LSAT Logic & Greenpeace's Campaign to Green Apple's iPod

LSAT Blog Logic Apple iPod iPhone Spoof Greenpeace
When you become more logical, you won't only start to see more flaws, weaknesses, and gaps in the arguments of those you disagree with.

You'll also start to see them in the arguments of those you do agree with. Call it a cost of doing business.

I recently came across Greenpeace's campaign to "green" Apple. It's a few years old, but it's still worth looking at. Greenpeace's argument contains several shaky assumptions, examples of faulty reasoning, and more.

Before environmentalists start getting all up in my grill, please note:

I'm down with the environment, trees, polar bears, and all that other good stuff. It's possible to analyze the shaky reasoning of people with whom you agree without attacking their ultimate conclusions. In fact, by doing so, you can help them to make better arguments in the future.


Let's focus on the iPoison and iWaste sections of the Greenpeace campaign site, starting at the beginning:
Apple just doesn't prioritize environmental concerns. Sure, they have a nice Environment section on their website. But it's not linked from the front page, and it's hard to find unless you know where to look.
If you threw in a few more multi-syllabic words, you'd have a beautiful LSAT Logical Reasoning stimulus.

The first sentence is the conclusion, the second is a counterpremise, and the final two-part sentence is the evidence.

Today, Apple does link to its Environment page from the homepage (on the bottom right). Let's assume that it didn't back in 2007.

Does not linking to something on your homepage mean that you don't prioritize it?

Not necessarily. There are only so many things a company can link to on its homepage before it starts to become overwhelming. Think Yahoo vs. Google a few years ago. Who won that battle?

As for something "being hard to find unless you know where to look," what happened to doing a general web search for the terms "Apple Environment?" Seems like a pretty obvious action to take if one is interested in Apple's position on the environment.

I'm willing to bet that ranked pretty high for that search a few years ago, and it ranks #1 today.

A principle that, if valid, would justify Greenpeace's argument is:
If a company doesn't feature a link on its homepage to its page regarding a particular topic, then the company must not prioritize that topic.

Greenpeace goes on to say:

What a good Apple looks like

Take the example of the toxic plastic Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). Other companies have set a date to remove PVC from their products. Apple hasn't. Major new product lines like the iPod nano and MacBook still contain PVC.

We want all new Apple product be free of the worst toxic chemicals in the production process and products themselves.
The first paragraph talks about PVC, and the second paragraph talks about "worst toxic chemicals." An assumption here is that PVC is one of the "worst toxic chemicals." (This shift in terms from one part of the argument to another is very common in Logical Reasoning stimuli.)

Does Apple's inclusion of PVC in its products make it a "not-good Apple?" Not necessarily. There might be other terrible chemicals Apple doesn't include in its products that the "other companies" do.

Finally, what does setting a date for the removal of toxins have to do with actually removing them?

Does setting a date for the removal of toxins guarantee the company will remove them by that date? Of course not.

Is it possible for a company to remove toxins without specifying a particular date? Of course.

If one knew that a company must set a date for doing something in order to actually do it, then setting a date would be relevant, and Greenpeace would have more of a justification for criticizing Apple for not setting a date.

Finally, let's pretend that Greenpeace said, "Other companies have publicly set a date." (which is probably what they actually meant, since it's more difficult to say whether there were internal (and undisclosed) targets and timetables for removing PVC.

This opens up our options a bit more - we now have publicly setting a date, privately setting a date, and not setting one at all.

We can now start thinking about whether publicly setting a date makes one more likely to perform an action than privately setting one. Of course, it might seem that way at first glance, but we can't really say without evidence.

LSAC likes to play on these types of preconceived notions. See PrepTest 31 (June 2000), Section 2, Question 19 (page 93 in Next 10) for an example.


Greenpeace continues:
Product take back

A basic environmental principle is that if you make and sell a product you should be responsible for that product when it is no longer wanted. This is also a basic rule for children: you clean up your own mess.

Dell and Hewlett Packard (HP) both support this principle, which goes by the very grown-up name of Individual Producer Responsibility.

If that principle in the first sentence is valid, then Apple should take back its products after consumers are finished with them.

The second sentence is offered as evidence for this principle; the author is making an analogy. However, there's a serious problem with this analogy:

Whose mess are all the unwanted electronics? The electronics are obviously wanted by someone when they're first produced and purchased, so it's difficult to make the argument that they're Apple's "mess" at that time. Isn't it really the consumer who stops wanting the product? If that's the case, then it's the consumer's mess, and the consumer should clean it up, according to the "basic rule for children." When viewed in this light, the argument contains an inherent contradiction.

If Greenpeace wanted to salvage this portion of the argument, it should instead advance the principle that the producer of a product, not the consumer, is responsible for their ultimate disposal/recycling.

The third sentence, the one about Dell and HP, is meant to support the principle's validity. The author is making the: "If your competitors jump off a bridge, then you should do it, too" argument. Mom wouldn't be proud.


I'll leave off there. However, the point is that there's a lot we can analyze from just a few paragraphs on the Greenpeace website.

See anything else there worth examining? Leave a comment!


Here's a somewhat-related analysis of Greenpeace's general criticism of Apple.

Photo by brian-fitzgerald / CC BY 2.0

1 comment:

  1. "a basic environmental principle" is it universal or particular to the folks at HP or perhaps the model company the author is thinking about. If so, then Apple isn't necessarily beholden to it.