Argument Task 6: Arctic Deer or Correlation Isn’t Causation or Data Shouldn’t Be Construed as Evidence Like This Probably

Argument Topic 6



Arctic deer live on islands in Canada’s arctic regions. They search for food by moving over ice from island to island during the course of the year. Their habitat is limited to areas warm enough to sustain the plants on which they feed and cold enough, at least some of the year, for the ice to cover the sea separating the islands, allowing the deer to travel over it. Unfortunately, according to reports from local hunters, the deer populations are declining. Since these reports coincide with recent global warming trends that have caused the sea ice to melt, we can conclude that the purported decline in deer populations is the result of the deer’s being unable to follow their age-old migration patterns across the frozen sea.


Write a response in which you discuss what specific evidence is needed to evaluate the argument and explain how the evidence would weaken or strengthen the argument.




It may be impossible to discover the root cause of the decline in artic deer populations in this scenario, and while the likelihood of its link to global warming seems high given the dramatic change in this species’ habitat as described in the prompt, this linkage cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, as the prompt states, the reports of declines in population merely coincide with global warming trends. Nevertheless global warming should not be taken lightly, and it has undoubtedly had some effect on the deer communities in arctic Canada.

I am not an expert in the field of ecology or mammalian biology, but there would appear to be at least some intermediate points of investigation that might reveal the true nature of the deer’s decline in population. First, we learn that the deer rely on very limited amount of vegetation for their sustenance—vegetation that is also sensitive to temperature. So, some evidence of this vegetation’s thriving or lack thereof might shed some light on the subject. If the rising average temperatures in the deer’s habitat is too warm for the deer’s food to grow and thrive, those deer are going to be in trouble for lack of food. Granted, this contingency seems unlikely since, the prompt seems to suggest that these arctic vegetables grow well in the warm weather, but barring evidence to this effect, no firm conclusion is possible.

Likewise, the deer may be becoming stranded or otherwise isolated by the greater degree of ice-melt brought on by rising temperatures. It is possible, and here again the prompt seems to suggest that the deer may be unable to mate and reproduce on account of decreased mobility. Some evidence of the deer’s reproduction levels might be just the bit of data required to crack this case. The hunters, whose reports of lower deer populations represent the core recipients of human downstream consequences of the those fluctuating populations, could be tapped for reports or counts of deer offspring. And this might give some clue as to the fertility of the animals and shed a bit more light on the problem. But here again, even if a definitive change in deer fertility could be proved, this evidence would remain correlative, and the search ought to continue in order to flesh out this story with greater detail and more accurate and robust data.

All in all, there are any number of factors which might be leading to the reported decline in arctic deer populations. Indeed, even these reports ought to be corroborated by some evidence other than the reports of the hunters—not to call their judgement into question, simply to be as thorough and scientific as time and resources allow. Ultimately, I believe pinning a causal relationship on such a massive global phenomenon as climate change is foolish. Such a huge background effect is bound to have consequences across a broad swath of possible substrates for scientific evidence—the pH of the water in the ecosystem, changes in weather patterns, even the quality of the air, and the susceptibility of these islands landmasses to erosion. But all of these areas would be ripe for a search for evidence.


REFLECTION– went about a minute long on this one as I pieced the final paragraph together.  I felt like I may have been a little too snooty about the correlation is not causation thing.  But if I could be critical for a moment of the question prompt, it seems to be making conflating ecological data with the sort of evidence that you might find in a court case.  Science is never so pat– never so cut and dried– as evidence in a court of law purports to be.

Also, I deserve a pat on the back for sticking to doing 1 of these a day this week!  W00t!

Also, I tend to overuse commas. :\

It’s after midnight, which is affecting my ability to judge, but I’m not sure I answered the prompt in the way the test-makers wanted me to.  Is it wise to attempt to point out flaws in the construction of a test question in the context of answering it on a given test?  Write a response in which you discuss…