Many issues today call for analysing arguments. Whether you are reading a newspaper article trying to make sense of a current problem such as shortages of meat, or you’re deep into an academic study figuring out the latest research on virus genome, you will be going through a meticulous process of understanding the argument being made.
Even before developing Argumentful, I got the habit of converting the articles I was reading into mind maps or concept maps. This gave me much more clarity around the logical connections made by the author between claims, reasons and warrants. It also helped me find the weaknesses of the argument in a very efficient manner.
In this article, I will deconstruct the argument made by writer Jonathan Safran Foer in his recent New York Times Article- The End of Meat is Here. I will do so by creating an argument map with Argumentful. The aim is to understand with more clarity what it is that the author is trying to convince us of, and whether the evidence he is using to support the main claim guides us logically to the conclusion. Although all reasons and conclusions might be correct, there must be a line of logical reasoning that move us from the reasons to the conclusion.
It seems that the central argument of the text is unveiled in the subtitle: people should stop eating animals, if they care about the working poor, about racial justice and about climate change.
This is very helpful, as I can compare my understanding of the text, the contributing arguments and logical connections to the central idea spelt out by the author.
Looking at the article, the central argument is declared in the subtitle and nine contributing arguments are found throughout the text. Each contributing argument is further supported by various statements, most supported with evidence, a few unsupported.
CENTRAL ARGUMENT: If you care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change, you have to stop eating animals.
1. Coronavirus affected the working poor negatively: human lives need to take priority over meat, however currently they don’t:
-Smithfield employees and their family members account for nearly 70 percent of coronavirus diagnoses in Minnehaha County, which includes Sioux Falls (supported with links)
-a plant in Perry, Iowa had 60% (730 cases) of their employees infected (supported with links)
-a plant in Waterloo, Iowa had 37% (1031 cases) of their employees infected (supported with links)
-mental health of hog farmers due to animals being euthanized (link not provided but found)
2. Coronavirus affected the farm animals negatively:
-injecting pregnant sows to cause abortions (supported with links)
-euthanizing animals (supported with links)
3. Eating meat regularly impacts the environment negatively:
-animal agriculture recognized as leading cause of global warming (supported with links)
-if cows were a country, they’d be the 3rd largest greenhouse emitter in the world (supported with links)
-each individual can contribute to reversing global warming by eating a plant-based diet (supported with links)
4. Eating meat regularly impacts the animal welfare:
-The farming system is not treating animals humanely, examples are offered (supported with links)
5. Eating meat regularly makes us vulnerable to pandemics:
-Despite the recent attention given to wet farms, factory farms, especially poultry farms are important breeding grounds for pandemics. (link not provided but found)
-Three out of four new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic (supported with links)
6. We can live longer healthier lives without animal protein:
-People who eat diets high in animal protein are more likely to die of heart disease, diabetes and kidney failure (link not provided but found)
7. If the factory-farm system collapses the farmers will not suffer:
-Ending animal farming will not cause farmers collapse, as most farming is owned by corporations (supported with links)
-Plant based foods and sustainable farming could create many more jobs than it would end (not supported)
8. Moving away from meat is not elitist:
-Vegetarian diet is 750USD a year cheaper than meat-based diet (supported with links)
-People of colour disproportionately self-identify as vegetarians (supported with links)
-People of colour are disproportionately victims of factory farming, as the slaughterhouse employees are overwhelmingly brown and black (not supported, searched for the evidence, but could not find it)
9. We cannot work with factory-farming corporations to improve the food system:
-Factory farming is an unfair competitor who would not survive if not supported by government grants and bailouts (link not provided but found)
-Factory farming is not interested in improving the food system (not supported, searched for the evidence, but could not find it)
ARGUMENT STRUCTURE AND ANALYSIS WITH ARGUMENTFUL MAP
Moving the whole text into an argument map, we get the following picture:
Overall, we can see that the author did his best to include as many contributing arguments as possible (nine in total) and most of these are backed by links included: the seventh hierarchical level in the structure contains the backing sources.
Nevertheless, as the argument is now in a visual form, it’s much easier to spot and analyse its weaknesses.
The first shortcoming I would mention is the fact that some backing evidence links back to other newspaper articles, rather than the primary research, or the academic study. For this reason, although Argumentful is able to calculate a score of truthiness for arguments, I decided to switch off this feature on the current analysis, because the sources- not pointing to primary research- are very hard to score and would probably be inaccurate. Nevertheless, this is a newspaper article, not an academic paper, so the author is not held to the same high standards of referencing as would be the case in an academic setting.
Contributing Arguments Missing Backing Evidence
Among 21 individual reasons that contribute to the overall argument, three are missing backing evidence: this means that the author did not provide any links towards research that supports these claims. Initially there were more similar cases, however, after a bit of research I managed to compile the backing for some of them. These three which are shown below are the only ones for which I couldn’t find any supporting evidence. That doesn’t mean that this evidence doesn’t exist, only that the author didn’t provide it and I also couldn’t find it on my own.
Special attention should be given to the claim that plant based foods and sustainable farming could create many more jobs than it would end. If the end objective of animal agriculture is to be fully automated, who’s to say that plant based agriculture would not end in a similar goal? Even with sustainable farming practices. In truth, the author does say “transitioning toward plant-based foods and sustainable farming practices would create many more jobs than it would end.” Might he mean that these jobs will last only for the period of transitioning? I hope that confusing semantics is not used here to cover an uncertainty: that we do not know that plant-based foods agriculture will not become automatic. After all, this is the direction toward which the world is going…
WEAK LOGICAL CONNECTIONS
Looking closer at the overall argument, some claims do not seem to support the central idea.
As a reminder, the central idea proposed by the author in the subtitle is:
People have to stop eating animals if they care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change.
The contributing arguments which seem disconnected from this idea are:
5. Eating meat regularly makes people vulnerable to pandemics
6. We can live longer healthier lives without animal protein
9. We cannot work with factory-farming corporations to improve the food system
These statements in and of themselves may very well be true.
The central argument might also be true.
But that doesn’t mean that they are logically linked together.
While these three statements could be good arguments for why a person should eat a plant based diet, they do not help the case of the main argument announced at the beginning: to stop eating animals if we care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change. It almost looks like the author moved away from the central idea he started with, in an attempt to include more arguments although not very strongly connected from a logical standpoint.
Overall, the central idea of this article is strongly supported by six contributing arguments. In my opinion, including the other three contributing arguments which are not logically connected to the original central idea could make the argument weaker.