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straw man fallacy

paul wheaton
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    ∞

I'm trying to flesh out the fallacy page a bit. I have this bit about the straw man fallacy and I want to add some stuff. So first, let me show you what I have:

-----------------------------

Proof by Straw Man (Straw Man Fallacy)
Your argument is wrong because something similar is wrong.

"Organic apples are bad because I don't like apples with worms in them."

This is called the "Straw Man Fallacy" because you set up an obvious bad thing and then link the argument to the obviously bad thing. It's easy to beat up the obviously bad thing. Worms in apples are bad (unless you're a chicken � then the apple is good and the worm is better). Apples from a professional, organic orchard generally have the same worm count as apples from a professional, non-organic orchard: none. Yet the statement above really throws you off your feed, doesn't it! The mighty power of the straw man fallacy!

The straw man is probably one of the most common fallacies in use.

-----------------------------

So I wanna add the bit where Jones says "I thought I read somewhere that the transaction handling on that database was weak." and then Smith replies with a straw man fallacy.

What would be a straw man response?


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Jeroen T Wenting
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your argument is flawed though.
Apples from "biological" sources have more worms and other defects than do apples from regular sources.
Research was done here and people seemed to reject apples (and other produce) sold as "biological" when that wasn't the case, thinking it was a deliberate rebranding of "normal" products in order to get a higher price.

So even if under ideal conditions the two don't go together, in practice they do.
And as you pointed out yourself apples from a regular orchard won't have worms in them, so if you don't want worms and want to be guaranteed of that you should not get "biological" apples (which have a higher, albeit still small) chance of worms.

Maybe it's different in the US of course, but that's the situation here.
"Biological" (or what in the US is termed "organic") producers are different from others mainly in their lesser quality control.
Tests in the 1990s even showed that produce from "biological" farms had higher concentrations of pesticides than regular produce, sometimes concentrations that, had it been regular produce, would have meant it could not be sold (at the time there were no such restrictions on "biological" farms as they were (mistakenly) thought to be self-regulating and not use pesticides (which they indeed claimed to not use)).


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marc weber
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Jones: I thought I read somewhere that the transaction handling on that database was weak.

Smith: Sorry, Jones. I'm not about to triple our costs and miss the deadline.


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David O'Meara
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Smith: It had problems in the last version, therefore it is fine now.
Andrew Monkhouse
author and jackaroo
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  94

Smith: It must be OK because our competition is using it.

Best regards, Andrew


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Jeroen T Wenting
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it's the most expensive offer, it must be the best.

(effective practice when evaluating tenders at one former customer)
Max Habibi
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There is also the indirect stawman: offering non-existent 'evidence' as support in of ludicrous conclusions. Then, when the basis is directly attacked, there's still a rhetorical distance between the 'support' and the conclusion.

As I recall, this was a favorite tactic of frauds like Stephan Glass of the New Republic: His base appeal to racism, ageism, and other stereotypes premeditated a false conclusion which people were all to ready to believe: it's one of the reasons I dismiss un attributed, or financially motivated 'studies' out of hand.


But Glass's real trick was the way he appealed to his audience's prejudices. His most colorful material usually involved people from outside the New Republic's readership: old folks in retirement homes, menial laborers, backwoods Christians. The behavior he described may have been improbable, but it conformed to stereotype. Old ladies doted, a bit battily, on obscure political figures; a limo driver plotted seductions; religious yokels ranted about the devil. An elderly Pole fumed about a Jewish conspiracy to keep foul-prone heavyweight Andrew Golota from winning the title.



As I recall, Archie Bunker was famous for this, with his 'look it up meathead, it's in the book'
[ November 04, 2006: Message edited by: Max Habibi ]

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Jim Yingst
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Hm, I don't think any of the examples I've seen so far match up with my understanding of what a straw man argument is. Max's example might, but I don't see enough detail on how these stories were used - I can't really tell. But going to Paul's original post: "because you set up an obvious bad thing and then link the argument to the obviously bad thing" It's not just any "bad thing" you set up - you set up a bad argument and portray that argument as if it's your opponent's position. Then you attack the bad argument, which is easy because you set it up to be bad in the first place, and then pretend this means you have defeated your opponent's actual argument. In all the examples in this thread, I don't see any that actually seem to set up any sort of opposing argument in order to easily refute it. (It's possible Stephan Glass did this, but I don't see any clear statement that implies he was using straw man tactics.) I thought maybe this indicated a flaw in my own understanding of what a straw man is - but Wikipedia seems to back me up, as do the various other sites they link to .

[Paul]: So I wanna add the bit where Jones says "I thought I read somewhere that the transaction handling on that database was weak." and then Smith replies with a straw man fallacy.

Smith: "The people who object to that database system just dislike it because it's too slow when using default settings. They just don't know how to tune the parameters for optimal performance. Once you adjust the buffer sizes, it's as fast as anything else on the market. There's no reason to avoid it because of that."

Maybe so, but the actual argument (weak as it is, so far) was that maybe the transaction handling was weak. That hasn't been addressed. Performance was the straw man argument, set up in order to be easily defeated, attempting to imply that the original argument was defeated.

This example might be better if the straw man were more similar to the actual argument, just distorted. Real straw man arguments are often less blatant. So someone who knows more about DB transactions might make up a bogus reason why transactions might seem bad on a given database, and demolish the bogus argument. For this to make an effective example, we'd also have to be able to tell that the original argument was actually something a little different than what was portrayed. "I thought I read somewhere that the transaction handling on that database was weak" seems too vague, to me.


"I'm not back." - Bill Harding, Twister
marc weber
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Originally posted by Jim Yingst:
Hm, I don't think any of the examples I've seen so far match up with my understanding of what a straw man argument is...

Okay, help me understand this. I think you're right in suggesting that the original argument is a little vague for a good straw man illustration. But here's how I saw it...

Jones is suggesting that a proposed database might be weak. So Smith responds by equating Jones' argument against that database with tripled costs and missed deadlines, which are clearly "bad things" easily dispensed with. The fallacy is in assuming that Jones is suggesting a different database, and that another option would necessarily cost more and/or require more time to implement. With this reaction, isn't Smith setting up a "straw" scenario to knock down?
[ November 04, 2006: Message edited by: marc weber ]
marc weber
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Here's another one (a bit tongue in cheek)...

Smith: So you're recommending we use Lotus Notes?
Jim Yingst
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Marc: well, with your first example, it could be a part of a straw man arguement, but to me it seems like most of it is imagined rather than shown. For use as an example of the straw man fallacy, I think these elements should be more explicit. In that vein, your second exaple is better in my opinion, because we at least see Smith explicitly misrepresenting Jones' argument. I'd still want to add a followup statement from Smith saying why Lotus Notes sucks, and implying that therefore Jones is wrong.

Another thought, unrelated to marc's replies: it occurs to me that in many cases, straw man arguments occur not because someone is intentionally misrepresenting the other person, but because they have failed to listen to what the other person is really saying. They may be anticipating other arguments they've heard before, which they know how to counter. And while they're busy countering these anticipated arguments, they're missing important details of that the actual argument is about.

Of course, it's also quite possible that a straw man argument occurs because someone really is intentionally misrepresenting the other side. It happens. But I think misunderstanding is a fairly common occurrance.
marc weber
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Originally posted by Jim Yingst:
Marc: well, with your first example, it could be a part of a straw man arguement, but to me it seems like most of it is imagined rather than shown...

That's true, I did go off on a tangent. Maybe my mistake was the way I filled in the original (vague) argument.
Marilyn de Queiroz
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  10
Perhaps if Jones' statement was slightly different?

Jones: I thought I read somewhere that database #2 has stronger transaction handling than database #1.

Smith: Sorry, Jones. I'm not about to triple our costs and miss the deadline.

where Smith is implying that stronger transaction handling costs three times as much to buy/use and has a higher learning curve than weaker transaction handling.


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Jim Yingst
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The key thing I think was missing from Paul's article in the first place, the thing which I also think is missing from the subsequent examples except maybe by vague implication, is the idea that the vaguely-defined "bad thing" needs to be, specifically, a bad argument. And not just any argument, but a bad altered/distorted version of the opponent's argument. I don't see how Marilyn's new version improves on marc's previous example. It adds some details, but those details don't enhance my perception that the "bad things" (increased costs and missed deadline) were actually part of what Jones' was saying. That's only vaguely implied in marc's original, and the new version seems to be just as vague in this respect.

To be a use of the straw man fallacy, I think Smith needs to somehow create a faulty variant of Jones' argument, imply the faulty variant is Jones' actual argument, and defeat the faulty version. In theory, some of this can be done by implication, without explicitly stating things. But as this is intended to be an example for teaching purposes, I think it would be better to state these elements explicitly. Especially since Paul's original worm example seems even further from a proper straw man argument. These missing elements need to be spelled out.

The thing about the bad argument (the straw man) is, it shouldn't be so obviously bad that no one would ever believe the other person was arguing that point in the first place. With the original "I don't like worms" argument, the problem is that there's no reason to think that the other side was advocating worms as a good thing. Thus, this doesn't seem to qualify as a distorted version of the opponent's argument - it's too big a jump. Similarly, with marc's "triple our costs" response, it doesn't seem plausible that Jones was advocating tripled costs. We could try adding a bit to make it sound more plausible, and to more directly state how Smith is trying to recast Jones' position:

Jones: I thought I read somewhere that the transaction handling on that database was weak.

Smith: Sorry, Jones. You may think that transaction handling is more important than any other business considerations, but I'm not about to triple our costs and miss the deadline.

Or:

Smith: So you're saying we should switch to another database at this late date? Sorry, I'm not about to triple our costs and miss the deadline.

These at least make a little more explicit effort to imply the bad argument was what Jones was saying. I think that's an important part of the straw man fallacy. The attempted substitutions aren't very smooth, and the new, poor arguments are significantly different from the originals, so these examples don't really show very persuasive straw man arguments. But for teaching examples, maybe that's a good thing - the problems with the straw man stick out like sore thumbs.
[ November 05, 2006: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]
paul wheaton
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    ∞

I'm going to try to reply to everything in order:

Jeroen: your argument is flawed though.

The topic at this point is "the straw man fallacy" and yet your discussion is about apples. I would love to talk about apples with you. I'm a certified master gardener and a certified permaculture designer. For years I lived in eastern washington state, where most of the world's apples were grown for years!

Please start a new thread and I'll jump right in!
paul wheaton
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    ∞

Smith: Sorry, Jones. I'm not about to triple our costs and miss the deadline.

Not bad. I kinda like the idea of an example that is really close to the point at hand if possible.

Smith: It had problems in the last version, therefore it is fine now.

Smith: It must be OK because our competition is using it.

Smith: it's the most expensive offer, it must be the best.



To be a straw man fallacy, the statment must be true and persuasive - just not an accurate rebuttal. These two examples each introduce a different fallacy. The first is a logical fallacy, the second is "hasty generalization fallacy" or possibly the "appeal to authority fallcy" and the third is a logical fallacy.

There is also the indirect stawman: offering non-existent 'evidence' as support in of ludicrous conclusions. Then, when the basis is directly attacked, there's still a rhetorical distance between the 'support' and the conclusion.

I think you are referring to a compound fallacy. Part of the fallacy is to have a truth that is easy to knock down. You are substituting another fallacy that people might take as truth out of fear of proposing an alternative (or because they don't care, or whatever). Introducing compound fallacies is really tricky to unravel!

(more to come ...)
Jeroen T Wenting
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Originally posted by Paul Wheaton:

Jeroen: your argument is flawed though.

The topic at this point is "the straw man fallacy" and yet your discussion is about apples. I would love to talk about apples with you. I'm a certified master gardener and a certified permaculture designer. For years I lived in eastern washington state, where most of the world's apples were grown for years!


I've never grown peaches before, so you got me there.
paul wheaton
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    ∞

Smith: "The people who object to that database system just dislike it because it's too slow when using default settings. They just don't know how to tune the parameters for optimal performance. Once you adjust the buffer sizes, it's as fast as anything else on the market. There's no reason to avoid it because of that."

Now we're much closer! If it is a straw man fallacy, it is pretty loose. I think that when the discussion is going on about the database, this would be a reasonable thing to say, although it isn't a direct response to the concern raised about transactions.
paul wheaton
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    ∞

Just popped into my head ... writing it before I forget:

Smith: Good transaction handling is essential, so this candidate is clearly out. Let's focus on the other candidates.

Hmmmmm ..... maybe .....
paul wheaton
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    ∞

it occurs to me that in many cases, straw man arguments occur not because someone is intentionally misrepresenting the other person, but because they have failed to listen to what the other person is really saying.

Wow! That's damn good stuff!

But I wonder how often that applies to a lot of use of fallacy: too lazy to do the actual legwork, yet the engineer wants to come off as knowlegable. "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit." ???

Of course, it's also quite possible that a straw man argument occurs because someone really is intentionally misrepresenting the other side. It happens. But I think misunderstanding is a fairly common occurrance.

A lot of truth there. Add to that that many engineers have more pride than humility and if the utter something stupid, they may attempt to fight to the death that what they said is right - just to save face. And this is the root of many office headaches.

the idea that the vaguely-defined "bad thing" needs to be, specifically, a bad argument.

I think that the key is that what is said is true and persuasive. And it is not exactly relevant.

With the apple example, the topic is whether to eat organic. The straw man fallacy is "I don't like to eat apples with worms in them" and then connect that to the organic side. It is true that this person does not like to eat apples. And most (all?) people weighing the comments would think "I don't like to eat apples with worms either!" and then attach the ick to one side. Of course, apples where pesticides are used can also have worms (pesticides applied improperly, wrong pesticide used, pesticides used to control a different problem and "some worms" judged acceptable).

And not just any argument, but a bad altered/distorted version of the opponent's argument.

This is a pretty good point. I think this is one way to do a straw man. Effectively, putting words in the mouth of the opponent, by arguing against something that really isn't there.

Especially since Paul's original worm example seems even further from a proper straw man argument.

Is it?

I'm thinking that there is more than one way to do a straw man.

In the case of the example we're trying to build, we are looking for a response flavor of the fallacy.


Smith: Sorry, Jones. You may think that transaction handling is more important than any other business considerations, but I'm not about to triple our costs and miss the deadline.

Smith: So you're saying we should switch to another database at this late date? Sorry, I'm not about to triple our costs and miss the deadline.


Tripling the costs and meeting deadlines could be valid stuff to introduce. The part about "You may think that transaction handling is more important than any other business considerations" sounds like fallacy allright, but a bit more ad hominem.
paul wheaton
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    ∞

I made it to the bottom!

I'm still feeling like I don't have a good one ...

How about: "Weak transaction handling causes cancer. Do you want us to get cancer!!!???"

Hmmmmm ....

I think this is a good sign of what sort of people we have here. We cannot make a deceptive argument no matter how hard we try.

Okay, we want to state a truth that is an obvious win or obvious lose. Then we want to attach it to the previous statement ....

Smith: Why would you even suggest a database with poor transaction handling?

Better?
Jim Yingst
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[JY]: It occurs to me that in many cases, straw man arguments occur not because someone is intentionally misrepresenting the other person, but because they have failed to listen to what the other person is really saying.

[PW]: But I wonder how often that applies to a lot of use of fallacy: too lazy to do the actual legwork, yet the engineer wants to come off as knowlegable. "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit." ???


Um... that's not what I was saying. (Mmmm, irony.) You're talking about intentional bullshit; I'm talking about honestly misunderstanding the argument, and then making valid non-bullshit arguments against the misunderstood position. It is true that failure to listen well probably leads to a number of fallacies, but I think that straw man is particularly likely.

[PW]: I'm thinking that there is more than one way to do a straw man.

Yes there is, and some of the details I'm suggesting may be overly specific. But I think that all straw man fallacies are based on a misrepresentation of the opponent's position (intentional or otherwise). That's what I see when I read this, this, and this. I don't see that in your writings. Your idea of what this "bad thing" can be seems to be somewhat more general than what I'm describing - is that correct? If so, do you know of any outside resources that support this more generalized view?

I like Wikipedia's list of variations:
One can set up a straw man in the following ways:

1. Present a misrepresentation of the opponent's position, refute it, and pretend that the opponent's actual position has been refuted.
2. Quote an opponent's words "out of context" -- i.e., choose quotations that are not representative of the opponent's actual intentions (see contextomy)
3. Present someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, refute that person's arguments, and pretend that every upholder of that position, and thus the position itself, has been defeated.
4. Invent a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs that are criticized, and pretend that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.

I've been mostly talking about the first of these - that's the "vanilla" straw man fallacy, I think. But all of them share in common that they're somehow misrepresenting the opponent's actual position.

[PW]: I think that the key is that what is said is true and persuasive. And it is not exactly relevant.

Are you talking about the straw man itself? The thing you're going to knock down? Or the response to the argument, the actual knocking down? I think the straw man argument is supposed to be easy to knock down; that's the whole point to setting it up. It need not be true or persuasive. It just needs to sound plausibly like it might represent your opponent's position (even if in reality, it's not accurate). On the other hand, the response to the straw man (knocking it down) should be true, and accurate, but not exactly relevant, since it's a response to a misrepresented argument in the first place.

To be clear: both the straw man argument and the response come from the same person, namely the person committing the fallacy. The straw man argument is being attributed to the other person, but it's really coming from the same person who's making the response. The straw man is set up in order to be knocked down.

[PW]: In the case of the example we're trying to build, we are looking for a response flavor of the fallacy.

I have no idea what that means.
[ December 01, 2006: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]
Jim Yingst
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[PW]:

I'm still feeling like I don't have a good one ...

How about: "Weak transaction handling causes cancer. Do you want us to get cancer!!!???"

Hmmmmm ....

I think this is a good sign of what sort of people we have here. We cannot make a deceptive argument no matter how hard we try.

Okay, we want to state a truth that is an obvious win or obvious lose. Then we want to attach it to the previous statement ....

Smith: Why would you even suggest a database with poor transaction handling?

Better?


These are in response to... what? Originally Jones said: "I thought I read somewhere that the transaction handling on that database was weak." In this response, sounds like Smith agrees with him. Smith and Jones are both suggesting the database sucks because of weak transaction handling. What exactly are they disagreeing about? Or was Smith responding to something else here? If so, please post a more complete example.
paul wheaton
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    ∞

You're talking about intentional bullshit; I'm talking about honestly misunderstanding the argument, and then making valid non-bullshit arguments against the misunderstood position.

I thought I was talking about "honestly misunderstanding the argument".

It is true that failure to listen well probably leads to a number of fallacies, but I think that straw man is particularly likely.

I can go along with that.

But I think that all straw man fallacies are based on a misrepresentation of the opponent's position (intentional or otherwise).

True. I hope I'm not suggesting anything to the contrary.

I think the straw man argument is supposed to be easy to knock down; that's the whole point to setting it up.

True. I hope I'm not suggesting anything to the contrary.

(PW): In the case of the example we're trying to build, we are looking for a response flavor of the fallacy.

(JY): I have no idea what that means.


The straw man statement about the wormy apples was not a response. What we are attempting to create is a good straw man response to a specific statement.
Jeroen T Wenting
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The only real straw man...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Sxc_scarecrow.jpg
David McCombs
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How about:

politician 1: I think that the war is going in the wrong direction and we need to make changes.

politician 2: My opponent sympathizes with the enemy.

I chose a political statement because it is used in political arguments all the time.

Which seems to fit the pattern of a straw man:
Person A has position X.
Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
Person B attacks position Y.
Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

So,

Person A: "I think only organic apples should be allowed to be sold"
Person B: "Why would you want to make people eat wormy apples"


"Should array indices start at 0 or 1? My compromise of 0.5 was rejected without, I thought, proper consideration."- Stan Kelly-Bootle
Jim Yingst
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[PW]: True. I hope I'm not suggesting anything to the contrary.

I haven't been able to tell what you are suggesting. Most of your examples have been too nebulous for my taste - I can't tell what's the actual position, what's the straw man variation of that position, and what's the response. And the original description of an "obvious bad thing" was remarkably vague. As you know, another bartender recently read your article and was unable to identify an actual straw man argument based on your description. So up to now, I've had to consider the possibility that your understanding of what is a straw man might be very different than mine. Now it appears that's not the case - the problem is just the lack of a good communicative example that we agree on.

[David]:


politician 1: I think that the war is going in the wrong direction and we need to make changes.

politician 2: My opponent sympathizes with the enemy.


That works. It doesn't show the knock-down part of the fallacy, but that's pretty obvious here. A real-world instance would usually be a bit more subtle, or built up more carefully, but again that's the problem we face in trying to create a concise clear example - the misrepresentation is more blatant than it would be in the real world. Usually. I'd try to suggest modifications to make politician 2's statement sound a bit more plausible, but I don't really want to start people arguing on this particular topic.

[David]:

Person A: "I think only organic apples should be allowed to be sold"
Person B: "Why would you want to make people eat wormy apples"


My problem here is that this still seems too blatant - I don't think anyone would believe that person A was motivated by wanting to make people eat wormy apples. I don't see a good way for B to plausibly suggest this is the case.
Jim Yingst
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Oops, missed one minor point:

[JY]: You're talking about intentional bullshit; I'm talking about honestly misunderstanding the argument, and then making valid non-bullshit arguments against the misunderstood position.

[PW]: I thought I was talking about "honestly misunderstanding the argument".


Well, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit" sounds to me like the speaker knows he's bullshitting. Thus, sounds intentional and dishonest, to me. If that wasn't the intent, then never mind.
paul wheaton
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    ∞

For a lot of the other fallacies I start off with Jones saying "I thought I read somewhere that the transaction handling on that database was weak." and then Smith says something using the fallacy in question.

Some of Smith's other responses:

----

Oh for crying out loud, Jones, you're such a jerk!

(sarcastically)�It's amazing what they teach at community college.�

Jones, I think you're a bit junior to be throwing stumbling blocks in on this decision. I think you'll learn a lot more by simply listening.

----

If I can use the same opening, I would like to.
David McCombs
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[David]:


politician 1: I think that the war is going in the wrong direction and we need to make changes.

politician 2: My opponent sympathizes with the enemy.


That works. It doesn't show the knock-down part of the fallacy, but that's pretty obvious here. A real-world instance would usually be a bit more subtle, or built up more carefully, but again that's the problem we face in trying to create a concise clear example - the misrepresentation is more blatant than it would be in the real world. Usually. I'd try to suggest modifications to make politician 2's statement sound a bit more plausible, but I don't really want to start people arguing on this particular topic.

[David]:

Person A: "I think only organic apples should be allowed to be sold"
Person B: "Why would you want to make people eat wormy apples"


My problem here is that this still seems too blatant - I don't think anyone would believe that person A was motivated by wanting to make people eat wormy apples. I don't see a good way for B to plausibly suggest this is the case.


No, neither case is plausible, but few straw men arguments are. Is plausibly a requirement for a straw man. A straw man argument attacks what another person did not say to refute what they did say.

I didn't post the first example to start an argument on the topic, just because I read so many things that were very similar.

Here is one that permeated our last local election:

Person 1: "I am not going to support the local school bond measure because the last few bonds resulted in a lot of waste."

Person 2: "Why don't you support our children? Do you hate them?"
[ December 01, 2006: Message edited by: David McCombs ]
Jim Yingst
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[PW]: For a lot of the other fallacies I start off with Jones saying "I thought I read somewhere that the transaction handling on that database was weak." and then Smith says something using the fallacy in question.

OK, that was my guess. So the problem remains, for me, that when Smith says "Why would you even suggest a database with poor transaction handling?" it sounds like he's agreeing with Jones - albeit in a way that insults Jones for some unknown reason. Do these two agree, or disagree? Why are they arguing?
Jim Yingst
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Posts: 18671
[David]: Is plausibly a requirement for a straw man. A straw man argument attacks what another person did not say to refute what they did say.

Well, maybe it's not a strict requirement. But there's supposed to some link between the straw man argument and the actual position. For me it seems that if they're too dissimilar, then it goes from being a straw man argument to just being a plain old lie about the opponent. I could say, for example, "Paul Wheaton eats babies, don't trust him" in response to just about anything - is that a straw man argument? I don't think so. It's just a random lie unconnected to reality. (As far as I know, anyway.) Obviously that's an extreme example, but my point is that if the straw man argument is too unconnected to the real argument, it's not a straw man - and that's the problem I have with many of the examples presented.

One issue, too, is that if we imagine the two sides conversing directly, then it seems like a blatant lie is too easy to correct right away. I keep imagining Jones responding with "that's not what I said at all, you jackass, and everyone in earshot can already tell that." If the lie is so easily caught, it's almost not worth giving it a name, or writing an article about it. Whereas with most political campaigns, it may be a little easier to blatantly distort things because, outside of a head-to-head debate, the victim of the distortion can't call them on it quite so directly. Typically it'll be in a separate press conference or political ad, and may not be seen by everyone who saw to original distortion. And those who did see the original may not remember the details that well later on, and may be fuzzy on whose version of the events is more accurate. So I think polical campaigns often allow more distortion than a head-to-head conversation would allow. To the extent these examples seem to be conversations, I think they need a little more plausibility to avoid the "Paul Wheaton eats babies" trap.
Marc Peabody
pie sneak
Sheriff

Joined: Feb 05, 2003
Posts: 4727

Jones, I don't think we should write brittle code that relies on a database to fix sloppy mistakes. Do you really think we'd become successful by letting our developers get lazy?

Paul would eat babies if you made a pie out of them.


A good workman is known by his tools.
Jim Yingst
Wanderer
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 30, 2000
Posts: 18671
[Marc]: Jones, I don't think we should write brittle code that relies on a database to fix sloppy mistakes. Do you really think we'd become successful by letting our developers get lazy?

Hmm, the problem here is that you've convinced me that Jones has a damn good argument, and maybe this Straw Man Fallacy is actually a Good Thing™.

[Marc]: Paul would eat babies if you made a pie out of them.

John Dunn
slicker
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jan 30, 2003
Posts: 1108
Developer: This servlet is running slow on your pc.

Manager: Yeah I know Java is slow. It really sucks.

Developer: [to himself] Uhh... why don't you upgrade to at least a Pentium?


"No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does."
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

Originally posted by John Dunn:
Developer: This servlet is running slow on your pc.

Manager: Yeah I know Java is slow. It really sucks.

Developer: [to himself] Uhh... why don't you upgrade to at least a Pentium?

By a straw man argument, as Jim said, the speaker attributes a flawed argument to his opponent in order to discredit his opponent's position.

In this example, the Manager and Developer merely disagree where a given problem lies. Not surprisingly, for each person the problem lies with some technology that either a) exists outside their control; or b) doesn't threaten something they care about.

The rest of the fallacy in this argument lies on false confidence. Both parties believe they understand the nature of the problem.


Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.
- Robert Bresson
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20582
    ∞

"Paul Wheaton eats babies, don't trust him"

Dammit Jim! They're EGGS! Lots of people eat them!

Paul would eat babies if you made a pie out of them. [thumb]

Quiche!
John Dunn
slicker
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jan 30, 2003
Posts: 1108
Developer: This "Hello World" servlet is running REALLY slow on your pc.

Manager: Yeah I know Java is slow. The JAVA language really sucks.

Developer: [to himself] Uhh... why don't you upgrade to at least a Pentium
 
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subject: straw man fallacy