“Getting Duped: How the Media Messes with Your Mind” is an article in February 2008’s Scientific American Mind by two philosophers who, long ago, were philosophy undergrads at William Paterson: Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse.
The straw man is used in countless other contexts as well. In his acceptance speech at the 1996 Democratic Convention, for instance, Bill Clinton opined: “… with all respect [to Bob Dole], we do not need to build a bridge to the past. We need to build a bridge to the future.” Dole did discuss restoring the values of an earlier America, but Clinton falsely implied that Dole was only looking backward (whereas Clinton was looking forward). People may use a straw man to discredit theories to which they do not subscribe. Characterizing evolution, for example, as “all random chance” is a straw man argument; it misrepresents a complex theory that only partly rests on the randomness of mutations that may lead to better chances of survival.
Recently, in a 2006 paper co-authored with Scott F. Aikin, one of us (Talisse) documented a twist on the straw man tactic. In what Talisse dubs a weak man argument, a person sets up the opposition’s weakest (or one of its weakest) arguments or proponents for attack, as opposed to misstating a rival’s position as the straw man argument does.