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March 15, 2017

Just to make sure they understood I gave the readers of Australasian Science magazine another lesson about the Strawman Fallacy.

Don't let straw men give you hay fever.

In my last column I talked about the futility of using straw man arguments in debates. A straw man is a statement of your opponent's belief or position which is wrong. 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.

There are some discussions, however, which 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 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 dating back to the days when Usenet was the most popular forum for discussion which 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 which states that in discussions with certain classes 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.

You can read the examples here.




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