The straw man rhetorical technique is widely used: from scientific reviews (academia), through job interviews (industry) to the political discourse (international relations). The idea is simple: you distort arguments or opposing views to easier refute them. Not only is this trick popular, but proven successful statistically.
The best weapon against it is logically strict reasoning. Do not rush in quick answers and judgments, but rather use the playback and evaluate/falsify the claim in measurable terms as much as possible. This note aims to spread awareness of this logical fallacy and give illustrating examples, which appears particularly noteworthy in the context of the rise of misinformation.
- Academia: a popular „straw man” variation is when reviewers exaggerate on English mistakes in scientific papers, concluding that the math content may be equally incorrect. While scientists should strive for perfection at the communication level, in life and computer sciences the technical content is more important. Fix English but don’t let your „this paper presents merit findings” claim get distorted by this. Remember that a) researchers compete with each other and b) it’s easier to complain on misspelled words than to evaluate complex math.
- Industrial career: you believe you are a good fit, but the interviewers exaggerate on the necessity of some skill X which you don’t have at a moment. We speak of a fallacy when X is not essential for the role, or trivial to learn. Don’t let your „I am a good fit” get distorted!
- International relations: instead of my own examples, I will refer to the excellent article written by the UK Defence Secretary. He attempts to falsify several claims coming from the government circles of the Russian Federation against the NATO alliance. One is „Russia being encircled by NATO”, which is replied by asking to measure the overlapping border.