The straw man fallacy involves misrepresenting an opponent’s position to make it easier to refute. Straw man arguments often oversimplify opposing views or disregard inconvenient points in favor of points that are easy to argue against.
In many instances, the person committing the straw man fallacy highlights the most extreme position of the opposing side—for example:
- Opposing argument: Teens should be taught about contraception methods so they can practice safe sex should they choose to have intercourse.
- Straw man argument: Proponents of sex education want to give kids license to have sex with no consequences.
This straw man argument ignores the things that make the issue of sex education complicated, and it boils down the opposing position to a narrow, extreme view.
In other cases, speakers commit the straw man fallacy by highlighting the actions of a minority of the opposing side—for example:
- Opposing argument: Bicycle infrastructure should be expanded because cycling is a sustainable mode of transportation.
- Straw man argument: We should not build bike lanes because cyclists run red lights and endanger pedestrians.
Here, the straw man argument ignores the positive aspects of bicycle infrastructure and focuses on the minority of cyclists who don’t follow traffic rules.
And some straw man arguments oversimplify the opposing viewpoint so it is easy to refute—for example:
- Opposing argument: Publicly funded healthcare should be enacted in the U.S. so all Americans can have equal access to the care they need to live full, happy, and productive lives.
- Straw man argument: In this age of government spending run amok, the last thing we need is another entitlement.
This argument ignores the complex issues surrounding publicly funded healthcare and resorts to generic rhetoric that pushes buttons but provides little substance.