to medical conditions that:

[A] run a definite course that does not result in the patient's death.
[B] impair the patient's ability to engage in everyday activities.
[C] have a very high rate of mortality.
[D] never shows improvement.
Option: 1

Research the text in the passage. The author uses the term to discuss diseases that more or less keep themselves in check. (A) matches perfectly.

Wrong answers:

(B): Distortion. This answer choice simply misinterprets what the "self " is (it is the disease, not the patient).

(C): Opposite. If the disease ends with the patient's death, it's not doing much self—limiting!

(D): Distortion. If the disease is self—limiting, the author says, any treatment will likely seem to be successful, which means that there must be natural improvement.


Suppose that in order to demonstrate the legitimacy of his work, a faith healer compiles a book of interviews of people who swear that he has cured them just by blessing them. The author would most likely respond by asserting that:

[A] eyewitness testimony of emotional events tends to be unreliable.
[B] the interviewees would have gotten better without the healer's intervention.
[C] the ability to cure people does not justify shameless self—promotion.
[D] the interviewees have been deluded into thinking that they have improved when they have not.
Option: 2

This question is simply asking how the author would respond to a medical charlatan, which is essentially the scope of the passage's first half. Some pseudoscience works because the body naturally improves. Look for the predictable answer choice: the "cure " didn't do the trick, the body's natural tendency to heal itself did so. (B) jumps out with this prediction in mind.

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. The author never discusses this issue.

(C): Opposite. The author would never agree in the first place that the healer had the ability to cure people.

(D): Opposite. The author's big point is that people usually heal on their own.


According to the passage, which of the following is most likely to be the best way to determine whether a practitioner's intervention is worthwhile or not?

[A] Keep a record of the time it takes for a patient to respond to the practitioner's treatment
[B] Keep a record of the number of patients the practitioner has treated successfully
[C] Keep a record of the dosage that the practitioner employs in his treatment
[D] Keep a record of both the successes and failures of the practitioner
Option: 4

What does the author say is needed to evaluate scientific claims? "Statistics...with logic. " Combine this with the author's argument that people usually only remember successes to zero in on the answer. (D) catches it all.

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. Measuring time of response does nothing to distinguish between treatments that work and those that don't.

(B): Distortion. The author argues that people only remember the successes. Therefore, the failures must be recorded as well for accuracy.(C): Out of Scope. Dosages have no necessary link to success, particularly if the success has nothing to do with the treatment!


Based on the information in the passage, which of the following opinions could most reasonably be ascribed to the author?

[A] Too often nothing truly effective can be done to ameliorate the illness of a patient.
[B] There is no way that pseudoscience will ever be eliminated.
[C] Beliefs can be maintained even in the absence of strong supporting evidence.
[D] Experience never forces one to reject any particular belief.
Option: 3

An inference question: jump to the answer choices. While each of the wrong answer choices can be knocked out quickly as not necessarily following from what the author is arguing, (C) is essentially a paraphrase of the argument made in paragraph 5.

Wrong answers:

(A): Distortion. Though quackery might not be effective, that doesn't mean that as a general rule nothing can be done.

(B): Distortion. While Quine argues this in paragraph 6, it's not the view of the author. Note that at the beginning of 6 the author points out that Quine goes "even farther " than he.

(D): Distortion. Quine again. It's crucial to distinguish between what Quine believes and what the author does.

Strategy point: Always be sure to distinguish the author's own opinion from opinions of other people to whom the author refers.


Doctors and scientists continue to debate whether certain types of alternative medicine are scientific or pseudoscientific. How is this information relevant to the passage?

[A] It weakens the claim that one can hold on to whatever pet theory one fancies.
[B] It weakens the claim that the scientific method is useful in sorting science from pseudoscience.
[C] It strengthens the claim that there is a fundamental difference between medicine and science.
[D] It strengthens the claim that science and pseudoscience cannot always be distinguished.
Option: 4

A quick scan of the answer choices shows that this is a weaken/strengthen question. Where does the author talk about distinguishing between science and pseudoscience? Target the final paragraph and summarize the argument: there is a difference, but it's sometimes tough to tell. A debate over whether a type of medicine is one or the other would support the idea that the line is fuzzy. (D) rewards the careful logic.

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. A weakener, for one, and without relevance to the question, to boot.

(B): Distortion. The author does believe that the scientific method is useful for distinguishing, but acknowledges that there's a fuzzy middle ground. An example of that middle ground will do nothing to weaken the author's argument.

(C): Out of Scope. The author never makes the claim that this supposedly strengthens.


The author of the passage would most likely inclined to agree with the individual who argues that W.V.O. Quine's philosophical views are:

[A] extreme, because some beliefs can be proven to be either true or false.
[B] insightful, because any set of beliefs has to be as valid as any other.
[C] flawed, because they do not explain why anyone would reject any belief.
[D] bankrupt, because they do not apply to any particular situation.
Option: 1

Go back to the passage to research the structure. In paragraph 5 the author makes a claim, and opens paragraph 6 by saying that Quine goes "even farther. " Therefore he is probably "extreme. " (A) matches, with the satisfying extra confirmation in the second half: the author does believe that some beliefs can be proven as scientific or not, while Quine doesn't.

Wrong answers:

(B): Opposite. The author would strongly disagree with the idea that all beliefs are equally valid.

(C): Out of Scope. While the author would consider Quine flawed, there's nothing in the passage dealing with the reason listed afterwards.

(D): Out of Scope. "Bankrupt " is far too extreme a word, and there's no reason to believe that Quine's views couldn't apply to a situation.

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