ARG-039

The following appeared in a memo from the director of a large group of hospitals.

"In a laboratory study of liquid antibacterial hand soaps, a concentrated solution of UltraClean produced a 40 percent greater reduction in the bacteria population than did the liquid hand soaps currently used in our hospitals. During a subsequent test of UltraClean at our hospital in Workby, that hospital reported significantly fewer cases of patient infection than did any of the other hospitals in our group. Therefore, to prevent serious patient infections, we should supply UltraClean at all hand-washing stations throughout our hospital system."


Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on these assumptions and what the implications are for the argument if the assumptions prove unwarranted.


In this memo, the author recommends supplying UltraClean to all hand-washing stations throughout the hospital system to prevent serious patient infections. To support his/her suggestion, the director presents two separate studies, one conducted in a lab and the other in the field. Although UltraClean may indeed help reduce the occurrences of infections, information currently available is not conclusive because there are several unsubstantiated assumptions in the author’s reasoning. The director’s recommendation will be seriously challenged if these assumptions prove to be unwarranted.

To start with, the laboratory study shows that a concentrated solution of UltraClean is excellent at reducing the number of bacteria. Based on an unstated assumption that the non-concentrated version of UltraClean is similarly effective, the director endorses the use of regular UltraClean in the hospitals. However, this assumption is potentially problematic because intuitively speaking a concentrated solution of UltraClean may naturally outperform the non-concentrated version. Even if we acknowledge this assumption, UltraClean may not necessarily be as effective as the liquid hand soap currently used in the hospitals. If this is the case, the director’s assumption will not hold and his/her recommendation will be clearly weakened.

Additionally, the Workby hospital field study demonstrating that UltraClean use in hospitals can reduce cases of patient infections requires further examination. Whether or not UltraClean should be credited for this depends upon the assumption that Workby hospitals are comparable to those in other areas. For example, if the Workby hospital is extremely small and only receives a handful of patients each day, it would not be a surprise to see fewer numbers of infections. Moreover, the Workby hospital may be the best-staffed one in the region, and it is their attentiveness and expertise that keeps patient infections in check. For that reason, UltraClean may not necessarily be the key to few infections in the Workby hospital. As a result, the value of supplying UltraClean to other hospitals is debatable.

Even if we concede the aforementioned assumptions, the recommendation may still not be advisable because UltraClean is not shown to deal specifically with serious infections. The lab and field studies focused little, if at all, on serious infections. The director’s recommendation here essentially relies on the two assumptions: (1) serious infections are caused by bacteria and (2) regular and serious infections are caused by a common agent which UltraClean can effectively eliminate. Both of these assumptions need more support. It is not impossible that serious infections are drastically different in terms of its pathological nature and are caused by viruses or parasites rather than bacteria. In this case, it is very questionable if UltraClean, which only proves to be able to fight bacteria and reduce normal level of infections, can satisfactorily prevent serious patient infections.

To sum up, whether or not serious patient infections can be prevented by the use of UltraClean is still questionable and worth further investigation. The answer could turn out to be positive, but only after the author can reasonably demonstrate the validity of his/her assumptions by offering more compelling evidence.

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