A11: Causal Argument

Helmets Prevent Injury by Preventing Biking

Your second short argument is due TUE APR 09. It will make an argument essential to your Research Position Paper, which is due THU APR 25, just nine days after your Rebuttal Argument is due on TUE APR 16. This sounds like a ridiculous amount of work over the next few weeks, but actually, it’s just a clever way to get you to finish a large portion of your Research Position Paper before the ultimate deadline.

I would not be surprised if you can use virtually all of your causation argument in your final paper to very good effect. So, try to think of next Tuesday’s  deadline as a chance to finish your final paper early.

This Causal Argument Essay will identify one or more cause-and-effect relationships essential to proving your thesis. We’ll talk today about the most likely causal arguments in each of your papers. Until now, you may not have thought of your particular paper as having much to do with causation, but by the end of the class I hope you’ll each have a good idea how to approach this project.

Causation Basics

We make causation statements all the time, without necessarily realizing that we’re engaged in argument and proof.
1) The Sixers lost because they didn’t rebound and turned the ball over too often
–Lack of possession caused the loss
2) His parents’ divorce made it difficult for Charles to form lasting relationships
–Early childhood trauma caused Charles’s three divorces
3) A dispute over abortion prevented the government from passing a budget
–A small detail kept a huge compromise from being finalized

Types of Causation Statements
Causation is complicated because life and the world are complex webs of interconnected activities all with consequences. Rarely does a single cause yield just one effect. Your job in writing causal arguments will often be to identify the most important of the several causes for one effect (or the several effects of a single cause).
1) Immediate Cause
–Deep philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats caused the US Congress to have difficulty passing a budget last week. But tiny matters like the funding of a few abortions can be cited as the Immediate Cause of the last-minute budget crisis. So an immediate cause and a persistent conflict combine to create an episodic effect.
2) Remote Cause
–It’s been decades since Charles’s parents divorced, but the lingering effects of that childhood trauma do bedevil his relationships with women to this day. The immediate cause of his third divorce is that he visits hookers, but he blames the remote cause instead when he talks to his therapist.
3) Precipitating Cause
–Very similar to the immediate cause, the precipitating cause is the sudden change that allows an underlying cause to have its way with objects or events. We should say gravity caused the car to roll downhill into the bay, but we’ll probably say instead it was the failure of the brakes.
4) Contributing Cause
–The Sixers don’t have the skilled players to match up against the Celtics most nights, and that’s always the underlying cause for their losing when they do, but on this particular night, the turnovers and bad rebounding contributed to the skill mismatch to cause a loss.

Other Complications

Considering how many causes are usually in play to achieve any individual result, you’re not responsible to prove causation beyond a shadow of a doubt. Your demonstration of a likely cause, with evidence and reason, will suffice. Your “proof” will yield a probable cause, not a certain conclusion. That said, you will need to defend against oversimplification and false causation. Because they often occur together, correlations mimic causations; you never want to make the mistake of claiming that breakfast causes lunch.

Correlation as False Causation
Annie does well in school because?:
–Annie always brings her lunch in a brown bag
–Annie gets nothing but support for good scholastic performance
–Annie’s parents are both brilliant
–Annie’s parents don’t let her watch much television
–Annie’s house is full of books
–Annie was born after a full 9-month gestation

It turns out television viewing has little predictable correlation with strong academic performance, so even if both exist in Annie’s case, neither is likely to cause the other. But the IQ of parents does have a causal effect, and so does low birth weight. House full of books? Not so much. Bringing your own lunch? None at all. The rules here are fuzzy, but the best refutation for your strongest argument is often that you’ve only demonstrated a correlation, not causation. Yes, most heroin addicts have smoked marijuana, but an even larger percentage of them drank soft drinks as a kid. Which one is causal?

What I Think
You’re under no obligation to accept my thesis recommendations, but after thinking about your research topics, I believe you might find it fruitful to ask the following questions or consider the following theories for your papers.

Saarah Prodani
Saarah doesn’t actually make a thesis claim in her proposal, so it’s hard to tell what her causal arguments would be. I surmise that since she is heavily influenced by a video called “What Babies Learn in the Womb,” she must accept the premise that babies do in fact learn before they’re born. This might be difficult to prove, but some evidence could be helpful. If, for example, babies are born with a preference for certain tastes or food types, we could use that to prove that they “acquired” those tastes by ingesting those food types through the umbilical cord. The tests for these sorts of claims are very subjective and dubious, so Saarah will need good clinical studies to overcome our natural inclination to doubt that what mommies say about their very special infants is in fact factual.

Lashawn Robinson
Lashawn’s thesis is also unclear at this point, so she too will have to clarify it before she writes a good Causal argument. The topic is “Sleeping On It,” and the general premise seems to be that decisions made after a night of sleep are “better” than snap judgments. But even that is not clear. It’s possible that any sort of distraction (sleep or concentration on some other, unrelated issue) gives the unconscious mind a chance to deliberate on the problem with improved results. Either way, she’ll have to find a way to define “better decisions” in a way that truly convinces readers she can prove that anything produces them. If studies exist that control for distraction and non-distraction, sleep and not-sleep, we’ll still have to know what “better” is.

Ryan Moyer
Ryan’s topic is the hateful rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church and its recently deceased leader, Fred Phelps, the lovely people who bring us the GOD HATES FAGS protests outside the funerals of servicemen. His thesis, not clearly stated in his Proposal, is spelled out clearly in his Definition essay, that the rabid protests produce support for gay rights advocates. While it’s altogether persuasive to claim that sympathetic humans will rally to defend a vulnerable class as it’s being attacked, the harder proof will be to demonstrate that this sympathy translates into support or advocacy for the vulnerable group. In other words, does our revulsion against the WBC, our abhorrence for their tactics, our outrage at their terrible lack of decency and decorum, even our compassion for their victims last longer than a moment of pity? Once the church members depart the funeral and we calm down, do our open hearts translate into a desire for justice for the targets of that hate we witnessed? We might just rally AGAINST the WBC without rallying TO SUPPORT the gay Americans they condemn.

Billy Kluge
Billy’s argument is that self-harm prevents suicide. It’s a brilliant little causation argument already, one we readily understand without much explanation. We do, however, require evidence that the process actually works, and we want to know how it works. The bulk of Billy’s paper could be procedural, or a process analysis argument. As for the upcoming deadline to produce a causation argument, I’d suggest he examine certain test questions; for example: if a self-harmer eventually does commit suicide, does that prove self-harm is dangerous, or does it prove that harming was, until the final episode, sufficiently therapeutic to help the sufferer avoid suicide, perhaps for many years? Another example: are violent individuals also self-medicating when they get into fights? Are the same endorphins produced in the presence of danger and fear as in the presence of self-inflicted pain? Are people who die violent deaths following violent lives just successful suicides by unconventional means?

Taylor Brody
Taylor’s thesis is that Bronies, the primarily male adult member of a fan club for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,  are sane, heterosexual, creative types who sincerely appreciate the show’s message, content, and production values. He also claims Hasbro nurtures this fan base by permitting its intellectual property to be liberally borrowed for parody and derivative use. The causation question is, why this show? Why these characters? Surely there are other shows equally well made. Taylor even mentions several. So perhaps Hasbro’s supportive reaction is the necessary cause without which a budding fandom would not have flourished? Or is there something uniquely appealing about this particular show that distinguishes it from other quality animation aimed at youth? Most likely the fans themselves provide plenty of evidence in their online correspondence to support several causal theories worth arguing.

Rory O’Connell
Rory maintains that bicycle helmet laws do more to discourage bike riding than they do to make riders safer. His White Paper is full of causal arguments to choose from. One is that car manufacturers promote bike helmet laws in a perverse effort to discourage bicycle riding to the benefit of car purchasing. Another very much worth pursuing is that wearing a helmet causes a biker to engage in riskier behavior in the mistaken notion that the helmet offers significant safety. Another is the primary argument that the laws designed to make riders safer instead drives them from the road. The argument that permitting helmetless riding encourages more bikers is not proved by pointing to examples of countries that have fewer regulations and more bikers, but it could be proved in countries with before-and-after evidence. Rory might also devote a causation argument to the premise that bike helmets protect bikers more from impact with the ground than impact with cars.

Kevin Buttari
Kevin is arguing in favor of procrastination. He can certainly make several causation arguments to support the value of putting things off, from waiting for the latest data before making decisions to giving processes the proper amount to time to function well. He could also argue that deadlines focus the mind effectively and produce a clarity not available while there’s still “plenty of time.” But a better paper would distinguish between projects that truly benefit from an orderly, slow, apparently time-wasteful process that looks to others like procrastination on the one hand; and, on the other hand, projects that (unlike research papers) can be perfectly well performed at the very last minute.

Rick Casario
Rick’s thesis is about a paragraph long, which is a good indication it’s still a work-in-progress. He’s worried that (even after the defeat of a measure called SOPA designed to stop overseas piracy of American intellectual property like the bootlegging of American movies) Congress will continue to find ways to restrict the freedom of the internet in ways detrimental to innocent users. If I’ve accurately summarized his position, it contains an essential causation argument he will be wise to pursue. He could phrase it either of two ways, depending on how cynical he is: 1) any restriction placed on the free exchange of files or data between internet users is inherently detrimental because it causes disruptions in innocent use; 2) the government will use SOPA or any similar measure as an excuse to crack down on websites or hosts antagonistic to the interests of the government. Both arguments involve a simple cause-and-effect. SOPA-like legislation restricts legitimate use of the internet. In the first case, the result is more or less accidental; in the second case, the result is deliberate. Rick doesn’t need to guess which motive is at stake, and he doesn’t need to be cynical himself to support the idea that the government might be. As long as he can provide evidence of the danger that regulations, whether well- or ill-intentioned, can have detrimental effects, his paper will be valuable and valid. Some of SOPA’s provisions would have had very serious consequences indeed: the government would have been empowered to shut down entire websites that were found to host files that violated copyrights. The Arab Spring uprisings offer us plenty of evidence of governments that routinely shut down websites and domains they thought were being used by insurgents to communicate with one another. SOPA could have taken down facebook with enough credible evidence that it hosted questionable material, whether or not it had an obligation to police everything its users posted. This very rich topic is full of consequences to track in a causal argument.

Kailee Whiting
Kailee’s thesis will eventually be that as long as men are in charge of defining rape, courts and other judicial bodies (academic honor boards, business administrators, military tribunals) will continue to defend the actions of the assailants who are almost always men against the accusations of the victims who are almost always women. She has gathered evidence that women raped on college campuses are routinely victimized again by the administrators who should be protecting them against attack. That’s a terrible additional effect of the rape caused by the college’s fear of publicity, scandal, and repercussions. Their view that the rape did not publicly occur if the woman’s story is discredited places the woman at severe new risk of being abused. And that sad fact, of course, cascades to new, equally sad consequences 1) the woman regrets having made the accusation, 2) anyone she tells gets the clear message that the administration does not protect female students from attack, 3) potential attackers are emboldened that sexual abuse will be tolerated without consequences. So a terrible cycle of cause and effect repeats and grows stronger.

Samantha Kovnat
Sammy Kovnat’s thesis is that Anne Frank was a gifted and deliberate author intent on producing a work of lasting genius, not an unselfconscious and childish diarist, and that her diary is a carefully edited work of memoir designed to achieve specific artistic effects. The fascinating causal argument here is a literary argument. What causes our appreciation for the Diary? Are we thunderstruck at least in part by the unexpectedness of the document: that an innocent girl can be at the same time a childish victim of her circumstances, petulant, whiny, immature, and at the same time enthrall us with her accidental genius at describing the appalling circumstances of her family’s confinement and persecution? How can such a book even exist! In other words, its authenticity is what makes it so effective. It wouldn’t be nearly so impressive if it had been written as fiction by a 50-year-old American novelist. Therefore, oddly, counterintuitively, any hint that the book’s effects are deliberately achieved by a crafty author who revised its pages to make them more moving threatens to rob those pages of their power. A very interesting cause and effect. Knowing that she made the pages better makes them worse, but enhances our appreciation of her skill.

Brent Adkins
Brent takes a dim view of corporate philanthropy. He actually makes the claim that Toms Shoes “does more harm than good” by donating a pair of shoes to residents of underdeveloped countries for every pair it sells. To make his case convincing, he doesn’t have to question the motives of Toms or its founder. In fact, to make his Causation Argument, he should carefully avoid any discussion of motivation and concentrate instead on the consequences of donating the shoes wherever they do harm. The fact that the shoes fall apart quickly doesn’t qualify unless the failing shoes do harm. If they cause injuries, of course, then yes, they harm their wearers. If the importation of free shoes into a shoe marketplace undermines a local shoe company that provides jobs to local workers, that of course is a harm to the local economy. It might also be possible to combine Causation and Rebuttal into a single essay. Brent might take the opportunity to refute the claims of others that the program’s encouragement of its generous customers is a beneficial consequence. I leave it to him to decide how or whether to puncture this platitude.

Justin Baker
The best I can figure, Baker’s thesis is that heavy metal is not worthless or trivial. He calls it an escape from struggle; he calls it a great genre; he says it delivers good messages. The same, it seems, could be said of any sort of music that has adult lyrics. The counterintuitive aspect, if there is one, is that so many people dismiss metal without hesitation, just as many dismiss rap, country-western, and polka. More specifically, many dismiss it, he hints but does not (but should) say directly, because it is a loud and aggressive assault on the senses. They don’t give the music a chance because, if I may put it this way, the music challenges them to go away. It’s tempting to correlate this attitude with youthful challenges toward older or mainstream culture. The musicians seek fans, of course, but only fans who reject pretty melodies and comforting lyrics. I’m not cute, says metal, and I won’t hold your hand; I have more to offer than that for those willing to seek it. So far, this is extremely subjective and not academic; interesting, but impossible to “research.” The possibilities for causal arguments here are hiding in the sources. Does a heavy diet of heavy metal lead to actual aggression in listeners? Baker says no, I think, but his additional comments about depression in the test subjects clouds that clear conclusion. Still, if it can be tested, the thesis that metal does create or release violence is an ideal causal argument whatever the results. Baker’s counterargument, that metal relieves aggressive tendencies by soothing its listeners will be equally impossible to prove, but worth debating. The reason this topic is worthwhile is that a large portion of the public believe there is a causal connection between metal and violence (Marilyn Manson caused Columbine, for example). Of course, it is equally likely that there’s no connection at all, or that the connection is merely a correlation between what’s popular in the culture and a natural tendency in teens, for example toward contemplating suicide as a solution for youthful angst.

Kirsten Smith
Like Brent Adkins, Kirsten is critical of what she sees as the commercial exploitation of philanthropic motives of would-be consumers. Also like Brent, she uses the example of Toms Shoes (along with One Laptop per Child) to show the often detrimental effects of philanthropic efforts. Her background paragraphs and specific examples don’t clarify whether she’s primarily interested in mere ineffectiveness, or actual harm. She could do both, of course, provided she organizes her material well. The entire research project is clearly a cause-and-effect investigation that seeks to explain the results of well-meaning efforts to improve life for others, so the most obvious examples for a causation paper would be those that show dramatic results (disruption of the local shoe market, injuries to recipients) not those that argue, for example, that much of the money donated never reaches its target (where no results are seen at all). But there is other causation at work too. When philanthropy doesn’t solve a problem, or when would-be philanthropists mistake the nature of the problem, we can and should ask why? And when we ask why, we’re asking, what caused this? For example, manufacturers (of shoes or anything else) think consumer goods solve problems, so it’s only natural for them to want to flood a nation with stuff as a solution. A paper that argued that the reason philanthropy fails is that it misunderstands the problems in the first place would be very meaningful. Kirsten’s brilliantly collected sources offer countless opportunities to demonstrate just how many ways philanthropists can “get it wrong.”

Mike Middleton
Mike’s counterintuitive thesis is that cutting down trees to make paper bags for one-time use is a conscientious, green act. His proof requires scientific cause-and-effect evidence that naturally lends itself to a Causal Argument. The power of his argument will be to surprise readers by overturning their “common knowledge” that cutting down trees is bad for the environment. It is, of course, if we’re clear-cutting the Amazon rainforests for grazing land to raise cattle. But surprisingly, says Mike, clearing old wood the replace it with new tree plantings, takes more carbon out of the air than letting the old trees stand, and anything that reduces atmospheric carbon (and as a bonus contributes oxygen) is a great way to eliminate a greenhouse gas and slow global warming. There’s a lot of noise in Mike’s White Paper that obscures this straightforward argument. Driving home the one clear message will be his first challenge and the Causal Argument is a great place to start.

Dan Primavera
Dan’s investigating a peculiar mystery: Statistically, Prozac is prescribed far more often to white patients than non-white. His paper is a search for the cause of this phenomenon, so, by nature, it’s already Causal. Whether he decides to devote his shorter Causal Argument to a survey of the possible causes, or to a detailed investigation of a single likely cause is up to Dan; both approaches could be very successful. For instance, he might want to debunk an obvious candidate in 1000 words and then challenge readers to think more creatively about other possible causes. Dan’s first source, for example, details the many ailments for which Prozac is prescribed. Well, people may think, perhaps white patients are more likely to suffer those ailments than non-white patients. But no, Dan could prove, all patients are equally needy of the remedies Prozac provides; therefore, something else is responsible for the disparity in prescriptions. Whites and non-whites are both treated for the ailments, but whites get the name-brand remedy while non-whites are prescribed generics.

Nicole Clark
Nicole will be arguing that we can’t trust our gut reactions, and even less can we trust our conscious reasoning processes. Decisions made after careful consideration, she says, are worse than those we make by “sleeping on them.” The obvious question (if we accept the premise) is a causal question: how does that happen? or what causes that? The proof is scientific, which makes it a good candidate for both causation analysis and the testing of a hypothesis. From her list of possible small topics, the one that seems to demand a Causal Argument is 2: how the mind works and makes decisions when the body is asleep. The mechanics of sleeping brain function is pure cause-and-effect, so helping readers understand the process is an ideal topic for the shorter paper.

Steve LeBano Steve started his research curious about the “green” claims of hybrid cars. At present, his thesis is that “hybrid technology is not the economic and environmental savior it’s been advertised to be.” He could devote a short paper to the reasons hybrids fail to deliver cost savings (X and Y do not cause Z); or the reasons hybrids don’t benefit the environment (A and B do not cause C). He begins to sketch this formula by comparing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from hybrids vs. conventional cars. It’s less, but it doesn’t calculate the carbon cost of producing the electricity for cars that need to be charged. For cars that charge themselves, this is not a consideration; for cars that plug in, it most certainly is. He continues to negate the environmental benefit by identifying the harms done by new battery technologies. Just sketching these few topics to develop the hybrid-does-not-create-net-environmental-benefit formula would be enough for a short paper. The cost analysis can wait for the longer essay. OR, he could examine the specific case of one particular hybrid model: whichever proves his case the best. A detailed report card on a particular vehicle could prove: Prius does not save the planet. One caution about statistics. Steve quotes an article that seems to indicate manufacturing hybrids is itself unsustainably dirty:

10 to 20 percent of a [hybrid] vehicle’s total lifetime greenhouse gas emissions are released during the manufacturing stage alone.

That seems to damn the vehicle as too dirty to build. But look at the same quote another way, by comparison, in this made-up quote:

Manufacturing a conventional vehicle releases less than 1% of the greenhouse gases the car will emit over its lifetime.

That doesn’t mean manufacturing conventional cars is cleaner than manufacturing hybrids. It means the conventional car emits a WHOLE LOT MORE greenhouse gas during its lifetime on the highway.

Jodi Dziedzic
Jodi strenuously objects to removing street art from its intended environment. She considers the art to be site-specific, and insists that the process and location of its execution are essential to the art’s value and meaning. She makes what sounds like an ethical claim (but might just be an aesthetic claim), that removing street art from the street to the gallery is wrong. Jodi has certainly noticed an increasing tendency in contemporary gallery exhibitions to slap art directly onto the gallery walls instead of placing it discretely into frames. She may be interested to explore whether this technique makes the gallery into a site the way an outdoor warehouse wall is a site. It would be fascinating to contemplate this scenario: Graffiti artist c215 is invited to showcase new works at the Met. He’s given access to a gallery during off-hours to protect his anonymity while he produces art directly on the walls and his show is a big success. But while he’s roaming the Met in the wee hours, he stencils similar images on the walls of other galleries, work not sanctioned by the museum, for which he is arrested and convicted of vandalism. In what way is the work essentially different? In other words, the cause-effect question is: how does where the work appears change the nature of the work? And does removing it from its intended location irreparably alter it?

Chris DiSarcina
Chris advocates in favor of natural fur coats mass-produced from farmed “wild” animals like mink and chinchilla. His primary causal claim appears to be that current methods (like trapping in leg traps) result in cruelty to the furbearers, and he proposes that mechanized raising and “harvesting” techniques can eliminate the cruelty. He shouldn’t have much trouble demonstrating the cruelty of a leg trap, but he could certainly devote a worthwhile paper to proving that fur farms can be humane. His decision to use the fast food industry as a model of humaneness is problematic. He may have chosen it deliberately to further tweak the noses of PETA members who certainly don’t consider factory farming for meat to be in the least bit humane (with ample evidence to support their opposition). The most useful argument would probably be to address the known cruelties of factory farms and one by one demonstrate how those cruelties could be eliminated in his model mink farms.

Kenyah King Ho-Sang
Kenyah, like Kailee, thinks men have been in charge of defining rape long enough. She devotes considerable space to enumerating some of the insane male attitudes toward rape that would be funny if they weren’t so frighteningly misinformed. Kenyah doesn’t make a causal claim per se in her thesis, but she could certainly phrase one from the claims she does make. She could say, for example, that rapists go free when legislators, judges, and prosecutors are primarily male. “Desensitization” is one thing, and hard to prove; exonerating criminals, on the other hand, is demonstrable and clearly the consequence of several causes.

Adam Tutolo
I don’t know quite what Adam’s currently up to since most of the recent work on his White Paper has been mine, but when he first concocted this excellent thesis, it was that bystanders to an emergency scene fail to act appropriately because they’re stymied by a set of psychological blocks to taking correct action. Whatever those mysterious causes are, I’m dying to know and I’m counting on Adam to share them with me. They are the essence of an excellent Causal Argument I’d like to hear made. Sadly, I have little else to report. I haven’t seen any of the tons of sources apparently available on this topic.

Works Cited
Cite 3-5 sources for your Causal Argument Essay. It’s possible they’ll be repeats of earlier-cited sources, but consider it an opportunity to impress me by adding new legitimate sources for this new paper. If they are new, identify them before the citation as: NEW SOURCE.


  • Write your second Shorter Argument paper.
  • The paper will take the form of a Causal Argument as described above.
  • Identify and explain the strongest cause and effect sequence in your argument.
  • Anticipate and refute rebuttals to your causal analysis if necessary.
  • Include Works Cited.
  • Call your post Causal Essay—Author Name.
  • But in addition to that placeholder title, also give your essay a proper title. For example, this post is titled “Helmets Prevent Injury by Preventing Biking.”
  • Publish your causal essay in the A11: Causal Essay category.


  • DUE TUE APR 09 before class.
  • Customary late penalties. (0-24 hours 10%) (24-48 hours 20%) (48+ hours, 0 grade)
  • Shorter Arguments grade category (20%)

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels. www.davidbdale.wordpress.com
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