Previous Page An Argument 70.
The following appeared in the editorial section of a local newspaper.
The tragic crash of a medical helicopter last week points up a situation that needs to be addressed. The medical-helicopter industry supposedly has more stringent guidelines for training pilots and maintaining equipment than do most other airline industries, but these guidelines do not appear to be working. Statistics reveal that the rate of medical-helicopter accidents is much higher than the rate of accidents for non-medical helicopters or commercial airliners. Question
Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underline the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate in conclusion. Analysis
The author of this editorial concludes that the guidelines for training pilots and maintaining equipment in the medical-helicopter industry are ineffective, even though they are far more stringent than those in other airline industries.
To support this conclusion, the author cites statistics showing that the rate of medical-helicopter accidents is much higher than the rate of accidents for non-medical helicopters or commercial airliners.
This argument is problematic in three critical respects.
The first problem with the argument is that it rests on the unstated assumption that accidents involving medical helicopters have been due to inadequate pilot training or equipment maintenance. The author fails to acknowledge other possible causes of such accidents. In fact, commonsense tells us that medical-helicopter accidents are most likely to result from the exigent circumstances and dangerous flying and landing conditions which typify medical emergencies where helicopters are required to gain access to victims.
A second and related problem is that the author unfairly compares the accident rate of medical helicopters with the accident rate for non-emergency aircraft. Medical helicopters are almost invariably deployed during emergencies to dangerous flying locales whereas other types of aircraft are not. Consequently, medical helicopter accidents will in all likelihood occur far more frequently than other aircraft accidents regardless of pilot training or equipment maintenance.
A third problem with the argument is that the statistical evidence upon which it relies is too vague to be informative. The statistics concerning aircraft accidents may have been based on all types of accidents, whether minor or major. The statistics would be more meaningful if we knew that the accidents to which they refer were all of comparable severity. For all we know, the rate of casualty-causing accidents for medical helicopters is actually lower than for other aircraft.
Additionally, we are not told the time period of the survey. An old surveyor one that covered only a brief time period would be poor evidence in support of the author's claim.
In conclusion, the author's evidence does little to support the conclusion. To be persuasive, the author must at the very least acknowledge and rule out other possible causes of accidents that are unique to the medical helicopter industry.
In any event, a more effective argument will have to be based on a statistical comparison of accident rates under differing sets of training and maintenance guidelines within the medical-helicopter industry, not among different aircraft industries.