The Red Herring Fallacy

Read this article to learn about the red herring fallacy. If you think bringing up colorful fish sounds a bit out of place when discussing logic, then you’re absolutely right! The red herring fallacy operates by bringing up irrelevant information. Oftentimes when we have arguments in our own lives, though, people do throw in "red herrings".

Red Herring

A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue. It may be a logical fallacy or a literary device that presenters use to lead readers and audiences toward a false conclusion. A writer or politician may intentionally use a red herring, such as in mystery fiction or as part of a rhetorical strategy during a political argument.

William Cobbett, the English polemicist, popularized the term in 1807 when he told a story about using a "kipper" (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to divert hounds from chasing a hare.

  • Logical Fallacy

As an informal fallacy, the red herring falls into a broad class of relevance fallacies. Unlike the straw man, which is premised on a distortion of the other party's position, the red herring is a seemingly plausible, though ultimately irrelevant, diversionary tactic. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a red herring may be intentional, or unintentional; it is not necessarily a conscious intent to mislead.

People claim someone is using a red herring when they assert an argument is not relevant to the issue being discussed. For example;

"I think we should make the academic requirements stricter for students. I recommend you support this because we are in a budget crisis, and we do not want our salaries affected."

While the speaker uses the second sentence to support the first sentence, this argument does not address the topic.

  • Intentional Device

Some fiction and non-fiction writers intentionally use red herrings to plant a false clue to lead readers or audiences toward a false conclusion. For example, in the novel The Da Vinci Code the author Dan Brown presents the character of Bishop Aringarosa during most of the novel as if he is at the centre of the church's conspiracies. However, Brown later reveals that the true antagonist of the story duped Aringarosa. The character's name is a loose Italian translation of "red herring" ( aringa rosarosa meaning pink, close to rossared).

Professors often use red herrings in legal studies and exam problems to mislead and distract students from reaching a correct conclusion about a legal issue, to test whether students comprehend the underlying law and can properly discern material factual circumstances.

Source: Wikipedia,
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Last modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 2:29 PM