The “straw man” is a type of argumentation where someone distorts the original statement of an opponent, or even attributes a false statement to him, and then debunks it. There is a nice example of a straw man argumentation among some bloggers concerning our Icarus paper. Here is one of them. The author writes:
[The paper] rests on a false comparison of two options:
1. Created by random chance
2. Created by space aliens
This is set up so that if the first is unlikely, the second “must” be right.
The setting is rigged because these two aren’t all the possibilities. There is at least one more:
3. Created by a non-random natural process (e.g. evolved)
To declare any one the ‘preferred’ choice they’d have to investigate all three possibilities, then compare what was found. But they don’t: they only look at the first then declare the second as the ‘winner’ without ever looking at the third.
The straw man here is that we tested exactly options 1 and 3. To quote Appendix B from the paper:
We tested both versions of the null hypothesis (“the patterns are due to chance alone” and “the patterns are due to chance coupled with presumable evolutionary pathways”).
Then we go on to describe how we take certain evolutionary pathways into account. Even if the paper is read perfunctorily, it is impossible to miss such a big chunk of text. So we are forced to conclude that the straw man here comes not from inadvertence, but from mere unfamiliarity with the notion of evolution. Non-random evolution does not imply deterministic process, as perhaps those guys believe. It implies a stochastic process acted upon by non-random forces (which are represented in our statistical test with corresponding filters applied to randomly generated codes).