If you’ve ever been in an argument with someone and they suddenly bring up an unrelated topic to try and change the subject, you’ve witnessed the red herring fallacy in action. This fallacious reasoning is about distracting from the real issue by introducing a new, irrelevant topic.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the red herring fallacy in more detail and learn how to spot it so that you can avoid being tricked by this common form of bad logic.
What Is The Red Herring Fallacy?
The term red herring fallacy is an informal fallacy that occurs when someone introduces an unrelated topic into a discussion to distract the reader from the original issue. This new topic may be completely unrelated to the issue at hand, or it may only be loosely related. Either way, introducing this new topic is a way of avoiding having to address the main issue.
There are many different ways that someone might commit the red herring fallacy. For example, they might change the subject whenever the conversation starts to veer into uncomfortable territory. Or, they might make a false claim or introduce false evidence intended to divert attention away from the real issue.
Sometimes, a person might use emotional appeals or personal attacks to avoid addressing the main issue. No matter what form it takes, the goal is always the same: to distract from the real issue so that it doesn’t have to be addressed.
Why Is It Called The “Red Herring” Fallacy?
This fallacy gets its name from an old practice of using smoked herring as a way of training hunting dogs. The strong smell of smoked herring would help track down prey, but sometimes hunters would drag a herring across their trail to throw off their dogs and make them lose the scent.
In other words, they would use the strong smell of fish to distract their dogs from finding what they were looking for. This same principle applies to the red herring fallacy. Just as hunting parties use distractions to throw off their dogs, people who commit this fallacy use distractions to throw off their opponents (or anyone else they’re trying to persuade).
People intentionally introduce red herrings in arguments by introducing an irrelevant topic into the discussion. They’re hoping to distract you from the real issue so that it doesn’t have to be addressed. Of course, just like with hunting dogs, this tactic doesn’t always work—but it’s still worth trying if you can get away with it!
How To Spot Red Herring Fallacy
The best way to avoid being tricked by this logical fallacy is to learn how to spot it like Sherlock Holmes. Here are some things to look out for:
- Does the other person seem more interested in discussing something other than addressing the original issue?
- Do they keep changing the subject whenever you try to bring up certain topics?
- Are they making claims or introducing evidence that doesn’t seem relevant?
- Are they trying to appeal to your emotions rather than giving logical arguments?
- Does their argument make sense if you remove everything else they’re saying?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a case of red herring to distract you from the real reason. When this happens, your best bet is usually just to call it out and refocus on the original issue at hand. After all, there’s no reason why you should be distracted by something that isn’t even relevant!
The next time you find yourself in an argument with someone, they start veering off into unrelated territory, Stay cautious. You may be dealing with a case of red herring fallacious reasoning, which is meant to distract the reader.
This type of bad logic is all about distracting from the real issue at hand by introducing a new, irrelevant topic into the mix. You can protect yourself from being tricked by this common form of bad logic by learning to spot this fallacy.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s The Difference Between A Red Herring And A Straw Man Fallacy?
A red herring fallacy is a logical fallacy that distracts attention from the issue at hand by introducing a false but superficially plausible proposition.
On the other hand, a straw man fallacy is an informal fallacy in which an argument is misrepresented by replacing its original position with a weaker or absurd one and then attacking this new position.
What Is The Opposite Of Red Herring?
A red herring is an argument or distraction that leads away from the main issue. So, any argument or distraction that leads back to the main issue could be considered it’s opposite.
For example, if someone raises an irrelevant objection to distract from the main point of an argument, then the valid response would be to address that objection and bring the discussion back to the original topic.
Is Red Herring A Metaphor?
Yes, the red herring is a metaphor. It means to distract or mislead someone with a false or irrelevant issue. The phrase probably comes from using red herrings as bait to distract hunting dogs from the scent of their prey.
An experienced author and writing professional who graduated from the University of North Carolina. He has worked as a ghostwriter, editor, and content creator for various academic sites.