Red Herring

Also Known as: Smoke Screen, Wild Goose Chase

Description:

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

1. Topic A is under discussion.

2. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).

3. Topic A is abandoned.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim.

Example #1

“Argument” against a bond measure:

“We admit that this measure is popular. But we also urge you to note that there are so many bond issues on this ballot that the whole thing is getting ridiculous.”

Example #2

“Argument” for a tax cut:

“You know, I’ve begun to think that there is some merit in the Republicans’ tax cut plan. I suggest that you come up with something like it, because If we Democrats are going to survive as a party, we have got to show that we are as tough-minded as the Republicans, since that is what the public wants.

Example #3

“Argument” for making grad school requirements stricter:

“I think there is great merit in making the requirements stricter for the graduate students. I recommend that you support it, too. After all, we are in a budget crisis and we do not want our salaries affected.”

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Published in: on March 12, 2008 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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