MCAT Verbal : Determining source credibility

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Determining Source Credibility

Adapted from "Save the Redwoods" by John Muir in Sierra Club Bulletin Volume XI Number 1 (January 1920)

We are often told that the world is going from bad to worse, but this righteous uprising in defense of God's trees is telling a different story. The wrongs done to trees are done in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, for when light comes the heart of the people is always right. Forty-seven years ago one of these Calaveras King Sequoias was laboriously cut down, that the stump might be had for a dancing-floor. Another, one of the finest in the grove, was skinned alive to a height of one hundred and sixteen feet and the bark sent to London to show how fine and big that Calaveras tree was—as sensible a scheme as skinning our great men would be to prove their greatness. Now some millmen want to cut all the Calaveras trees into lumber and money. No doubt these trees would make good lumber after passing through a sawmill, as George Washington after passing through the hands of a French cook would have made good food. But both for Washington and the tree that bears his name higher uses have been found.

In noble groves and forests south of the Calaveras Grove the axe and saw have long been busy, and thousands of the finest Sequoias have been felled, while fires have spread still wider and more lamentable ruin. In the course of my explorations twenty-five years ago, I found five sawmills on or near the lower margin of the Sequoia belt. One of the smallest of these in the 1874 season sawed two million feet of Sequoia lumber. Since that time, other mills have been built among the Sequoias. The destruction of these grand trees is still going on. 

On the other hand, the Calaveras Grove for forty years has been faithfully protected by Mr. Sperry, and with the exception of the two trees mentioned above is still in primeval beauty. Many groves have of late been partially protected by the Federal Government, while the well-known Mariposa Grove has long been guarded by the State.

For the thousands of acres of Sequoia forest outside of reservations and national parks, and in the hands of lumbermen, no help is in sight. Probably more than three times as many Sequoias as are contained in the whole Calaveras Grove have been cut into lumber every year for the last twenty-six years without let or hindrance, and with scarce a word of protest on the part of the public, while at the first whisper of bonding the Calaveras Grove to lumbermen most everybody rose in alarm. Californians’ righteous and lively indignation after their long period of deathlike apathy, in which they have witnessed the destruction of other groves unmoved, seems strange until the rapid growth that right public opinion has made during the last few years is considered and the peculiar interest that attaches to the Calaveras giants. They were the first discovered and are best known. Thousands of travelers from every country come to see them, their reputation is world-wide, and the names of great men have long been associated with them—Washington, Humboldt, Torrey and Gray, Sir Joseph Hooker, and others. These kings of the forest rightly belong to the world, but as they are in California, we cannot escape responsibility as their guardians. Fortunately the American people are equal to this trust, or any other that may arise, as soon as they see it and understand it.

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot defend themselves or run away. And few destroyers of trees ever plant any, nor can planting avail much toward restoring our grand aboriginal giants. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the oldest of the Sequoias, trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty. Through all the eventful centuries since Christ's time, and long before that, God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand storms; but he cannot save them from sawmills and fools; this is left to the American people.The news from Washington is encouraging. The House has passed a bill providing for the Government acquisition of the Calaveras giants. The danger these Sequoias have been in will do good far beyond the boundaries of the Calaveras Grove, in saving other groves and forests and quickening interest in forest affairs in general. While the iron of public sentiment is hot let us strike hard. In particular, a reservation or national park of the only other species of Sequoia, the sempervirens, or redwood, hardly less wonderful than the gigantea, should be quickly secured. It will have to be acquired by gift or purchase, for the Government has sold every section of the redwood belt from the Oregon boundary to below Santa Cruz.

Based on this passage, which of these statements about the author is most likely to be true?

Possible Answers:

The author thinks that the issues of conservation and environmentalism are too complex to be appreciated by the common person.

Earlier in his life, the author worked as a consultant for a logging company.

The author is a politician.

The author supports environmental causes in general.

The author believes that sabotage of logging companies is justified.

Correct answer:

The author thinks that the issues of conservation and environmentalism are too complex to be appreciated by the common person.

Explanation:

Correct answer: The author thinks that the issues of conservation and environmentalism can be appreciated by the common person.

This is the correct answer because the author puts faith in the American people and their guardianship of the environment, and that once "light" has been shone onto an area, the people will understand and act.

 

Earlier in his life, the author worked as a consultant for a logging company.

While unlikely, the idea of someone working in an industry before seeing or appreciating its ugliness is not terribly rare; however, nothing in the passage suggests that this is true.

 

The author is a politician.

The writing seems to indicate that the author is an activist and not a politician, and no evidence is provided to contradict this indication.

 

The author believes that sabotage of logging companies is justified.

The author's tone is vehement, but he never comes close to endorsing violence or direct action, or really any other means of conservation other than putting forests into a reservation or park.

 

The author opposes environmental causes in general.

It is highly likely that the author supports environmental causes in general.

Example Question #2 : Determining Source Credibility

Adapted from On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals by William Harvey (1628) in The Harvard Classics, Vol. XXXVIII, Part 3 (trans. 1909-1914)

When I first gave my mind to vivisections as a means of discovering the motions and uses of the heart, and sought to discover these from actual inspection and not from the writings of others, I found the task so truly arduous, so full of difficulties, that I was almost tempted to think, with Fracastorius, that the motion of the heart was only to be comprehended by God. For I could neither rightly perceive at first when the systole and when the diastole took place, nor when and where dilatation and contraction occurred, by reason of the rapidity of the motion, which in many animals is accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, coming and going like a flash of lightning; so that the systole presented itself to me now from this point, now from that; the diastole the same; and then everything was reversed, the motions occurring, as it seemed, variously and confusedly together. My mind was therefore greatly unsettled, nor did I know what I should myself conclude, nor what believe from others. I was not surprised that Andreas Laurentius should have written that the motion of the heart was as perplexing as the flux and reflux of Euripus had appeared to Aristotle.

At length, by using greater and daily diligence and investigation, making frequent inspection of many and various animals, and collating numerous observations, I thought that I had attained to the truth, that I should extricate myself and escape from this labyrinth, and that I had discovered what I so much desired, both the motion and the use of the heart and arteries. From that time I have not hesitated to expose my views upon these subjects, not only in private to my friends, but also in public, in my anatomical lectures, after the manner of the Academy of old.

These views as usual, pleased some more, others less; some chid and calumniated me, and laid it to me as a crime that I had dared to depart from the precepts and opinions of all anatomists; others desired further explanations of the novelties, which they said were both worthy of consideration, and might perchance be found of signal use. At length, yielding to the requests of my friends, that all might be made participators in my labors, and partly moved by the envy of others, who, receiving my views with uncandid minds and understanding them indifferently, have essayed to traduce me publicly, I have moved to commit these things to the press, in order that all may be enabled to form an opinion both of me and my labors. This step I take all the more willingly, seeing that Hieronymus Fabricius of Aquapendente, although he has accurately and learnedly delineated almost every one of the several parts of animals in a special work, has left the heart alone untouched.

What best describes the author's stated objectives in publishing this work?

Possible Answers:

To answer his critics and show tham that his theories are correct

So that his peers can judge his work as a whole and come to an opinion about its veracity

In order to add to to the wealth of human knowledge

In order to correct the misconceptions that have been long-established in the field

To fill in the gap in animal anatomy left by  Hieronymus Fabricius, who otherwise has detailed anatomic structures almost entirely

Correct answer:

So that his peers can judge his work as a whole and come to an opinion about its veracity

Explanation:

Correct answer: So that his peers can judge his work as a whole and come to an opinion about its veracity.

This is the best answer because Harvey mentions both supporters and critics as a reason to publish, and says that he just wants his ideas and experiments to be judged.

 

To answer his critics and show tham that his theories are correct.

This is incorrect because it is less complete than the correct answer: he wants to do more than just answer his critics.

To fill in the gap in animal anatomy left by  Hieronymus Fabricius, who otherwise has detailed anatomic structures almost entirely.

Although Harvey cites this as a reason why he takes the step of publication more willingly, it is not the main reason he names.

In order to correct the misconceptions that have been long-established in the field.

This reason is somewhat implied, but it isn't a reason why he's publishing. It might be a reason why he began to lecture and speak, but not particularly why he is publishing the work.

In order to add to to the wealth of human knowledge. 

This is far too general and not stated.

Example Question #3 : Determining Source Credibility

Adapted from On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals by William Harvey (1628) in The Harvard Classics, Vol. XXXVIII, Part 3 (trans. 1909-1914)

When I first gave my mind to vivisections as a means of discovering the motions and uses of the heart, and sought to discover these from actual inspection and not from the writings of others, I found the task so truly arduous, so full of difficulties, that I was almost tempted to think, with Fracastorius, that the motion of the heart was only to be comprehended by God. For I could neither rightly perceive at first when the systole and when the diastole took place, nor when and where dilatation and contraction occurred, by reason of the rapidity of the motion, which in many animals is accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, coming and going like a flash of lightning; so that the systole presented itself to me now from this point, now from that; the diastole the same; and then everything was reversed, the motions occurring, as it seemed, variously and confusedly together. My mind was therefore greatly unsettled, nor did I know what I should myself conclude, nor what believe from others. I was not surprised that Andreas Laurentius should have written that the motion of the heart was as perplexing as the flux and reflux of Euripus had appeared to Aristotle.

At length, by using greater and daily diligence and investigation, making frequent inspection of many and various animals, and collating numerous observations, I thought that I had attained to the truth, that I should extricate myself and escape from this labyrinth, and that I had discovered what I so much desired, both the motion and the use of the heart and arteries. From that time I have not hesitated to expose my views upon these subjects, not only in private to my friends, but also in public, in my anatomical lectures, after the manner of the Academy of old.

These views as usual, pleased some more, others less; some chid and calumniated me, and laid it to me as a crime that I had dared to depart from the precepts and opinions of all anatomists; others desired further explanations of the novelties, which they said were both worthy of consideration, and might perchance be found of signal use. At length, yielding to the requests of my friends, that all might be made participators in my labors, and partly moved by the envy of others, who, receiving my views with uncandid minds and understanding them indifferently, have essayed to traduce me publicly, I have moved to commit these things to the press, in order that all may be enabled to form an opinion both of me and my labors. This step I take all the more willingly, seeing that Hieronymus Fabricius of Aquapendente, although he has accurately and learnedly delineated almost every one of the several parts of animals in a special work, has left the heart alone untouched.

Harvey mentions other authors by name in this passage mainly to do what?

Possible Answers:

To show that he is a learned man and is speaking with authority on the subject

To call attention to how long it has been since anyone seriously attempted to explain the workings of the heart

To demonstrate that figuring out the mechanisms and functions of the heart has been a long-standing and difficult anatomical problem

To criticize them for their errors of anatomy

To build upon what they discovered and show how his theories are consistent with theirs

Correct answer:

To demonstrate that figuring out the mechanisms and functions of the heart has been a long-standing and difficult anatomical problem

Explanation:

Correct answer: To demonstrate that figuring out the mechanisms and functions of the heart has been a long-standing and difficult anatomical problem

This is correct because Harvey mentions one author who considered the heart to be highly complex, and another who, despite expertise in animal anatomy, found the heart too difficult a puzzle to solve. 

 

To criticize them for their errors of anatomy

Harvey doesn't criticize the authors he mentions by name.

To show that he is a learned man and is speaking with authority on the subject

You might take this away from Harvey's mentioning of other authors by name, but it is not the most evident purpose.

To build upon what they discovered and show how his theories are consistent with theirs

He doesn't cite any of their discoveries, so this is false.

To call attention to how long it has been since anyone seriously attempted to explain the workings of the heart

He doesn't give us a time scale of when these authors were writing, so this is false. It would also be an implication, rather than the direct action of the correct answer.

Example Question #4 : Determining Source Credibility

Adapted from On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals by William Harvey (1628) in The Harvard Classics, Vol. XXXVIII, Part 3 (trans. 1909-1914)

When I first gave my mind to vivisections as a means of discovering the motions and uses of the heart, and sought to discover these from actual inspection and not from the writings of others, I found the task so truly arduous, so full of difficulties, that I was almost tempted to think, with Fracastorius, that the motion of the heart was only to be comprehended by God. For I could neither rightly perceive at first when the systole and when the diastole took place, nor when and where dilatation and contraction occurred, by reason of the rapidity of the motion, which in many animals is accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, coming and going like a flash of lightning; so that the systole presented itself to me now from this point, now from that; the diastole the same; and then everything was reversed, the motions occurring, as it seemed, variously and confusedly together. My mind was therefore greatly unsettled, nor did I know what I should myself conclude, nor what believe from others. I was not surprised that Andreas Laurentius should have written that the motion of the heart was as perplexing as the flux and reflux of Euripus had appeared to Aristotle.

At length, by using greater and daily diligence and investigation, making frequent inspection of many and various animals, and collating numerous observations, I thought that I had attained to the truth, that I should extricate myself and escape from this labyrinth, and that I had discovered what I so much desired, both the motion and the use of the heart and arteries. From that time I have not hesitated to expose my views upon these subjects, not only in private to my friends, but also in public, in my anatomical lectures, after the manner of the Academy of old.

These views as usual, pleased some more, others less; some chid and calumniated me, and laid it to me as a crime that I had dared to depart from the precepts and opinions of all anatomists; others desired further explanations of the novelties, which they said were both worthy of consideration, and might perchance be found of signal use. At length, yielding to the requests of my friends, that all might be made participators in my labors, and partly moved by the envy of others, who, receiving my views with uncandid minds and understanding them indifferently, have essayed to traduce me publicly, I have moved to commit these things to the press, in order that all may be enabled to form an opinion both of me and my labors. This step I take all the more willingly, seeing that Hieronymus Fabricius of Aquapendente, although he has accurately and learnedly delineated almost every one of the several parts of animals in a special work, has left the heart alone untouched.

What best describes the confidence the author has in his theories about the function of the heart?

Possible Answers:

Harvey is completely convinced that his empirical testing of others' theories have shown the operation of the heart.

He has done the empirical work necessary to expose the real workings of the heart and hopes to convince others that his theories are correct.

Harvey wants to convince others to do more research to confirm his theories.

Harvey feels that the heart is such a mystery he is doubtful his theories are complete and accurate.

Since Harvey's empirical work agrees with that of others and has a consistent theory, Harvey believes that his work is superior.

Correct answer:

He has done the empirical work necessary to expose the real workings of the heart and hopes to convince others that his theories are correct.

Explanation:

Correct answer: He has done the empirical work necessary to expose the real workings of the heart and hopes to convince others that his theories are correct.

Although Harvey phrases it more diffidently, this is the best answer. He has done the empiriccal work, he thinks he has escaped the "labyrynth," and he is publishing to convince others.

Harvey is completely convinced that his empirical testing of others' theories has shown the operation of the heart.

There is no mention of Harvey testing others' theories or of being completely convinced.

Harvey wants to convince others to do more research to confirm his theories.

Harvey would probably like that, but he is hoping to be judged on his own work.

Since Harvey's empirical work agrees with that of others and provides evidence in favor of a consistent theory, Harvey believes that his work is superior.

Harvey doesn't compare his empirical work to that of others.

Harvey feels that the heart is such a mystery, and he is doubtful his theories are complete and accurate.

Harvey is personally convinced by his own theories.

Example Question #5 : Determining Source Credibility

Adapted from “Robespierre” in Critical Miscellanies by John Morley (1904)

Marie Antoinette's high mien in adversity, and the contrast between the dazzling splendor of her first years and the scenes of outrage and bloody death that made the climax of her fate, could not but strike the imaginations of men. Such contrasts are the very stuff of which Tragedy, the gorgeous muse with scepter'd pall, loves to weave her most imposing raiment. But history must be just; and the character of the Queen had far more concern in the disaster of the first five years of the Revolution than had the character of Robespierre. Every new document that comes to light heaps up proof that if blind and obstinate choice of personal gratification before the common weal be enough to constitute a state criminal, then the Queen of France was one of the worst state criminals that ever afflicted a nation. The popular hatred of Marie Antoinette sprang from a sound instinct. We shall never know how much or how little truth there was in those frightful charges against her, that may still be read in a thousand pamphlets. These imputed depravities far surpass anything that John Knox ever said against Mary Stuart, or that Juvenal has recorded against Messalina; and, perhaps, for the only parallel we must look to the hideous stories of the Byzantine secretary against Theodora, the too famous empress of Justinian and the persecutor of Belisarius. We have to remember that all the revolutionary portraits are distorted by furious passion, and that Marie Antoinette may no more deserve to be compared to Mary Stuart than Robespierre deserves to be compared to Ezzelino or to Alva. It is at least certain that, from the unlucky hour when the Austrian archduchess crossed the French frontier, a childish bride of fourteen, down to the hour when the Queen of France made the attempt to recross it in resentful flight one and twenty years afterwards, Marie Antoinette was ignorant, unteachable, blind to events and deaf to good counsels, a bitter grief to her heroic mother, the evil genius of her husband, the despair of her truest advisers, and an exceedingly bad friend to the people of France. When Burke had that immortal vision of her at Versailles—"just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in, glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendor and joy"—we know from the correspondence between Maria Theresa and her minister at Versailles, that what Burke really saw was no divinity, but a flighty and troublesome schoolgirl, an accomplice in all the ignoble intrigues, and a sharer of all the small busy passions that convulse the insects of a court. She broke out in incredible dissipations; in indiscreet visits to the masked balls at the opera, in midnight parades and mystifications on the terrace at Versailles, in insensate gambling. “The court of France is turned into a gaming-hell,” said the Emperor Joseph, the Queen's own brother: “if they do not amend, the revolution will be cruel.”

These vices or follies were less mischievous than her intervention in affairs of state. Here to levity she added both dissimulation and vindictiveness. It was the Queen's influence that procured the dismissal of the two virtuous ministers by whose aid the King was striving to arrest the decay of the government of his kingdom. Malesherbes was distasteful to her for no better reason than that she wanted his post for some favorite's favorite. Against Turgot she conspired with tenacious animosity because he had suppressed a sinecure which she designed for a court parasite, and because he would not support her caprice on behalf of a worthless creature of her faction. These two admirable men were disgraced on the same day. The Queen wrote to her mother that she had not meddled in the affair. This was a falsehood, for she had even sought to have Turgot thrown into the Bastille. “I am as one dashed to the ground,” cried the great Voltaire, now nearing his end. “Never can we console ourselves for having seen the golden age dawn and vanish. My eyes see only death in front of me, now that Turgot is gone. The rest of my days must be all bitterness.” What hope could there be that the personage who had thus put out the light of hope for France in 1776 would welcome that greater flame that was kindled in the land in 1789?

Why could the credibility of the underlined sources be reasonably questioned?

Possible Answers:

These pamphlets were written by the Queen’s personal enemies at court and were designed to spark revolution in France, and so they were necessarily scandalous.

None of these answers is correct; the sources mentioned are wholly credible.

These pamphlets were not written in English and so rely on the author’s ability to accurately translate.

These pamphlets were written by enemies of France who were motivated to demonize the French royal family.

These pamphlets were written by revolutionaries during a time of revolution, so truth and accuracy likely took second place to sensationalized propaganda.

Correct answer:

These pamphlets were written by revolutionaries during a time of revolution, so truth and accuracy likely took second place to sensationalized propaganda.

Explanation:

The sources that the author mentions are pamphlets written in France in the years leading up to and including the French Revolution. This would have been a time period of great social polarity between the classes, where propaganda and scandal take on greater significance. The enemies of the French royal family within France would have been motivated to exaggerate the crimes of Marie Antoinette to garner support for the revolution. For this reason, the credibility of the sources must be questioned. Indeed, the author himself remarks later in the same paragraph, "We have to remember that all the revolutionary portraits are distorted by furious passion."

Example Question #6 : Determining Source Credibility

Adapted from Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)

Let us consider the popular conception of Florence Nightingale. The saintly, self-sacrificing woman, the delicate maiden of high degree who threw aside the pleasures of a life of ease to succor the afflicted; the Lady with the Lamp, gliding through the horrors of the hospital at Scutari, and consecrating with the radiance of her goodness the dying soldier's couch. The vision is familiar to all—but the truth was different. The Miss Nightingale of fact was not as facile as fancy painted her. It happens that in the real Miss Nightingale there was more that was interesting than in the legendary one; there was also less that was agreeable.

Her family was extremely well-to-do, and connected by marriage with a spreading circle of other well-to-do families. Brought up among such advantages, it was only natural to suppose that Florence would show a proper appreciation of them by doing her duty—in other words, by marrying. It was inconceivable that Florence should dream of anything else; yet dream she did.

As the years passed, a restlessness began to grow upon her. She was unhappy, and at last she knew it. Mrs. Nightingale, too, began to notice that there was something wrong. It was very odd—what could be the matter with dear Flo? Mr. Nightingale suggested that a husband might be advisable; but the curious thing was that she seemed to take no interest in husbands. She would think of nothing but how to satisfy that singular craving of hers to be doing something.

Florence announced an extreme desire to go to Salisbury Hospital for several months as a nurse; and she confessed to some visionary plan of eventually setting up in a house of her own in a neighboring village, and there founding “something like a Protestant Sisterhood, without vows, for women of educated feelings.” The difficulties in her path were great. For not only was it an almost unimaginable thing in those days for a woman of means to make her own way in the world and to live in independence, but the particular profession for which Florence was clearly marked out both by her instincts and her capacities was at that time a peculiarly disreputable one. A “nurse” meant then a coarse old woman, always ignorant, usually dirty, often brutal, in bunched-up sordid garments.

Yet the want, absurd and impracticable as it was, not only remained fixed immovably in her heart, but grew in intensity day by day. Her wretchedness deepened into a morbid melancholy. A weaker spirit would have been overwhelmed by the load of such distresses—would have yielded or snapped. But this extraordinary young woman held firm, and fought her way to victory. In secret she devoured the reports of medical commissions, the pamphlets of sanitary authorities, the histories of hospitals and homes. She spent the intervals of the London season in ragged schools and workhouses.

But one other trial awaited her. It appeared in the shape of a desirable young man. Hitherto, her lovers had been nothing to her but an added burden and a mockery; but now—for a moment—she wavered. She knew in her heart that it could not be. “To be nailed to a continuation and exaggeration of my present life … to put it out of my power ever to be able to seize the chance of forming for myself a true and rich life”—that would be a suicide. She made her choice, and refused what was at least a certain happiness for a visionary good which might never come to her at all. And so she returned to her old life of waiting and bitterness.

“The thoughts and feelings that I have now,” she wrote, “I can remember since I was six years old. A profession, a trade, a necessary occupation, something to fill and employ all my faculties, I have always felt essential to me, I have always longed for. The first thought I can remember, and the last, was nursing work. My God! What is to become of me?”

A desirable young man? Dust and ashes! What was there desirable in such a thing as that? “In my thirty-first year. I see nothing desirable but death.”

Three more years passed, and then at last the pressure of time told; her family seemed to realize that she was old enough and strong enough to have her way; and she became the superintendent of a charitable nursing home in Harley Street. She had gained her independence, though it was in a meagre sphere enough; and her mother was still not quite resigned: surely Florence might at least spend the summer in the country. At times, indeed, among her intimates, Mrs. Nightingale almost wept. “We are ducks,” she said with tears in her eyes, “who have hatched a wild swan.” But the poor lady was wrong; it was not a swan that they had hatched—it was an eagle.

Which of these sources is the least credible?

Possible Answers:

Florence’s reproduced account of her life-long desire to do something meaningful with her life

The author’s description of Florence’s childhood life and family background

Florence’s reproduced testimony about the relationship with the man she chooses to forsake

The author’s account of Mrs. Nightingale’s weeping in the conclusion

All of these sources are equally credible.

Correct answer:

The author’s account of Mrs. Nightingale’s weeping in the conclusion

Explanation:

We can trust the credibility of the sources attributed to Florence herself as most likely they were simply copied and reproduced from Florence’s own writing. We can also trust the credibility of the author’s description of Florence’s childhood life and family background because there is likely information from records that corroborates this account; however, we cannot really trust the author’s account of Mrs. Nightingale’s weeping because we are removed by additional degrees (we did not hear Mrs. Nightingale’s weeping, nor did the author, nor likely did the person whom the author heard it from) from the account.

Example Question #7 : Determining Source Credibility

Adapted from "Is Shakespeare Dead?" in What is Man? And Other Essays by Mark Twain (1906)

The upholders of the Stratford-Shakespeare superstition call us the hardest names they can think of, and they keep doing it all the time; very well, if they like to descend to that level, let them do it, but I will not so undignify myself as to follow them. Anyway, those thugs have built their entire superstition upon inference, not upon known and established facts.

Ordinarily when an unsigned poem sweeps across the continent like a tidal wave whose roar and boom and thunder are made up of admiration, delight, and applause, a dozen obscure people rise up and claim the authorship. Do you remember "Beautiful Snow"? Its authorship was claimed by most of the grown-up people who were alive at the time, and every claimant had one plausible argument in his favor, at least—to wit, he could have done the authoring; he was competent.

Have the Works been claimed by a dozen? They haven't. There was good reason. The world knows there was but one man on the planet at the time who was competent—not a dozen, and not two. There has been only one Shakespeare. There couldn't be two; certainly there couldn't be two at the same time. It takes ages to bring forth a Shakespeare, and some more ages to match him.

The Baconians claim that the Stratford Shakespeare was not qualified to write the Works, and that Francis Bacon was. They claim that Bacon possessed the stupendous equipment—both natural and acquired—for the miracle; and that no other Englishman of his day possessed the like; or, indeed, anything closely approaching it. Macaulay, in his Essay, has much to say about the splendor and horizonless magnitude of that equipment. Also, he has synopsized Bacon's history—a thing which cannot be done for the Stratford Shakespeare, for he hasn't any history to synopsize. Bacon's history is open to the world, from his boyhood to his death in old age—a history consisting of known facts, displayed in minute and multitudinous detail; facts, not guesses and conjectures.

Young Bacon took up the study of law, and mastered that abstruse science. From that day to the end of his life he was daily in close contact with lawyers and judges; not as a casual onlooker in intervals between holding horses in front of a theater, but as a practicing lawyer—a great and successful one. When we read the praises bestowed by Lord Penzance and the other illustrious experts upon the legal condition and legal aptitude, brilliances, profundities, and felicities so prodigally displayed in the Plays, and try to fit them to the historyless Stratford stage-manager, they sound wild, strange, incredible, ludicrous; but when we put them in the mouth of Bacon they do not sound strange, they seem in their natural and rightful place, they seem at home there. "At every turn and point at which the author required a metaphor, simile, or illustration, his mind ever turned first to the law; he seems almost to have thought in legal phrases; the commonest legal phrases, the commonest of legal expressions, were ever at the end of his pen." That could happen to no one but a person whose trade was the law; it could not happen to a dabbler in it. Veteran mariners fill their conversation with sailor-phrases and draw all their similes from the ship and the sea and the storm, but no mere passenger ever does it.

Isn't it odd that you may list all the celebrated Englishmen of modern times, clear back to the first Tudors and you can go to the histories, biographies, and cyclopedias and learn the particulars of the lives of every one of them. Every one of them except one—the most famous, the most renowned—by far the most illustrious of them all—Shakespeare! You can get the details of the lives of all the celebrated ecclesiastics in the list; all the celebrated tragedians, comedians, singers, dancers, orators, judges, lawyers, poets, dramatists, historians, and so on—you can get the life-histories of all of them but one. Just one—the most extraordinary and the most celebrated of them all—Shakespeare! About him you can find out nothing. Nothing of even the slightest importance. Nothing that even remotely indicates that he was ever anything more than a distinctly commonplace person— an actor of inferior grade, a small trader in a small village that did not regard him as a person of any consequence, and had forgotten all about him before he was fairly cold in his grave. There are many reasons why, and they have been furnished in cart-loads (of guess and conjecture) by those troglodytes; but there is one that is worth all the rest of the reasons put together—he hadn’t any history to record.

References to Macaulay’s essay are most directly meant to ____________.

Possible Answers:

highlight the absence of contemporaries who knew Shakespeare personally

highlight the use of legal language that appears in the Works

provide an objective first-person account of the lives of Shakespeare and Bacon

provide evidence that Shakespeare never existed

provide evidence of Bacon’s capacity for writing the Works

Correct answer:

provide evidence of Bacon’s capacity for writing the Works

Explanation:

The author notes that Macaulay’s essay “has much to say about the splendor and horizonless magnitude of that equipment.” The equipment, in this instance, is the gifts possessed by Bacon that gave him the capacity to write the Works. You could contend that this is meant also to prove that Shakespeare never existed, but that is closer to the overall argument of the essay. In this instance, the reference is most directly meant to provide evidence of Bacon’s candidacy.

Example Question #8 : Determining Source Credibility

Adapted from "Robespierre" in Critical Miscellanies (1904) by John Morley.

Robespierre's youth was embittered by sharp misfortune. His mother died when he was only seven years old, and his father had so little courage under the blow that he threw up his practice, deserted his children, and died in purposeless wanderings through Germany. The burden that the weak and selfish throw down must be taken up by the brave. Friendly kinsfolk charged themselves with the maintenance of the four orphans. Maximilian was sent to the school of the town, whence he proceeded with a sizarship to the college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He was an apt and studious pupil, but austere, and disposed to that sombre cast of spirits which is common enough where a lad of some sensibility and much self-esteem finds himself stamped with a badge of social inferiority. Robespierre's worshippers love to dwell on his fondness for birds: with the universal passion of mankind for legends of the saints, they tell how the untimely death of a favourite pigeon afflicted him with anguish so poignant that, even sixty long years after, it made his sister's heart ache to look back upon the pain of that tragic moment. Always a sentimentalist, Robespierre was from boyhood a devout enthusiast for the great high priest of the sentimental tribe. Rousseau was then passing the last squalid days of his life among the meadows and woods at Ermenonville. Robespierre, who could not have been more than twenty at the time, for Rousseau died in the summer of 1778, is said to have gone on a reverential pilgrimage in search of an oracle from the lonely sage, as Boswell and as Gibbon and a hundred others had gone before him. Rousseau was wont to use his real adorers as ill as he used his imaginary enemies. Robespierre may well have shared the discouragement of the enthusiastic father who informed Rousseau that he was about to bring up his son on the principles of Emilius. "Then so much the worse," cried the perverse philosopher, "both for you and your son." If he had been endowed with second sight, he would have thought at least as rude a presage due to this last and most ill-starred of a whole generation of neophytes.

In 1781 Robespierre returned home, and amid the welcome of his relatives and the good hopes of friends began the practice of an advocate. For eight years he led an active and seemly life. He was not wholly pure from that indiscretion of the young appetite, about which the world is mute, but whose better ordering and governance would give a diviner brightness to the earth. Still, if he did not escape the ordeal of youth, Robespierre was frugal, laborious, and persevering. His domestic amiability made him the delight of his sister, and his zealous self-sacrifice for the education and advancement in life of his younger brother was afterwards repaid by Augustin Robespierre's devotion through all the fierce and horrible hours of Thermidor. Though cold in temperament, extremely reserved in manners, and fond of industrious seclusion, Robespierre did not disdain the social diversions of the town. He was a member of a reunion of Rosati, who sang madrigals and admired one another's bad verses. Those who love the ironical surprises of fate, may picture the young man who was doomed to play so terrible a part in terrible affairs, going through the harmless follies of a ceremonial reception by the Rosati, taking three deep breaths over a rose, solemnly fastening the emblem to his coat, emptying a glass of rose-red wine at a draught to the good health of the company, and finally reciting couplets that Voltaire would have found almost as detestable as the Law of Prairial or the Festival of the Supreme Being. More laudable efforts of ambition were prize essays, in which Robespierre has the merit of taking the right side in important questions. He protested against the inhumanity of laws that inflicted civil infamy upon the innocent family of a convicted criminal. And he protested against the still more horrid cruelty which reduced unfortunate children born out of wedlock to something like the status of the mediæval serf. Robespierre's compositions at this time do not rise above the ordinary level of declaiming mediocrity, but they promised a manhood of benignity and enlightenment. To compose prize essays on political reforms was better than to ignore or to oppose political reform. But the course of events afterwards owed their least desirable bias to the fact that such compositions were the nearest approach to political training that so many of the revolutionary leaders underwent.

Which of these pieces of information is least credible?

Possible Answers:

The content of Robespierre’s political essays

The nature of Robespierre’s visit to Rousseau

Robespierre’s participation in the Rosati

The relationship between Robespierre and his siblings

The early experiences of Robespierre’s life

Correct answer:

The nature of Robespierre’s visit to Rousseau

Explanation:

All of these pieces of information are probably verifiable through a number of sources and biographies, except the nature of Robespierre’s visit to Rousseau. The author seems to know this, which is evidenced by the language he employs: "Robespierre, who could not have been more than twenty at the time, for Rousseau died in the summer of 1778, is said to have gone on a reverential pilgrimage in search of an oracle from the lonely sage." The key phrase being "is said to have gone." The author does not even know what year Robespierre might have made this visit, or how old he was at the time, noting only that he could have been "no more than twenty." There is less evidence to support this piece of information, and it is therefore less credible.

Example Question #9 : Determining Source Credibility

Adapted from "Bees" in What is Man? And Other Essays (1906) by Mark Twain.

Bee scientists always speak of the bee as she. It is because all the important bees are of that sex. In the hive there is one married bee, called the queen; she has fifty thousand children; of these, about one hundred are sons; the rest are daughters. Some of the daughters are young maids, some are old maids, and all are virgins and remain so.

Every spring the queen comes out of the hive and flies away with one of her sons and marries him. The honeymoon lasts only an hour or two; then the queen divorces her husband and returns home competent to lay two million eggs. This will be enough to last the year, but not more than enough, because hundreds of bees get drowned every day, and other hundreds are eaten by birds, and it is the queen's business to keep the population up to standard—say, fifty thousand. She must always have that many children on hand and efficient during the busy season, which is summer, or winter would catch the community short of food. She lays from two thousand to three thousand eggs a day, according to the demand; and she must exercise judgment, and not lay more than are needed in a slim flower-harvest, nor fewer than are required in a prodigal one, or the board of directors will dethrone her and elect a queen that has more sense.

There are always a few royal heirs in stock and ready to take her place—ready and more than anxious to do it, although she is their own mother. These girls are kept by themselves, and are regally fed and tended from birth. No other bees get such fine food as they get, or live such a high and luxurious life. By consequence they are larger and longer and sleeker than their working sisters. And they have a curved sting, shaped like a scimitar, while the others have a straight one.

A common bee will sting anyone or anybody, but a royalty stings royalties only. A common bee will sting and kill another common bee, for cause, but when it is necessary to kill the queen other ways are employed. When a queen has grown old and slack and does not lay eggs enough one of her royal daughters is allowed to come to attack her, the rest of the bees looking on at the duel and seeing fair play. It is a duel with the curved stings. If one of the fighters gets hard pressed and gives it up and runs, she is brought back and must try again—once, maybe twice; then, if she runs yet once more for her life, judicial death is her portion; her children pack themselves into a ball around her person and hold her in that compact grip two or three days, until she starves to death or is suffocated. Meantime the victor bee is receiving royal honors and performing the one royal function—laying eggs.

During substantially the whole of her short life of five or six years the queen lives in the Egyptian darkness and stately seclusion of the royal apartments, with none about her but plebeian servants, who give her empty lip-affection in place of the love which her heart hungers for; who spy upon her in the interest of her waiting heirs, and report and exaggerate her defects and deficiencies to them; who fawn upon her and flatter her to her face and slander her behind her back; who grovel before her in the day of her power and forsake her in her age and weakness. There she sits, friendless, upon her throne through the long night of her life, cut off from the consoling sympathies and sweet companionship and loving endearments which she craves, by the gilded barriers of her awful rank; a forlorn exile in her own house and home, weary object of formal ceremonies and machine-made worship, winged child of the sun, native to the free air and the blue skies and the flowery fields, doomed by the splendid accident of her birth to trade this priceless heritage for a black captivity, a tinsel grandeur, and a loveless life, with shame and insult at the end and a cruel death—and condemned by the human instinct in her to hold the bargain valuable!

Huber, Lubbock, and Maeterlinck are agreed in denying that the bee is a member of the human family. I do not know why they have done this, but I think it is from dishonest motives. Why, the innumerable facts brought to light by their own painstaking and exhaustive experiments prove that if there is a master fool in the world, it is the bee. That seems to settle it.  

But that is the way of the scientist, who will spend thirty years in building up a mountain range of facts with the intent to prove a certain theory, then is so happy in this achievement that, as a rule, the chief fact of all is overlooked—that this accumulation proves an entirely different thing. When you point out this miscarriage, the scientist does not answer your letters. Scientists have odious manners, except when you prop up their theory; then you can borrow money from them. To be strictly fair, I will concede that now and then one of them will answer your letter, but when they do they avoid the issue—you cannot pin them down. When I discovered that the bee was human I wrote about it to all those scientists whom I have just mentioned. For evasions, I have seen nothing to equal the answers I got.

The credibility of Huber, Lubbock, and Maeterlinck presumably rests on __________.

Possible Answers:

their ability to equate the behavior of animals with that of humans

their love and devotion to bees

their status as authorities on the nature of bees

their close personal relationship with the author

their writings on human nature

Correct answer:

their status as authorities on the nature of bees

Explanation:

The author introduces these three men when he begins to talk about how scientists studying the bee do not agree with his conclusion that the bee is human. One can presume that these three men have been included because of their status as authorities on the nature of bees. The four other answer choices  suggest that the author would agree with the three men, but it is clear from context that he is disparaging them.

Example Question #10 : Determining Source Credibility

Adapted from The Everyday Life of Abraham Lincoln by Francis Fischer Browne (1913)

Lincoln took but little part in politics of slavery until the passage of the Nebraska Bill by Congress in 1854. The enactment of this measure impelled him to take a firmer stand upon the question of slavery than he had yet assumed. He had been opposed to the institution on grounds of sentiment since his boyhood; now he determined to fight it from principle. Mr. Herndon states that Lincoln really became an anti-slavery man in 1831, during his visit to New Orleans, where he was deeply affected by the horrors of the traffic in human beings. On one occasion he saw a slave, a beautiful girl, sold at auction. She was felt over, pinched, and trotted around to show bidders she was sound. Lincoln walked away from the scene with a feeling of deep abhorrence. He said to John Hanks, "If I ever get a chance to hit that institution, John, I'll hit it hard!"

Judge Gillespie records a conversation that he had with Lincoln in 1850 on the slavery question, remarking by way of introduction that the subject of slavery was the only one on which he (Lincoln) was apt to become excited. "I recollect meeting him once at Shelbyville," says Judge Gillespie, "when he remarked that something must be done or slavery would overrun the whole country. He said there were about six hundred thousand non-slaveholding whites in Kentucky to about thirty-three thousand slaveholders; that in the convention then recently held it was expected that the delegates would represent these classes about in proportion to their respective numbers; but when the convention assembled, there was not a single representative of the non-slaveholding class; everyone was in the interest of the slaveholders; 'and,' said he, 'the thing is spreading like wildfire over the country. In a few years we will be ready to accept the institution in Illinois, and the whole country will adopt it.' I asked him to what he attributed the change that was going on in public opinion. He said he had recently put that question to a Kentuckian, who answered by saying, 'You might have any amount of land, money in your pocket, or bank-stock, and while traveling around nobody would be any wiser; but if you had a black man trudging at your heels, everybody would see him and know that you owned a slave. It is the most ostentatious way of displaying property in the world; if a young man goes courting, the only inquiry is as to how many slaves he owns.' The love for slave property was swallowing up every other mercenary possession. Its ownership not only betokened the possession of wealth, but indicated the gentleman of leisure who scorned labor. These things Mr. Lincoln regarded as highly pernicious to the thoughtless and giddy young men who were too much inclined to look upon work as vulgar and ungentlemanly. He was much excited, and said with great earnestness that this spirit ought to be met, and if possible checked; that slavery was a great and crying injustice, an enormous national crime, and we could not expect to escape punishment for it. I asked him how he would proceed in his efforts to check the spread of slavery. He confessed he did not see his way clearly; but I think he made up his mind that from that time he would oppose slavery actively. I know that Lincoln always contended that no man had any right, other than what mere brute force gave him, to hold a slave. He used to say it was singular that the courts would hold that a man never lost his right to property that had been stolen from him, but that he instantly lost his right to himself if he was stolen. Lincoln always contended that the cheapest way of getting rid of slavery was for the nation to buy the slaves and set them free."

While in Congress, Lincoln had declared himself plainly as opposed to slavery; and in public speeches not less than private conversations he had not hesitated to express his convictions on the subject. In 1850 he said to Major Stuart: "The time will soon come when we must all be Democrats or Abolitionists. When that time comes, my mind is made up. The slavery question cannot be compromised." The hour had now struck in which Lincoln was to espouse with his whole heart and soul that cause for which finally he was to lay down his life. In the language of Mr. Arnold, "He had bided his time. He had waited until the harvest was ripe. With unerring sagacity he realized that the triumph of freedom was at hand. He entered upon the conflict with the deepest conviction that the perpetuity of the Republic required the extinction of slavery.

Which of these underlined sources has the least credibility?

Possible Answers:

Mr. Arnold

Major Stuart

a Kentuckian

Mr. Herndon

Judge Gillespie

Correct answer:

a Kentuckian

Explanation:

All of these sources provide either personal anecdotes or first-hand narrations of their interactions with Lincoln except for the Kentuckian. We hear the Kentuckian’s account during Judge Gillespie's testimony. The Judge tells us that Lincoln told him what the Kentuckian had told Lincoln. We are removed by at least one degree more from the source of this quote than we are from the others and so it therefore has less credibility.

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