RC Practice with Explanation

Tips on how to approach CAT Reading Comprehension passages
  • Don’t get into the minor details of the passage; just focus on what each paragraph has to say
  • As you read, create a map of the passage; you must remember what thing is located where in the passage
  • Once you read the question, come back to the part of the passage that is likely to have the answer
  • Compare the options and eliminate the incorrect choices based on the evidence that you see in the passage
  • Choose the answer once you are convinced of the right choice


…Those amused by all the evidence of gullibility should remember the Cardiff Giant. In 1868, in upstate New York, what seemed to be the remnants of a gigantic human being were unearthed. Thousands came to see it at a dollar a view. The director of the New York State Museum called it “the most remarkable object yet brought to light in this country.” The first human had been found and was American. The Giant was in fact a badly made gypsum statue, aged with ink, sand, and acid.

Britain has just completed a Research Assessment Exercise in which ten thousand scientists were graded by their supposed peers. A low score means no more money, a high one an extra slice of cake. Its results were predictable. Those who have get more; those who have not get nothing. Expect a wave of fraud inquiries the next time the government inspectors come round. The deceits will be less fun to unravel than was Piltdown since those who commit them are making pathetic efforts to save a career rather than grandiose attempts at fame. There is, certainly, some dishonesty. Perhaps there is more than there was. It can be blamed on the intrusion into the laboratory of the moral of the marketplace.

What to accept about the past is, too often, a matter of the spirit of the time. The first human fossil, Neanderthal Man, was, in 1856, dismissed as the remains of a soldier who had crept into a cave and died during Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. A society later entranced by evolution was not yet ready to believe even genuine evidence. As soon as it was, though, the bones brought a political message.

The delighted Germans upon whose territory Neanderthal Man was found ascribed his prominent brow ridges to a habit of frowning while deep in Teutonic thought. Science is the easiest place for a villain to make a living. It is not at all like working in a bank: far from the meticulous process of cross–checking that is its public image, science is a profession that depends uniquely on faith. Nearly all results are accepted and the question of audit scarcely arises. Usually a fraud is safe enough. More than half of all scientific papers are never referred to again, even by their authors.

No doubt there lurk in that academic undergrowth great monsters of deceit. Most, though, have done no harm apart from unmerited tenure for their begetters. Why bother to transplant skin from a black to a white mouse when you can get the same effect with a felt-tip pen? Why not claim that intestinal worms cause cancer (a Nobel Prize was won for that) or that water retains a memory of the substances once dissolved in it even when diluted a billion billion times? Checking the scientific books is a task as joyless as accountancy. Nowadays, though, the clerks have taken over. There is a new demand for double–entry bookkeeping.

Some years ago the U.S. Congress set up the Office of Research Integrity to check a supposed crisis of scientific cheating. Its credentials were dubious, but the inquisitors entangled many scientists in a web of innuendo. More than a hundred fell into its clutches. Nearly all were found innocent but many had their careers damaged. Scientific fraud is quite extraordinarily rare. The reason is simple. Science is a card game against Nature, the ultimate opponent. The hope is to deduce the hand she holds from the few clues she is willing to disclose. It is possible to win every time by faking one’s own cards, but that removes the whole point of playing the game.

Question: Through his repeated references to banking and accountancy, the author of this passage demonstrates his belief that:
[A] scientists are becoming more like accountants.
[B] scientists are too eager for government grants.
[C] science thrives where there is mutual trust.
[D] science thrives with constant external scrutiny.
Option (C)

Why does the author bring up accounting and banking? To give examples of situations in which, due to constant oversight, fraud is rare. By contrast, the author says in 4, science depends on "faith." 2 provides an example of how an attempt to systematize science like accounting can backfire. Choice (C) most closely summarizes the overall range of references.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Distortion. Though the author mentions accounting and states in 4 that there have been attempts made to evaluate science in an accountant-like fashion, there’s no evidence that scientists are becoming more like accountants.

(B): Out of Scope. There’s no evidence from the passage that this is the case, and it has nothing to do with the accounting references.

(D): Opposite. The author uses s3 and 6 to provide examples of science not thriving under scrutiny.

Question: In the fifth paragraph. the author mentions the Nobel Prize—“Why not claim that intestinal worms cause cancer (a Nobel Prize was won for that),”—in order to elaborate his point that:
[A] some frauds succeed by their very audacity.
[B] the scientific élite is easily deceived.
[C] the Nobel Prize is awarded for reasons solely based upon scientific merit.
[D] the best scientists are often the most unethical.
Option (A)

Go back to the line reference, paying attention to your map summary also. The author is making the point that some frauds are successful precisely because of their size and audacity. (A) most closely matches this.

Wrong Answers:

(B): Distortion. Though the author argues that some deceptions have been too easily accepted, this doesn’t mean that the scientific elite as a whole is easily deceived.

(C): Opposite. The author is making the point that at least in this case, the Nobel Prize was awarded even when there wasn’t scientific merit.

(D): Distortion. Though the biggest frauds may be the most unethical, they’re certainly not perpetrated by the best scientists.

Question: In the discussion of the Cardiff Giant, why does the author describe the it as an American?
[A] To deride the thousands of Americans who paid to see it
[B] To show how Americans of 1868, as opposed to Europeans of 1856, were eager to embrace the theory of evolution
[C] To imply that the director of the New York State Museum was in on the hoax
[D] To illustrate the patriotic pride of nineteenth–century Americans
Option (D)

Why did the American provenance of the Cardiff giant have any relevance? The author suggests that people were proud that the first man happened to be an American. (D) states the same.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Distortion. The word "deride" is extreme—the author at most lightly criticizes the "gullibility" of those who paid to see the Cardiff Giant.

(B): Out of Scope. Though the author makes a point about evolution in 3, it’s not made specifically in relation to Americans or to the Cardiff Giant.

(C): Out of Scope. The author never suggests this.

Question: Several years ago two professors from Utah claimed to have fused atomic nuclei in a test–tube. They received worldwide attention for a few weeks. According to the author, all of the following may have motivated their “cold fusion” lie EXCEPT:
[A] their need for grant money
[B] their contempt for oversight bureaucracies
[C] their desire for international recognition
[D] their attempt to protect their job security
Option (B)

The question provides an example of scientific fraud and asks what could have motivated it. This is essentially a scattered-detail question in disguise: eliminate answer choices that the author cites as causes for scientific fraud. Only (B) is excluded: the author never cites contempt for oversight committees in the passage.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Opposite. The author raises this possibility in the last paragraph.

(C): Opposite. This would be consistent with the Nobel Prize-winning motives of 2.

(D): Opposite. The author argues in 2 that scientists may engage in fraud to protect their career.

Question: In the context of the passage as put forth by the author, what effect did the “spirit of the time” (line 24) have on scientists and on people interested in science?
[A] It inclined the scientists toward fraud and made the public more susceptible to such fraud.
[B] It limited their curiosity about matters of science.
[C] It encouraged scientists to seek fame and the public to admire scientists.
[D] It inclined them to force scientific evidence into the context of their own national histories.
Option (D)

Review the lines with an eye to your map. The author makes the point that people were more willing to believe the Neanderthal discovery when it fit in with social trends (3). (D) comes close to this, and fits well with the example of Germans who considered one feature of the Neanderthal to be evidence of their own perceived national history (4).

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. There’s no evidence from the passage that this was the case.

(B): Out of Scope. Another choice not supported by the paragraph or the passage.

(C): Out of Scope. Though scientists may seek fame, the author doesn’t suggest that they specifically seek it out because of the national consciousness of any given time.

Question: Within the context of the passage, what can be inferred about scientists from the author’s card game analogy?
[A] That research scientists tend to be very competitive with one other
[B] That research scientists face great temptations to cheat when compiling data
[C] That research scientists believe that they are probing the secrets of nature
[D] That most research scientists “fake their cards,” perpetuating their continued recognition
Option (C)

Review the analogy in the last paragraph in context and paraphrase its meaning: science is an attempt to discover the laws of nature, and faking science defeats the purpose of discovery. A prediction along these lines should lead you immediately to (C).

Wrong Answers:

(A): Distortion. The analogy of the game isn’t intended to suggest that competition exists. The “game” is between scientists and nature, not between scientists themselves.

(B): Out of Scope. While scientists may be tempted to cheat, the author isn’t pointing this out through the card game analogy.

(D): Opposite. The author argues explicitly that fraud is "quite extraordinarily rare," contradicting this choice.

Question: Which of the following statements is best inferred from the author’s observation that one should “expect a wave of fraud inquiries the next time the government inspectors come round” (lines 15-16)?
[A] Government inspectors tend to be like inquisitors and entangle scientists in a web of suspicion.
[B] A new oversight policy is likely to reduce the amount of scientific fraud in Britain.
[C] Scientists who receive low scores in the Research Assessment Exercise are no less competent than those who receive high scores.
[D] Scientists who receive low scores in the Research Assessment Exercise are under pressure to produce interesting research.
Option (D)

Why does the author think that one should expect a wave of fraud inquiries? Look at the context and the purpose of the paragraph. The author argues that the pressure to produce research in order to get grant money will foster an atmosphere that encourages cheating. (D) summarizes this.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Distortion. This is a distortion of the point made in 6 that a specific organization did this at a specific time.

(B): Opposite. The author is arguing that fraud will increase under the British system.

(C): Out of Scope. Though the author might not like the British method, there’s no evidence that he thinks scientists are of equal caliber regardless of their score.

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