Logical Fallacy Lesson 2, Red Herring

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Logical Fallacy Lesson 2, Red Herring
Category: Religion and Philosophy


For Logical Fallacy Lesson 2, I'm doing "Red Herring." I find it rather boring to talk about, but it is very, very common. You can pin Red Herring on someone more often than almost any other fallacy, because Red Herring usually goes hand in hand with tons of other fallacies. It has it's own form, yes, but it partially comes in to play all the freakin' time. I've had millions of chances to call someone out on it, but I always forget to and I only attack the main fallacies the person makes. But every times someone ever makes a logical fallacy, consider if they are guilty of Red Herring as well.

Red Herring is a nickname for when someone diverts from the topic or argument at hand. It's also known as Ignoratio Elench ("ignorance of refutation", Latin), or Irrelevant Thesis. It's what it sounds like - someone pointing to an irrelevant red herring in the corner to get the attention off of something that's grinding them.

The name of this fallacy comes from the sport of fox hunting in which a dried, smoked herring, which is red in color, is dragged across the trail of the fox to throw the hounds off the scent. Thus, a "red herring" argument is one which distracts the audience (or judges or other debater(s)) from the issue in question through the introduction of some irrelevancy.

An example of this would be as follows:

"1 1 = 2, you idiot!
"Why don't you tone down that voice of yours! And I'm sure that insult is illogical..."

The second guy is guilty of an ad hominem as well, but he is also guilty of a red herring. They'll go off debating wether of not the insult is fallacious or not leaving the 1 2 = 2 high and dry. It's a red herring. All ad hominems are red herrings. So are many other fallacies.

"Baseball player Mark McGwire just retired. Clearly, he will end up in the Hall of Fame! After all, he's such a nice guy, and he gives a lot of money to all sorts of charities."

That's also a red herring. It's also non sequitor, as they are not linking to how giving to charities will get him on the hall of fame, but it is going off topic. It is red herring. Lots, if not all, of non sequitor are red herrings.

"Radio talk shows do more harm than good because yatta-yatta-yatta..."
"How dare you try to ban talk shows! What about freedom of speech?!"

This is straw man, because they the first person is avering talk shows do more harm than good, not that they should be banned. But it is also another red herring, because it is avoiding the argument and topic at hand.

I usually just call people out on non sequitor or straw man, or ad hominem, and forget to get that little bonus of red herring in against them. I'm starting to do it more often.

Here is a red herring a lawyer in south park used during a case. This is a good example of BOTH red herring and non sequitor. Non sequitor is, by the way, latin for "it does not follow." Not linking from what you're saying to your conclusions is non sequitor. Red herring goes hand in hand with it. Well, here they are in some dialog from south park:

Cochran: Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, Chef's attorney would certainly want you to believe that his client wrote "Stinky Britches" ten years ago. And they make a good case. Hell, I almost felt pity myself! But, ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!
Gerald Broflovski: Dammit!
Chef: What?
Gerald: He's using the Chewbacca Defense!
Cochran: Why would a Wookiee, an eight-foot tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of two-foot tall Ewoks? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense! Look at me. I'm a lawyer defending a major record company, and I'm talkin' about Chewbacca! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you're in that jury room deliberatin' and conjugatin' the Emancipation Proclamation, [approaches and softens] does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit! The defense rests.

And now you should have a good idea of what the hell a red herring is.

Samuel Thomas Poling: Blog 113, Logical Fallacy Lesson 2, Red Herring