Yet another version of the straw man–this one a discovery–so it appears–of Steven Pinker. Pinker notices a peculiar rhetorical device of Malcolm Gladwell:
The banalities come from a gimmick that can be called the Straw We. First Gladwell disarmingly includes himself and the reader in a dubious consensus — for example, that “we” believe that jailing an executive will end corporate malfeasance, or that geniuses are invariably self-made prodigies or that eliminating a risk can make a system 100 percent safe. He then knocks it down with an ambiguous observation, such as that “risks are not easily manageable, accidents are not easily preventable.” As a generic statement, this is true but trite: of course many things can go wrong in a complex system, and of course people sometimes trade off safety for cost and convenience (we don’t drive to work wearing crash helmets in Mack trucks at 10 miles per hour). But as a more substantive claim that accident investigations are meaningless “rituals of reassurance” with no effect on safety, or that people have a “fundamental tendency to compensate for lower risks in one area by taking greater risks in another,” it is demonstrably false.
I think the "straw we" is a central tactic of the pseudo-contrarian: the person who sets up a silly version of the conventional wisdom, and then knocks it down. In knocking it down, however–and this is another move entirely–the straw whizzer exaggerates the importance of the outlier cases. Underlying the tactic of the straw whizzer is a host of other characteristics of the sloppy, dishonest, or inexpert thinker. The straw we sets up a kind of failure, which the clever or dishonest or just lazy author will replace with something equally silly and unjustified.
Where there is one such error, another follows closely behind.