English Language
Red Herring

Red Herring

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Origin and Use of the Red Herring Fallacy

Many people are intrigued by the concept of the red herring fallacy. Interestingly, the term comes from the distinct scent of herring when smoked, where the fish turns red in color. This is also why these fish are sometimes known as "silver darlings."

But moving away from fish and colors, the red herring fallacy itself is a common tactic used by stubborn and deceptive arguers to divert attention from the main issue.

Defining the Red Herring Fallacy

The red herring fallacy belongs to the category of logical fallacies, which are flaws or mistakes in reasoning. While it may appear to be a logical point at first glance, upon closer examination, it is actually flawed and illogical.

Specifically, the red herring fallacy falls under the category of informal logical fallacies, meaning that the flaw lies in something other than the structure of the argument itself.

In this case, a red herring is a tactic used to divert attention away from the main argument, often by introducing an irrelevant point that is somehow connected to the original topic, adding to the deception.

An Example of the Red Herring Fallacy

Consider this scenario where a red herring is used to derail an argument:

  • Person A: The media can manipulate people's opinions through biased reporting. This can have serious consequences for society.
  • Person B: We all want a fair and free press. We need to consider the role of the media in protecting democracy and promoting freedom of speech. What does "fair and free" really mean?

In this example, Person B's response is not entirely random or irrelevant. It does have some connection to the original argument, but it is different enough to shift the focus away from the main point.

Red herring tactics often use emphatic language or truisms, which are difficult to ignore. In this case, Person B's statement of "We all want a fair and free press" is a truism, a statement that is obviously true but adds nothing to the argument.

Additionally, red herring tactics often end with a question or turn, manipulating the line of reasoning. Person B's question of "What does 'fair and free' really mean?" is a strong way to persuade Person A to shift their focus away from the original argument.

Red Herrings in Public Relations

Red herring tactics are frequently used in public relations, often referred to as "PR speak." Public relations representatives may use them to avoid answering difficult questions and redirect the conversation towards a less negative topic.

The Red Herring as a Logical Fallacy

It is evident why the red herring is considered a fallacy. Instead of contributing towards resolving the argument, it leads to a standstill or a return to the original state.

A red herring is not a harmless attempt to view a topic from a different angle. The argument it starts is often pointless or unanswerable, ultimately steering the conversation away from its original subject.

Logic requires answers, and red herrings can distract from logical reasoning, making them a logical fallacy.

An Example of a Red Herring in an Essay

Let's observe how a red herring can be used in an essay, to help identify them in our own writing and future readings.

In his book published in 1986, Woolworth argues for the abolition of Springfield County's by-laws on air pollution. On page 20, he states, "If any municipal body cannot regulate its carbon-based emissions, its rules are meaningless. They should be replaced with new ones." However, before we consider Woolworth's suggestion of stricter state and federal mandates, it is necessary to examine the purpose of these laws. The Code of Hammurabi, established between 1755-1750 B.C., is one of the oldest and most organized legal texts to exist. This code should be the starting point for discussing laws - a term often carelessly thrown around with little thought or substance.

If you ever find yourself getting sidetracked by a red herring, take a moment to refocus on the main argument. flaticon.com.

Identifying and Avoiding the Red Herring Fallacy in Your Writing

When reading an argument, it's important to not get distracted by irrelevant points or ideas.

The Danger of Red Herrings in Writing: How to Recognize and Avoid Them

In the world of writing, there are many distractions that can lead readers away from the main point. These distractions, commonly known as red herrings, can cause confusion and hinder the effectiveness of your arguments. In this article, we'll discuss what red herrings are and provide tips on how to steer clear of them in your writing.

A red herring is a misleading argument or idea that is used to divert attention away from the primary topic. It is considered a logical fallacy, as it does not contribute to the resolution of the argument at hand. This technique is often used to deceive or manipulate the audience for ulterior motives.

So how can you avoid including red herrings in your writing? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Start by creating a well-structured outline for your essay and make sure all of your arguments are connected to your thesis statement.
  • Avoid getting sidetracked by irrelevant points or arguments that do not directly contribute to your main topic.
  • Construct a logical and well-supported argument to prevent the temptation of using red herrings as a distraction.
  • Always remain honest and transparent in your writing, as attempting to conceal a weak argument is also considered a logical fallacy.

It's important to note that the term "red herring" is often misused in popular culture to refer to anything that takes away from the main goal. However, this is not always an accurate use of the term. When encountering this term in an argument, it's crucial to double-check its application to ensure that the fallacy is correctly identified.

In literature, red herrings are also used as a literary device by authors to create suspense and mislead readers from solving the mystery. In these cases, red herrings are not used as logical fallacies, but rather as clever tactics to deceive the protagonist and engage the audience. For example, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet," the villain plants a false clue at the murder scene to throw off the detectives.

Key takeaways:

  • A red herring is a misleading argument or idea used to distract from the main argument.
  • It is considered a logical fallacy and should be avoided in writing.
  • Red herrings may have some connection to the main topic, making them more difficult to recognize.
  • They often end with a question or sudden twist, adding to their deceptive nature.

The Bottom Line:

In summary, a red herring is an irrelevant argument or idea that is used to divert attention from the main topic. It is considered a logical fallacy and should be avoided in all types of writing. To steer clear of red herrings, be sure to stick to a well-structured outline and stay focused on your main argument. Don't let these deceptive tactics derail your logic and reasoning.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime