Red herring logical fallacies, probably named after an English philosopher who used kipper (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to throw hounds off the scent of the rabbit, are an argument style in which an irrelevant topic is presented in an attempt to divert the argument from the original issue. The arguer then makes the claim of “winning” the argument by directing the argument from the initial topic to another, often unrelated topic.
This fallacy is somewhat related to the non sequitur.
The red herring “reasoning” uses the following steps:
- Topic A is under discussion.
Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A, even though topic B has no relevance to topic A.
Topic A ends up being abandoned.
This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because changing the topic of discussion does not count as an argument against a claim–again, the only point that should matter in an argument is quality and quantity of evidence.
An example would be the following argument for a tax cut:
I’ve begun to think that there is some merit in the Republican’s tax cut plan. I suggest that you come up with something like it, because if we Democrats are going to survive as a party, we have got to show that we are as tough-minded as the Republicans, since that is what the public wants.
Suddenly, the debate is no longer about taxes, but looking good to the public. The argument is moved even before the debate about whether there really is merit about the Republican tax cut plan.