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Straw Man (Invidious Comparison)

The author attacks an argument which is different from, and usually weaker than, the opposition’s best argument.

  1. "Straw man has always been the stock-in-trade of advertisers. A Holiday Inn TV spot run several years ago was typical of the genre. It pictured someone telephoning a competitor to find out whether they had a motel in Fargo, North Dakota, and being told no, then asking if there happened to be one in the area and being told yes, in Cleveland, Ohio. (This spot wasn't as effective as it might have been because lots of viewers had no idea how far Cleveland is from Fargo.) In the same vein, a U.S. Postal service commercial once pictured competitors trying to deliver packages with rickety old planes that fell apart on camera; IBM once touted its laser printers by comparing them with those of a pseudo-competing product unable to collate printed material and therefore not really in competition with the printers IBM was touting." (Kahane & Cavender, Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric, p. 58.)
  2. "The blog-era term 'nutpicking', which refers to cherry-picking the worst or nuttiest comments to disparage a larger group ('liberals', 'conservatives', 'feminists') by falsely implying the views are widely-held within the group, needs to be revived. It's very common on Twitter."  ~ Nate Silver of 538 on Twitter
  3. We should have conscription. People don't want to enter the military because they find it an inconvenience. But they should realize that there are more important things than convenience.
Show that the opposition's argument has been misrepresented by showing that the opposition has a stronger argument. Describe the stronger argument.

About Stephen Downes

Many kudos are owed to Stephen Downes, the logician who originally authored this list of fallacies and made it freely available on the Web. His basic structure remains. A mirror of Downes' original site can be found here.