Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Don’t Let Straw Men Give You Hay Fever

By Peter Bowditch

Be prepared to face these straw man arguments when arguing with climate change deniers, anti-vaccination advocates and creationists.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

In my previous column I talked about the futility of using straw man arguments in debates. A straw man is a statement that intentionally misrepresents your opponent’s belief or position. I also said that the use of such arguments is usually due to ignorance, and advised that it is wise to actually research your opponent’s position before going into battle if you don’t want to look foolish.

However, some discussions will almost certainly result in the appearance of a straw man argument, and part of your research into your opponent’s position is to predict such usages and be prepared for them. If you are not prepared, a straw man, like a non sequitur, can divert the conversation, waste your time and make you, the recipient, look foolish, unprepared and maybe even dishonest.

There is an internet tradition that dates back to the days when Usenet was the most popular forum for discussion, yet it still applies in the Facebook era. It is Godwin’s Law, and in its original form was: “As any Usenet thread gets longer, the probability that Hitler or the Nazis will be mentioned gets greater”.

There needs to be a new such law stating that in discussions with certain types of people, the probability that a straw man argument will surface increases with time. Here are a few examples of inevitable straw men that will appear if you attempt to debate certain people....

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.