LSAT Reading : Inferences About Authorial Opinions and Beliefs in Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Science Passages

Adapted from Are the Planets Inhabited? by E. Walter Maunder (1913)

The first thought that men had concerning the heavenly bodies was an obvious one: they were lights. There was a greater light to rule the day, a lesser light to rule the night, and there were the stars also.

In those days there seemed an immense difference between the earth upon which men stood and the bright objects that shone down upon it from the heavens above. The earth seemed to be vast, dark, and motionless; the celestial lights seemed to be small, and moved and shone. The earth was then regarded as the fixed center of the universe, but the Copernican theory has since deprived it of this pride of place. Yet from another point of view, the new conception of its position involves a promotion, since the earth itself is now regarded as a heavenly body of the same order as some of those that shine down upon us. It is amongst them, and it too moves and shines—shines, as some of them do, by reflecting the light of the sun. Could we transport ourselves to a neighboring world, the earth would seem a star, not distinguishable in kind from the rest.

But as men realized this, they began to ask, “Since this world from a distant standpoint must appear as a star, would not a star, if we could get near enough to it, show itself also as a world? This world teems with life; above all, it is the home of human life. Men and women, gifted with feeling, intelligence, and character, look upward from its surface and watch the shining members of the heavenly host. Are none of these the home of beings gifted with like powers, who watch in their turn the movements of that shining point that is our world?”

This is the meaning of the controversy on the Plurality of Worlds which excited so much interest some sixty years ago, and has been with us more or less ever since. It is the desire to recognize the presence in the orbs around us of beings like ourselves, possessed of personality and intelligence, lodged in an organic body.

This is what is meant when we speak of a world being “inhabited.” It would not, for example, at all content us if we could ascertain that Jupiter was covered by a shoreless ocean, rich in every variety of fish, or that the hard rocks of the Moon were delicately veiled by lichens. Just as no richness of vegetation and no fullness and complexity of animal life would justify an explorer in describing some land that he had discovered as being “inhabited” if no men were there, so we cannot rightly speak of any other world as being “inhabited” if it is not the home of intelligent life. 

On the other hand, of necessity we are precluded from extending our inquiry to the case of disembodied intelligences, if such be conceived possible. All created existences must be conditioned, but if we have no knowledge of what those conditions may be, or means for attaining such knowledge, we cannot discuss them. Nothing can be affirmed, nothing denied, concerning the possibility of intelligences existing on the Moon or even in the Sun if we are unable to ascertain under what limitations those particular intelligences subsist.

The only beings, then, the presence of which would justify us in regarding another world as “inhabited” are such as would justify us in applying that term to a part of our own world. They must possess intelligence and consciousness on the one hand; on the other, they must likewise have corporeal form. True, the form might be imagined as different from that we possess, but, as with ourselves, the intelligent spirit must be lodged in and expressed by a living material body. Our inquiry is thus rendered a physical one; it is the necessities of the living body that must guide us in it; a world unsuited for living organisms is not, in the sense of this enquiry, a “habitable” world.

Which of the following statements does the passage most strongly suggest that the author would agree with?

Possible Answers:

Science could possibly discover the truth about anything that could possibly exist.

Every star is a world like our own.

The controversy of the plurality of worlds is settled.

The work of Copernicus was a necessary step for people to be able to think of other worlds as possibly inhabited.

There are some worlds that are home to beings without bodies, even though we cannot study these beings.

Correct answer:

The work of Copernicus was a necessary step for people to be able to think of other worlds as possibly inhabited.

Explanation:

The author implies that the Copernican revolution was a necessary first step to people thinking of the Earth as one celestial body among many ("the new [Copernican] conception of [the Earth's] position involves a promotion, since the earth itself is now regarded as a heavenly body of the same order as some of those that shine down upon us"), which was itself a necessary step for people to also think of other celestial bodies as possibly being inhabited. Thus, without the Copernican revolution, it would not have been possible to consider other worlds as potentially being inhabited if the author's assumptions are true.

Example Question #4 : Making Inferences About The Author Or Natural Science Passage Content

Adapted from "Recent Views as to Direct Action of Light on the Colors of Flowers and Fruits" in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The theory that the brilliant colors of flowers and fruits is due to the direct action of light has been supported by a recent writer by examples taken from the arctic instead of from the tropical flora. In the arctic regions, vegetation is excessively rapid during the short summer, and this is held to be due to the continuous action of light throughout the long summer days. “The further we advance towards the north, the more the leaves of plants increase in size as if to absorb a greater proportion of the solar rays. M. Grisebach says that during a journey in Norway he observed that the majority of deciduous trees had already, at the 60th degree of latitude, larger leaves than in Germany, while M. Ch. Martins has made a similar observation as regards the leguminous plants cultivated in Lapland.” The same writer goes on to say that all the seeds of cultivated plants acquire a deeper color the further north they are grown, white haricots becoming brown or black, and white wheat becoming brown, while the green color of all vegetation becomes more intense. The flowers also are similarly changed: those which are white or yellow in central Europe becoming red or orange in Norway. This is what occurs in the Alpine flora, and the cause is said to be the same in both—the greater intensity of the sunlight. In the one the light is more persistent, in the other more intense because it traverses a less thickness of atmosphere.

Admitting the facts as above stated to be in themselves correct, they do not by any means establish the theory founded on them; and it is curious that Grisebach, who has been quoted by this writer for the fact of the increased size of the foliage, gives a totally different explanation of the more vivid colors of Arctic flowers. He says, “We see flowers become larger and more richly colored in proportion as, by the increasing length of winter, insects become rarer, and their cooperation in the act of fecundation is exposed to more uncertain chances.” (Vegetation du Globe, col. i. p. 61—French translation.) This is the theory here adopted to explain the colors of Alpine plants, and we believe there are many facts that will show it to be the preferable one. The statement that the white and yellow flowers of temperate Europe become red or golden in the Arctic regions must we think be incorrect. By roughly tabulating the colors of the plants given by Sir Joseph Hooker as permanently Arctic, we find among fifty species with more or less conspicuous flowers, twenty-five white, twelve yellow, eight purple or blue, three lilac, and two red or pink; showing a very similar proportion of white and yellow flowers to what obtains further south.

The author of the passage is most likely __________.

Possible Answers:

a botanist

a meteorologist

a geographer

a chemist

an archeologist

Correct answer:

a botanist

Explanation:

As the title of the passage is "Recent Views as to Direct Action of Light on the Colors of Flowers and Fruits" and its subject is flower color, leaf size, and other scientific phenomena that have to do with plants, trees, and especially flowers, we can safely infer that of the given answer choices, the author is most likely a botanist. While the author does discuss flowers at different latitudes, which may suggest "geographer," and different atmospheric conditions, which may suggest "meteorologist," he only broaches these topics because of how they intersect with his primary topic of flowers and plants.

Example Question #3 : Making Inferences About The Author Or Natural Science Passage Content

Adapted from A Practical Treatise on the Hive and Honey-Bee by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1857 ed.)

Of all the numerous enemies of the honey-bee, the Bee-Moth (Tinea mellonella), in climates of hot summers, is by far the most to be dreaded. So widespread and fatal have been its ravages in this country that thousands have abandoned the cultivation of bees in despair, and in districts which once produced abundant supplies of the purest honey, bee-keeping has gradually dwindled down into a very insignificant pursuit. Contrivances almost without number have been devised to defend the bees against this invidious foe, but still it continues its desolating inroads, almost unchecked, laughing as it were to scorn at all the so-called "moth-proof" hives, and turning many of the ingenious fixtures designed to entrap or exclude it into actual aids and comforts in its nefarious designs.

I should feel but little confidence in being able to reinstate bee-keeping in our country into a certain and profitable pursuit if I could not show the apiarian in what way he can safely bid defiance to the pestiferous assaults of this, his most implacable enemy. I have patiently studied its habits for years, and I am at length able to announce a system of management founded upon the peculiar construction of my hives, which will enable the careful bee-keeper to protect his colonies against the monster. The bee-moth infects our apiaries, just as weeds take possession of a fertile soil. Before explaining the means upon which I rely to circumvent the moth, I will first give a brief description of its habits.

Swammerdam, towards the close of the seventeenth century, gave a very accurate description of this insect, which was then called by the very expressive name of the "bee-wolf." He has furnished good drawings of it, in all its changes, from the worm to the perfect moth, together with the peculiar webs or galleries that it constructs and from which the name of Tinea galleria or “gallery moth” has been given to it by some entomologists. He failed, however, to discriminate between the male and female, which, because they differ so much in size and appearance, he supposed to be two different species of the wax-moth. It seems to have been a great pest in his time, and even Virgil speaks of the "dirum tineæ genus," the dreadful offspring of the moth; that is the worm.

This destroyer usually makes its appearance about the hives in April or May, the time of its coming depending upon the warmth of the climate or the forwardness of the season. It is seldom seen on the wing (unless startled from its lurking place about the hive) until towards dark, and is evidently chiefly nocturnal in its habits. In dark cloudy days, however, I have noticed it on the wing long before sunset, and if several such days follow in succession, the female, oppressed with the urgent necessity of laying her eggs, may be seen endeavoring to gain admission to the hives. The female is much larger than the male, and "her color is deeper and more inclining to a darkish gray, with small spots or blackish streaks on the interior edge of her upper wings." The color of the male inclines more to a light gray; they might easily be mistaken for different species of moths. These insects are surprisingly agile, both on foot and on the wing. The motions of a bee are very slow in comparison. "They are," says Reaumur, "the most nimble-footed creatures that I know." "If the approach to the apiary be observed of a moonlight evening, the moths will be found flying or running round the hives, watching an opportunity to enter, whilst the bees that have to guard the entrances against their intrusion will be seen acting as vigilant sentinels, performing continual rounds near this important post, extending their antenna to the utmost, and moving them to the right and left alternately. Woe to the unfortunate moth that comes within their reach!" "It is curious," says Huber, "to observe how artfully the moth knows how to profit, to the disadvantage of the bees, which require much light for seeing objects; and the precautions taken by the latter in reconnoitering and expelling so dangerous an enemy."

It can reasonably be inferred from the passage that __________.

Possible Answers:

The author is a keen bee keeper. 

The bees do not guard against the moth.

Bee-moths have only recently begun to trouble bee keepers.

The author dislikes honey.

The moths are sluggish.

Correct answer:

The author is a keen bee keeper. 

Explanation:

We know that someone wrote about the moths in the 17th century and called them "the 'bee-wolf'," so it doesn't seem likely that the problems they cause bee keepers only developed recently. We also know that the moths are quite fast from a description of their speed in the last paragraph. The author also states that the bees post “sentinels” to guard against the moths. We cannot tell from the passage if the author likes honey or not. The only thing we can really infer is that the author is a keen bee keeper, as he says in the passage that: “I have patiently studied [the bee-moth's] habits for years, and I am at length able to announce a system of management founded upon the peculiar construction of my hives.” This tells us he has kept and studied bees for many years.

Example Question #2 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Science Passages

Adapted from Darwinism by Alfred Russel Wallace (1889)

Everyone knows that in each litter of kittens or of puppies no two are alike. Even in the case in which several are exactly alike in colors, other differences are always perceptible to those who observe them closely. They will differ in size, in the proportions of their bodies and limbs, and in the length or texture of their hairy covering. They each possess, too, an individual countenance; we all know that each kitten in the successive families of our old favorite cat has a face of its own, distinct from all its brothers and sisters. Now this individual variability exists among all creatures that we can closely observe, even when the two parents are very much alike and have been matched in order to preserve some special breed. The same thing occurs in the vegetable kingdom. All plants raised from seed differ more or less from each other. In every bed of flowers or of vegetables we shall find, if we look closely, that there are countless small differences, in the size, in the mode of growth, in the shape or color of the leaves, in the form, color, or markings of the flowers, or in the size, form, color, or flavor of the fruit. These differences are usually small, but are yet easily seen, and in their extremes are very considerable; and some of these differences have this important quality, that they have a tendency to be reproduced, and thus by careful breeding certain particular variations or groups of variations can be increased to an enormous extent—apparently to any extent not incompatible with the life, growth, and reproduction of the plant or animal.

The way this is done is by artificial selection, and it is very important to understand this process and its results. Suppose we have a plant with a small edible seed, and we want to increase the size of that seed. Suppose also that the maximum size of a seed of this type of plant is solely dependent on the maximum sizes of the seeds of its parents. We grow as large a quantity of it as possible, and when the crop is ripe we carefully choose a few of the very largest seeds, or we may by means of a sieve sort out a quantity of the largest seeds. Next year we sow only these large seeds, taking care to give them suitable soil and manure, and the result is found to be that the average size of the seeds is larger than in the first crop, and that the largest seeds are now somewhat larger and more numerous. Again sowing these, we obtain a further slight increase of size, and in a very few years we obtain a greatly improved type that will always produce larger seeds than the unaltered type, even if cultivated without any special care. In this way all our fine sorts of cultivated vegetables, fruits, and flowers have been obtained, all our choice breeds of cattle or of poultry, our wonderful racehorses, and our endless varieties of dogs. It is a very common but mistaken idea that this improvement is due to crossing and feeding in the case of animals, and to improved cultivation in the case of plants. Crossing is occasionally used in order to obtain a combination of qualities found in two distinct breeds, and also because it is found to increase the constitutional vigor; but every breed is the result of the selection of variations occurring year after year and accumulated in the manner just described. Repeated selection in favor of certain traits is the foundation of all of the controlled changes made in our breeds of domestic animals and strains of cultivated plants.

Which of the following can be inferred about the author's relationship to cats based on the information revealed in the passage?

Possible Answers:

The author has a great deal of experience around cats, including litters of kittens.

The author finds cats to be a nuisance to society that should be gotten rid of.

The author wishes to learn more about cats because he knows very little about them.

The author believes cats are among the least interesting examples of artificial selection.

The author views cats as mysterious and strange animals.

Correct answer:

The author has a great deal of experience around cats, including litters of kittens.

Explanation:

The author discusses litters of kittens immediately, because the differences between kittens in a litter is something "everyone knows." Additionally, the author talks about an "old favorite cat" as something with which he obviously has great familiarity in his own life. This means that the author has to have been around many cats, including litters of kittens.

Example Question #3 : Making Inferences In Science Passages

Adapted from Are the Planets Inhabited? by E. Walter Maunder (1913)

What is a living organism? A living organism is such that, though it is continually changing its substance, its identity, as a whole, remains essentially the same. This definition is incomplete, but it gives us a first essential approximation, it indicates the continuance of the whole, with the unceasing change of the details. Were this definition complete, a river would furnish us with a perfect example of a living organism, because, while the river remains, the individual drops of water are continually changing. There is then something more in the living organism than the continuity of the whole, with the change of the details.

An analogy, given by Max Verworn, carries us a step further. He likens life to a flame, and takes a gas flame with its butterfly shape as a particularly appropriate illustration. Here the shape of the flame remains constant, even in its details. Immediately above the burner, at the base of the flame, there is a completely dark space; surrounding this, a bluish zone that is faintly luminous; and beyond this again, the broad spread of the two wings that are brightly luminous. The flame, like the river, preserves its identity of form, while its constituent details—the gases that feed it—are in continual change. But there is not only a change of material in the flame; there is a change of condition. Everywhere the gas from the burner is entering into energetic combination with the oxygen of the air, with evolution of light and heat. There is change in the constituent particles as well as change of the constituent particles; there is more than the mere flux of material through the form; there is change of the material, and in the process of that change energy is developed.

A steam-engine may afford us a third illustration. Here fresh material is continually being introduced into the engine there to suffer change. Part is supplied as fuel to the fire there to maintain the temperature of the engine; so far the illustration is analogous to that of the gas flame. But the engine carries us a step further, for part of the material supplied to it is water, which is converted into steam by the heat of the fire, and from the expansion of the steam the energy sought from the machine is derived. Here again we have change in the material with development of energy; but there is not only work done in the subject, there is work done by it.

But the living organism differs from artificial machines in that, of itself and by itself, it is continuously drawing into itself non-living matter, converting it into an integral part of the organism, and so endowing it with the qualities of life. And from this non-living matter it derives fresh energy for the carrying on of the life of the organism.

From the information in the passage, what is the best description of the author's attitude towards Max Verworn?

Possible Answers:

The author does not view Max Verworn as someone whose works are worth reading.

The author believes Max Verworn is a very smart man with very good ideas.

The author sees Max Verworn as the most brilliant scientist of his time.

The author thinks Max Verworn is a dangerous scientist with harmful ideas.

The author views Max Verworn as a bumbling fool who should be mocked.

Correct answer:

The author believes Max Verworn is a very smart man with very good ideas.

Explanation:

Max Verworn makes exactly one appearance in the passage, as the original author of the metaphor about a gas flame. This means that the author's attitude cannot be drawn out too far, but does indicate that the author is familiar with Verworn's thinking and appreciates it.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors

Incompatible Browser

Please upgrade or download one of the following browsers to use Instant Tutoring: