Exemplar of a fallacy 

In my last post, I commented on a piece by Greg Thompson (@GFThommo). He then wrote this rebuttal. It raises some interesting points, not least that we have different understandings of parliamentary democracy (on his final point – I do think that democratic decisions can be made about what to fund with tax dollars – this is precisely what the first English parliaments were set-up to do). 

However, the post is mainly of note for its use of the Straw Man fallacy: Thompson makes a series of arguments against positions that I did not express. I am a fairly reasonable person and so I can handle a little exaggeration. Yet these clearly go too far:

I wrote: “There are several currents in modern sociological (and hence, educational) thought. Although you should never accuse a critical theorist of being a poststructuralist and so on, these theories share certain outlooks.”

Thompson argued against the position that: “All sociological/critical theory/poststructural work share certain outlooks”

I wrote: “I may not understand the equations of string theory but I can pick up a copy of New Scientist and read a pretty straightforward explanation of what it is; enough to get a sense of the debate around whether string theory is science or maths.”

Thompson argued against the position that: “While Science and Maths are difficult, New Scientist (and presumably other publications) make this complex work like string theory easy to understand.”

I wrote: “Indeed, postmodernism has been quite viciously lampooned. From The Sokal Affair to ‘how to speak and write postmodern‘, there are intelligent scholars lining up to take a swipe at it. Is this unfair? Is it a double standard?”

Thompson argued against the position that: “The Sokal Affair showed that postmodernism is nonsense.”

The problem with arguing against a straw man is that it doesn’t advance the argument. 


5 thoughts on “Exemplar of a fallacy 

  1. There’s also a false argument offered about replicability and cheating.

    What does wrong even mean with regards to Social Theory? How could you prove someone false with any certainty? You can literally write any old rubbish, and provided it sounds good enough it will be published. (See the entire output of Derrida.)

    That some papers in the hard sciences are wrong is not proof that Social Theory stands on the same level. In science something can be shown to be unequivocally wrong, and in the long term the winners are those that are correct.

    In Social Theory we cannot get close to that. Even people who have long been shown to be wrong on almost everything, say Freud, are still cited.

  2. “The problem with arguing against a straw man is that it doesn’t advance the argument.”

    Unfortunately, your observation does not advance it either. It would have been much more informative for the argument if you had said more about “It raises some interesting points” or went into them, as the original article has many unevidenced claims. But maybe you are still writing that post.

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