YANSS 068 – The Strawman Fallacy

When confronted with dogma-threatening, worldview-menacing ideas, your knee-jerk response is usually to lash out and try to bat them away, but thanks to a nearly unavoidable mistake in reasoning, you often end up doing battle with arguments of your own creation.

Your lazy brain is always trying to make sense of the world on ever-simpler terms. Just as you wouldn’t use a topographical map to navigate your way to Wendy’s, you tend to navigate reality using a sort of Google Maps interpretation of events and ideas. It’s less accurate, sure, but much easier to understand when details aren’t a priority. But thanks to this heuristical habit, you sometimes create mental men of straw that stand in for the propositions put forth by people who see the world a bit differently than you. In addition to being easy to grasp, they are easy to knock down and hack apart, which wouldn’t be a problem if only you noticed the switcheroo.

This is the essence of the straw man fallacy, probably the most common of all logical fallacies. Setting up and knocking down straw men is so easy to do while arguing that you might not even notice that you are doing it.

In this episode, you’ll learn from three experts in logic and arguing why human brains tend not to realize they are constructing artificial versions of the arguments they wish to defeat. Once you’ve wrapped your mind around that idea, you’ll then learn how to spot the straw man fallacy, how to avoid committing it, and how to defend against it.

This episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast is the second in a full season of episodes exploring logical fallacies. The first episode is here.

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BarbaraDrescherBarbara Drescher is a cognitive psychologist and skeptical activist who lectured at California State University and served as educational programs consultant for the James Randi Educational Foundation. Her website is ICBSEverywhere.com.

JRJesse Richardson is the founder of YourLogicalFallacyIs.com, a fantastic website where you can learn about fallacies and critical thinking and easily share what you discover. He is an award-winning creative lead on a number of other projects including School Of Thought.
MikeRugnettaMike Rugnetta is the writer and host of PBS Idea Channel produced by PBS Digital Studios. On Idea Channel he applies philosophical and critical concepts to pop-culture ideas and other more-familiar topics in an effort to better explain to a general, internet-savvy audience the strange and abstract propositions he explores in wonderful detail.

In every episode, after I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Andrew Leman who sent in a recipe for Chinese New Year Cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Links and Sources

DownloadiTunesStitcherRSS – Soundcloud

Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

ICBSEverywhere

Your Logical Fallacy Is

PBS Idea Channel

A Guide to Logical Fallacies

Origins of Straw Man Fallacy

Image Source – CC BY-SA 3.0