The “Red Herring” Fallacy

The “Red Herring” Fallacy


SPEAKER: Red herring is another
well-known fallacy type, but it’s easily confused
with straw figure. So here, I want to highlight
the differences between the two. The name “red herring” comes
from an old method of training dogs for fox hunting. The goal is a train the dogs
to follow the fox’s scent, even if the dogs encounter
other smells that are potentially distracting. So what they do is they got
the fox go so the fox leaves a scent trail. Then before letting
the dogs go, they drag a bunch of
smelly red herrings across the fox’s
trail, like this. Then they release the dogs. When the dogs hit
the herring trail, they’ll be distracted
by the smell, and some will be
inclined to follow the herring trail instead. So the trainers try to get the
dogs to stay on the fox trail and resist the urge
to follow the herring. So what’s what
with this metaphor? Well, the fox is some
argument– the original argument that is at issue in a debate. The dog can represent anyone
who is interested and engaged in this argument. The red herring
is something that distracts you from following the
trail of the original argument. It might be a new and
different argument that raises a different
issue or simply an irrelevant comment that
distracts from the main issue. What’s important is that
it’s distracting enough to make the audience want to
follow this new trail away from the original argument
and the main issue. So putting all this together,
you commit the red herring fallacy when in an argument
you divert attention away from the main issue or
the main line of argumentation by introducing something that
changes the subject, that raises a new issue that isn’t
relevant to the proceeding line of discussion. The fallacy really occurs when
you then conclude something from this different
issue or presume that some conclusion
has been established and use this to claim that
you’ve won the argument or said something relevant
about the original argument. In this respect, the fallacy is
very much like a straw figure fallacy in that you are
mistakenly or misleadingly saying that you’ve
won an argument or refuted an argument when
all that you’ve really done is avoid engaging the
original argument. But it’s different from
the straw figure fallacy in that a straw figure involves
distorting or misrepresenting some original argument and then
knocking down the distorted argument. In a red herring, the arguer
ignores the opponent’s argument and subtly changes the subject. So to distinguish
between the two, you need to ask yourself whether
the arguer has knocked down a distorted argument or
simply changed the subject. Here is a summary of
the points just made. To illustrate the
difference, consider this. I overheard my friend John
argue that the Bible has errors in it. Funny, I never figured
him for an atheist. This is a straw figure,
not a red herring since the conclusion being drawn
is related to the main argument that his friend is
making about the Bible. But it’s clearly working off
of a distorted or exaggerated version of it if it equates
Biblical fallibilism with atheism. Now compare that to this one. My opponent has argued
that there’s an urgent need to reduce greenhouse
gases in order to minimize global warming. But the most serious problem
facing future generations is the risk posed by
nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue states and terrorists. This is where we need to focus
our attention and resources. This is a red herring. The original issue was
about greenhouse gases and the urgency
of global warming. This response
sidesteps that issue and introduces a new issue. To avoid committing
a red herring, the arguer would need to
show the global warming isn’t an urgent problem or that
reducing greenhouse gas emissions won’t be
effective in reducing it– or something like that. Nuclear weapons in the
hands of terrorists is certainly a serious
issue, but that fact is nothing to undermine
the original argument about global warming.

100 thoughts on “The “Red Herring” Fallacy

  1. I am subscribing to your channel.. I love your videos. You give the clearest explanation of these fallacies that I have seen on YouTube.

  2. I love your teaching on fallacies, and don't stop, but, I am leery of the use of certain conservative/liberal hot point arguments for your examples. To me, you almost seem to be leaning left, and really, leaning one way or another on such hot point issues may be a potential red herring that others may use to argue that people not watch these useful vids. You can use whatever you like, but I am just asking for balance in your examples, and caution that personal not bias taint these. That's all.

  3. Wow! These videos are very useful. Now I know that I had fallen by Straw and Red Herring arguments.
    Next time I'll be ready. Thank you so much!

  4. Logical fallacy:PSo Margaret Thatcher was right to let things get personal between her and a degrading mining industry during the economic downturn during the '80s in Britain?You are a biological life form whom is governed through biological reactions which are very much open to causing illogical reactions within the brain of a so called logical person.We are not computers, we are Humans.But then again even computers can still get it wrong..and I am not talking about human error with computers..

  5. OBVIOUSLY yes.
    It's just that us men are far too stupid to possibly be able to understand why she did it. Obviously she had some sort of plan, but letting things get personal just happened to be part of that plan.

  6. In 1958 They nuked the ozone twice creating hole in it. They being the people that worked with nukes and rockets. The hole being what all the arguments over greenhouse gases started, to cover up the fact that they nuked the ozone and created the hole. The ozone being the protective layer of atmosphere surrounding the only planet that you could have received this comment.

  7. Did you notice how Wayne LaPiere blamed video games with violent names for crime in America instead of talking about gun control in America.

  8. Good video.

    I've always wondered how much of a difference there is between a Red Herring fallacy and a non sequitur. They do seem to have similar constructs and people often use both types liberally when calling out a fallacy of someone's argument.

  9. So the people that nuked the ozone were the people who nuked the ozone. That's clearly stated in your 1st two sentences Then you explain that the hole in the hoe zone was started by people talking about greenhouse emissions, and that they made the hole to cover up the secret that the hole was also made by nuclear bombs. (A hole being that part of an object which allows one to pass through it.)

  10. No. That's not a red herring. "It never said 'apple tree'" is a fact. If person one didn't want to get sidetracked on semantics she should have referred to 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.'

  11. Is one example of this sort of like a reverse of the ad-hominem attack? You don't agree with someones view therefore it must be because you have something against them.

  12. My girlfriend: "Only [insert ad hominem] would believe [insert straw-figure/red herring]!! LOL!! I can't believe you actually feel that way! You're such a [insert ad hominem]!"

  13. Would attacking arguments maid by feminists such as Anita Sarkeesian by downplaying their argument by stating examples of worse problems be considered a red herring?  I see that a lot on the internet and I wonder if such an argument is actually valid.

  14. Often there are people that explain fallacies with fallacies. Stereotypes are common uses to metaphor it seems.
    Thanks for these videos.

  15. this isnt really a fallacy, as the new subject is not incorrect. Theres nothing wrong with changing the subject, its natural of conversation to flow in different directions. If you werent done discussing global warming, you just change the conversation back to that. However, it would be a fallacy if they were to claim they win the arguement just by changing the subject, but i dont see them claiming that here

  16. I though a red-herring is when the answer is ONLY to guide you away from the original statement.
    Because what your saying is, the answer is still a red-herring even when answer could be true & more important than the original statement?  
    I love your videos but I'll have to think about this one. 😉

  17. I randomly jumped in a logic class and I'm so happy to have learned all of this.
    The number of times I've seen and heard both fallacies is unreal.
    Me: Mom it's getting late and I think we need to start cooking dinner.
    Mom: You know women hate guys who can't cook for themselves.
    Me: Yeah but we still need dinner, help red herring!

  18. heres one: i cut off your hand.
    i cut all the meat of your arm but left the hand.
    the red herring is YOU.
    the real issue is when do we get paid because we are in a union?
    jk.
    red herring?
    lee harvey oswalds shoes.

  19. This is correct, but the examples were not the best, because:

    A) The straw man argument is misrepresenting the rival's argument in a bad light or overdoing it, not about attacking the rival it self with insults or in a bad light, it's completely another fallacy, the real straw man would go something like:

    Over doing: "Army sure if fun" "So is nuclear war"

    "But were not in nuclear war and we' all be dead by now if it was so"
    "Didn't you get the joke?"
    "Was it supposed to be joke? You didn't look like it 30 secs ago"

    Words to mouth: "Obama basically said that he wants US to be socialist" ( basically )

    No he didn't say that.
    Well he "basically said that, but not entirely"

    Bad light:
    "Darwin said that apes gave birth to humans and I say my mother isn't a monkey!"

    The red herring again completely relies on the situation at hand sometimes and that is why the example shown in the video is a bit bad, since fallacies were meant for university debates and used by professors taking away points and declaring opponents as losers for their fallacies since they did not focus on the debated subject at hand and so they are not meant to work in every single situation.

    For example if you're in a civil war and say that what do you think about global warming?
    Well I think we should get this civil war done first and then focus on the global warming because if we don't there will be nothing to live here for and no global warming through that either.

    HA RED HERRING ARGUMENT.
    Well no just prioritization.

    Also fallacies are used in the wrong way in many situation such as the slippery slope argument, sometimes giving too much power to the PM can lead to a dictatorship.

    But is dictatorship B or D is the big question and claiming that is something far fetched through authority in every single case of logic where B follows A by using the "felony card" is felony itself, so in other words saying something is a felony tho it is somewhat unclear is it or is it not, is a felony by itself.

    A good example for red herring could be:

    "Guns kill 100'000 american per year, how do you respond as a gun owner?

    Well cars kill 500'000 people a year too, so I don't see it as that bad, add to that being overweight and I think we're being just pictured in bad light to everyone else by liberals and that's because they have a political agenda against us, it's not like were all bad after all guns don't kill people, people kill people"

    Well there were actually 3 fallacies:

    So because car accidents that caused accidentally by cars that we need in order just to go to work kill 500 000 people a year, means that another 100'000 should die because there are no laws regarding gun ownership.

    How are liberals and a conspiracy of them smearing you now here on this interview related to the question at hand?

    And the last one I don't recall but it was that it only works under certain specific circumstances like if we had a group of people in a room that had no idea that behind the glass is a gun, well of course nothing happens because guns don't go off by themselves in normal conditions, but if we throw the gun in midst of people who are having a furious fist fight, someone actually might die because of it.

    This is why I also hate slogans because slogans are a bit Ad Hominem or veto to the popularity, because you can't have a logical conversation about something, you need to yell out loud cool sounding rhyming slogans in a large group of people just to show off your power for your argument which doesn't make it anymore right.

  20. Hey my name is Carolann Beaumont and i'm doing a project with two other classmates about red herring and i was wondering if you would give us permission to use your video. We are creating a website about logical fallacy and i found this video very helpful and we would like to attach it to our website please let me know if we have your permission . Asap Thank you for your time.

  21. Taurus's are very susceptible to the red herring whatever… Kind of like "wag the dog "?
    This is how I could apply this to myself… I'm on track, getting shit done, keeping my head down and striving for the completion of the task at hand. And SUDDENLY… dun dun dunn….look at the shiny object… Wow… Then two hours go by, I'm late, not ready, and fucked. It's called A.D.D.
    I've never heard of this Red Herring thing. Lame.

  22. I actually came here from a video about movies, where a "red herring villain" was mentioned (him being Pr Snape). Thank you for explaining!

  23. "I overheard my friend say the bible has errors. Funny , I didn't know my friend is an atheist"
    How is this a straw-man argument? It might be a hasty generalization fallacy, as his friend could be a follower of a different religion such as Hinduism.

  24. Politicians and religious leaders are masters in the use of both Red Herrings and Strawmen. That's why I never trust a political or religious leader's word. The love to twist things into something they're not, and sidestepping issues, introducing irrelevant new issues.

  25. But what if someone is just arguing something unimportant, and we just want to bring the things important back to the attention. It seems to me that a fallacy is not always a fallacy.

  26. Kevin, it appears to me that some very effective debaters use these fallacious techniques intentionally and effectively and rarely get called on their fallacious arguments. How would you respond?

  27. Best way to put it. Wife argues that you left the toilet seat up again. You say "Hey you look pretty today". Wife goes back to the argument of the seat being up. I say "you look pretty today, did you do something with your hair?". She say "aww" and blushes. Win Win situation wife got the fish. The fox is safe. We all sleep happily knowing the seat was up!

  28. Except for the fact that they never actually did that. This was a mistranslation from a book about horse training that said if a fox was unavailable a red herring could be used instead. The passage was talking about getting a horse to follow a dog who was following a fox, cat, or if neither of those were available a piece of red herring.

  29. To me a straw man argument is a sub category of a red herring attack. IE a straw man is a type of red herring just like a mouse is a type of mammel. I don't think the video does a good job of highlighting the differences with out mentioning that one really contains the other.

  30. This is exactly what happens sometimes when you pick up the clue that you expected to find and ignore other(s) that you didn't expect. When this happens, go one stage back and try again looking from another perspective.

  31. I always thought that a 'red herring' was referring to something which is irrelevant because it is statistically insignificant. I thought it came from the logic that most herrings are silvery/blue and a red herring is so uncommon that pointing it out in a debate is just silly.

  32. "2 wrongs make a right ", argument should not be tolerated. Ad hominem,too. The red herring, as described here, is basically pulling off topic-not acceptable. The distinction between pulling off topic and red herring, I must ask?

  33. OMG!!… 2000's = this was the decade before we all found out that global warming was a total red herring, all the while the actual real issues were: liberalism's uncurable disease, vaccinations, chemtrails, sodium fluoride, cancer cures & free electricity being covered up & withheld from public consumption, the Antarctica treaty stopping the public from entering pristine new lands past the Antarctic ice wall, many government lies & coverups being finally exposed beginning mid-decade of 2010's such as uncovering NASA being a fraudulent satanic front in order to siphon off trillions upon trillions of dollars from the American tax-payer in order to both fund thousands of high-tech tunnels & deep underground military bases underneath all of the American land, and to hide the fact that the entire "outer-space" paradigm was always simply merely just a fantasy & never existed, along with the fact that the entire planet is not a planet at all… but an enclosed & fully stationary extended plane in which the sun, moon & stars are all very small & all very close to us as tiny spotlights rotating above our heads. THIS is the decade of 2010's – not even a shadow of its previous decade – the 2000's – its former self!

  34. Ironically, most people who try to argue that their opponents argument is a logical fallacy, are commiting this exact logical fallacy.

  35. that is what almost all atheists do. They use this technique to distract us from the truth. 99% of them dont really want an answer to their questions. No matter if we show and give all the evidence that the bible is true they still would deny it because its not a problem of intellect but it is the problem in hearth. If we prove the bible is 100% accurate and true,would you accept it?
    "No, the bible is full or contradictions and religion has enslaved most of people+it did most wars" is their slang that they use.
    I can bet most of them wont find a single contradiction if you ask to give one.

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