Radiocarbon dating is a reliable method of determining the age of fossils, and larger fossils typically provide much more accurate readings than smaller fossils. In Marunga, which has recently built its first carbon dating laboratory, most fossils that are unearthed are small. Aiming to boost the laboratory's productivity and Marunga's reputation as a paleontology center, the government plans to fund excavations at sites known to contain large fossils.
Which of the following, if true, most seriously undermines the likelihood that the government funding, if implemented, will achieve both of the cited aims?
A. Without government funding, paleontologists seeking to uncover large fossils in Marunga would need to rely heavily on private sources of investment.
B. Many of the fossils unearthed in Marunga can be approximately dated before testing them in the carbon dating laboratory.
C. Large fossils are not generally located in the same parts of Marunga as are small fossils.
D. A major obstacle in the way of Marunga’s development as a paleontology center is the availability of qualified academics.
E. The small fossils in Marunga are much older and of greater paleontological interest than the large fossils in the area, which promise little in the way of advancing scientific knowledge.
Correct Answer: E
First, understand what the two cited aims are: (1) to boost the laboratory’s productivity, and (2) to improve the area’s reputation as a center for paleontology. The correct answer must only undermine one of the two. Choice (A) strengthens the argument—the government funding seems to be very important. Choice (B) is irrelevant—we don’t know how useful “approximate” dating is. Choice (C) simply tells us that the government has made a choice—sites with large fossils and those with small fossils are not the same. (D) tells us the government funding is not the most important thing, but not that it won’t work. Choice (E), however, is better. If the large fossils “promise little,” funding sites with large fossils is not likely to improve the area’s reputation. (E) is correct.
I chose D because if scientists at Marunga do not have the required skills, they will neither achieve the goal of better reputation for the research center nor increase productivity.
While (D) poses a problem for achieving the goal, it is not an insurmountable problem. Choice (E), however, does pose an insurmountable problem.
If (D) is true, the goal might still be achieved by importing or training more academics. But if choice (E) is true, then there is no way to achieve the goal, because there is no way to turn insignificant fossils into significant ones. We are asked which choice most seriously undermines the goal, so that must be (E).
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