May 22, 2018
red herring

Don’t Fall For The Red Herring

As a lawyer, arguments and persuasion are my stock in trade. While “arguments” often involve angry yelling, an argument is a point of view with evidence or reasoning supporting it. Regular readers know that “fallacies” are errors in logical reasoning.

(The first four articles in this series can be found on my blog at

When I taught logic, I would show the class that any argument not directly addressing the initial idea, was a fallacy or some combination of fallacies.

It’s also important to remember that a fallacious attack doesn’t mean that the argument itself is false, just illogical.

Remember those little word clouds in comic strips?

Person A would make his argument in his word cloud. And person B’s response would either directly address that argument, or not. I drew arrows to show where the response was aimed.

If aimed at the cloud, it would therefore be logical (whether it’s correct or not), or it would go in some other direction, so it is either attacking the person (which we covered in an earlier article called an “ad hominem” attack or “attacking the man”).

Person A: “America is a democracy.”


Person B: “How would you know, since you flunked out of 8th grade?” (Ad hominem fallacy.)

Person C: “That’s not what my cousin in jail says, and he talks to a lot of folks”. (Appeal to authority fallacy.)

Person D: “No, it’s a constitutional representative republic.” (Properly made argument and correct to boot).

Person E: “Who cares when we are all about to be paying $5.00 for a gallon of gas?”

This one can be classified as a “Red Herring”. It distracts to another unrelated issue. Note that it makes no difference whether or not the red hearing is true because, again it is not attacking the actual argument that is being made. It’s starting its own separate word cloud if you will. My students always had a difficult time separating out a logical or an illogical argument from the idea of whether the argument is true or untrue.

The legend of the Red Herring is ancient. Apparently, there were dog tracking competitions and others would sometimes drag dead fish across the paths of the competing dogs. This was designed to create a new scent trail they would be more likely to follow and get off track. The best dogs could ignore it and stay on the original scent.

Thus, getting folks off topic became known as a “red herring.”

See if you can spot fallacies like red herrings in your interactions this week.

Mr. Peel seeks justice for those injured in motorcycle, truck and car accidents, disability and medical malpractice. He often addresses churches, clubs and groups without charge. Mr. Peel may be reached through wherein other articles may be accessed.

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