- Not to be confused with the tax evasion concept of Strawman theory.
A straw man, or straw person for the politically correct inclined among us, is an intentional misrepresentation of an opponent's position, often used in debates with unsophisticated audiences to make it appear that the opponent's arguments are more easily defeated than they are.
The title of the argument comes from the art of practising fighting techniques against men made of straw: which is a problem in that straw men don't fight back, don't wear armor, don't bleed and generally aren't anything like the sort of thing you would actually encounter in a battle. Therefore someone arguing against a straw man is just arguing against an idealised opponent that only exists in their own head.
 Constructing the men of straw
Straw men are notoriously easy to construct, and require little more than extending the opponent's arguments beyond their original point until their stance appears ridiculous - appearing like the fallacious use of reductio ad absurdum. Once the opponent has accepted (or failed to refute) such a set-up, one can simply attack the straw man position instead of the opponent's actual points, and claim any subsequent attempt to correct the situation as a conceding the argument.
Sometimes it's so easy, you can do it without thinking.
 Examples of the straw man argument
 Straw evolution
Straw versions of evolution are remarkably common. After all, it's definitely in the best interests of creationists not to actually teach it properly.
 Straw religion
Straw man arguments against religion are also easy to generate. Defining anyone who is even moderately religious as an unthinking, sheep-like entity who blindly accepts whatever their priest or pastor tells them is one (even if it is true in some circumstances). Positions like these are often held by anti-theists. Prominent biologist Richard Dawkins is often accused of generating straw man religions to fight in his pro-atheism writings such as The God Delusion.
 Straw atheism
Atheists hate God. Atheists believe in nothing. Atheists reject Christianity specifically. What usually unites straw arguments against atheism is that they're constructed when a specific religion thinks that it's all about them - thus ignoring the main point of atheism, that it's the rejection of all religious belief equally.
 Straw politics
In the political sphere, the easiest way to construct a straw man is by the liberal application of stereotypes. By making the assumption that a politician believes in all the ideologies associated with their general political leaning, they can be dismissed more easily. For instance, assuming a fiscal conservative is also socially conservative or assuming a pro choice politician is also in favour of extreme wealth redistribution are common fallacious straw men that are made by politicians, pundits and voters themselves. The same is true of conflating ideologies, such as stating that liberalism, socialism and communism are identical political ideologies (a rhetoric notoriously popular in the US).
This is extremely problematic in politics because it is not possible to give an accurate appraisal of political beliefs without knowing what those beliefs are, or by presuming that belief A automatically means subscribing to belief B. This is also used within politics to introduce snarl words into discussions.
 Straw skepticism
It is quite easy to make a straw man argument of woo explanations and things like alternative medicine. The classic example is homeopathy, an alternative medicine treatment where active ingredients are diluted until no trace of it remains in the remedy. It is, of course, absurd to think that this could work, but it is also a straw man argument because homeopathy includes a succussion procedure involving striking the solution in a special way. Thus, homeopathic remedies aren't "just dilutions" but dilutions that have been whisked about a bit. Woooooooo!
It is contentious whether this is a true straw man position, as the burden of proof lies with homeopaths to establish that the succussion procedure adds anything new to the remedy, such as instilling water memory. Thus, given the balance of evidence, homeopathic remedies are just dilutions. Skepticism, however, requires an honest appraisal of all the facts and ignoring the striking involved in succussion, even if it is just an escape hatch, is still wrong in principle. Remember extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
 See also
- Gish Gallop
- Logical fallacy
- Term of art
- Deadliest Warrior, A show that pits straw men against each other in a fight to the death.
- ↑ Unintentional misrepresentations are also possible, but in this case, the individual is guilty only of simple ignorance. While their argument would still be fallacious, they can be at least excused of intentional deceit.
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