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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.

Examples

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.

Nutpicking

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

So what you’re saying is…

Peterson: If you’re a social scientist worth your salt, you never do a univariate analysis. You say women in aggregate are paid less than men. Okay. Well then we break its down by age; we break it down by occupation; we break it down by interest; we break it down by personality.

Newman: But you’re saying, basically, it doesn’t matter if women aren’t getting to the top, because that’s what is skewing that gender pay gap, isn’t it?

… Peterson makes a statement. And then the interviewer interjects, “So you’re saying …” and fills in the rest with something that is less defensible, or less carefully qualified, or more extreme, or just totally unrelated to his point.

Conor Friedersdorf, “Why Can’t People Hear What Jordan Peterson Is Saying?” on Jordan Peterson’s interview with Cathy Newman (January 22, 2018).

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.

Critique

Show that the opposition’s argument has been misrepresented by showing that the opposition has a stronger argument. Describe the stronger argument.

Commentary

On steel manning, the inverse of straw manning

The philosopher Daniel Dennett outlines an effective process for arguing with someone who has opposing views: 1) Attempt to re-express the other person’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that they say, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” 2) List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement). 3) Mention anything you have learned from your target. 4) Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

On “nutpicking”

Nutpicking is the fallacious tactic of picking out and showcasing the nuttiest member(s) of a group as the best representative(s) of that group — hence, “picking the nut”. It’s cherry picking a poor representative of the group – almost a straw man — to use as ad hominem against the group. For example, antifeminists frequently paint feminists as “feminazis” by highlighting examples of ridiculous or cringey feminist behavior, rather than by critiquing mainline feminist writings. In other words: every movement has crazies, but not every movement is crazy. The proper questions are: “Does this movement promote crazies?” and “Does this movement have proportionately more crazies?”

Nutpicking” at RationalWiki