Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's fun to knock down Straw Men

The Straw Man fallacy: distorting an opponent's position, then refuting that distorted position.

Even more fun: speculate on and completely make up an opponent's position, then argue against that.

The example in practice from Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk.  Speculating on why Brad Childress elected to punt (and essentially give up on the game), Florio writes:

"Maybe the truth is that Childress feared backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who replaced Gus Frerotte after his hand split open and gushed blood like watered-down gravy spilling from a ladle, would convert the long fourth down, and then perhaps would get a few more of them, and then perhaps would lead the team to a touchdown, requiring Childress to then perhaps revisit his decision to bench Jackson.

"A good coach is smart enough to realize that a quarterback who regains lost confidence can only help the team, even if it requires the coach to deal with internal or external voices clamoring for another change."

It's not just that the speculation is stupid (if anything, I think the opposite is true: Childress just saw Gus Frerotte leave with injury, and just saw Jackson take two straight sacks because he held onto the ball too long.  He may have decided he might need Jackson in the future and he didn't want to utterly destroy his confidence in a bad situation.  Or he didn't want Jackson to get hurt in a bad and dire situation, possibly requiring the team to start Booty.  I don't like that argument, but it's more likely speculation).  It's that after making up this speculative reason, Florio bothers to argue against that speculative reason.  That he entirely made up.  And that is very easy to argue against.

The Straw Man, ladies and gentleman.

Criticism of Brad Childress' ability to be head coach of the Vikings is entirely justified.  Criticism of Brad Childress' decision to punt the game away is entirely justified.

But this fallacious argument is just stupid.


  1. Anonymous2:03 PM

    Childress defended the punt with "the way our defense was playing, I thought we would get it back". They ran the clock out with 3 kneel downs.

    Good clock management!

  2. Anonymous4:02 PM

    I am the anonymous guy who originally posted about the punt. I am flabbegasted that a bigger deal has not been made of this. There were no timeouts left. He quit. Did he ever really answer the question ?

  3. The chances of coming back and winning that game were almost nil and the Vikings had just got beat up for three hours by the Titans on Sunday. Even though Chilly would never say it, perhaps his thinking was, "Okay, we've already lost Henderson and Frerotte. We're down by 13 with two minutes left and no timeouts. Let's get out of here alive."

    I don't agree with that thinking – if that was his thinking – but that's my theory.

    But he did quit. I've never seen an NFL coach do that before. You have to wonder what his players are thinking. Can they really be buying what this guy is selling right now?

  4. Yes, let's not hurt Tarvaris Jackson's precious, precious feelings. I'd rather think that he believed the defense would get the ball back.