What is The Red Herring Fallacy? | Critical Thinking Basics


Explanation. Examples. How to avoid the Red Herring fallacy.

What the Red Herring fallacy is:

The Red Herring fallacy occurs when an argument introduces irrelevant information or shifts the focus away from the main issue to distract or mislead the audience.

When it occurs:

This fallacy occurs when a speaker diverts attention from the central topic by introducing unrelated or extraneous details.

Why it helps to identify and manage it:

Identifying the Red Herring fallacy is essential for maintaining the integrity of discussions, as it prevents the manipulation of attention away from the main issue. Managing this fallacy promotes a more focused and productive exchange of ideas, fostering genuine understanding.

How to manage the Red Herring fallacy:

To address the Red Herring fallacy, actively redirect the conversation back to the central topic or question. Encourage participants to stay on point and avoid being swayed by irrelevant details. By refocusing discussions on the main issue, participants can contribute to a more meaningful and constructive dialogue.

Red Herring: Examples

  1. Shifting the conversation from the budget deficit to discussing an opponent’s personal life.
  2. Steering a debate about climate change into a discussion on individual lifestyle choices.
  3. Responding to a question about foreign policy by discussing a political rival’s previous mistakes.
  4. Distracting from a discussion on healthcare reform by highlighting an opponent’s wardrobe choices.
  5. Shifting focus from an economic proposal to criticizing the speaking style of the presenter.
  6. Turning a conversation about education policy into a discussion about a political figure’s appearance.
  7. Responding to accusations of corruption by discussing the personal habits of the accuser.