A red herring is a fallacy argument that distracts from the original topic. Some may refer to this type of argument as a "smoke screen."
Red herrings are frequently used in:
- Mystery, thriller and dramatic novels
- Political speeches
- Children's conversations with their parents
- Business announcements
- Government information releases
- Controversial conversations
Common Red Herrings
- In business, arguing against giving raises - “Sure, we haven’t given raises in over five years to our employees. You know, we work really hard to make a good product. We try to ensure the best customer service, too.”
- In government, arguing for raising taxes - “We need more revenue to support the programs that we have. Children are our future. Let’s support children.”
- In politics, defending one’s own policies regarding public safety - “I have worked hard to help eliminate criminal activity. What we need is economic growth that can only come from the hands of leadership.”
- In conversation, in arguing against gay marriage rights - “I don’t think that there should be marriage among homosexuals. Anyway, taxes on married people are high. I think that taxes on the married are just ridiculous.”
- In a mystery novel - Vivid descriptions are given of a masked intruder who enters the room where the murdered person is ultimately found. These descriptions lead the reader to assume that this masked intruder was the killer.
- In business, defending lay offs - “Unfortunately we have to lay off 5% of the workforce. It’s important for us to note that the product we create is exceptionally flawless and we thank our manufacturing department for that.”
- In government, to avoid discussing a delicate topic - “I understand you want to know what happened at the embassy. What is really important is to talk about whether the government has enough cash flow to stay open through the month.”
- In politics, to defend one’s voting past - “While you may have concerns about my votes about the environment, I can assure you that I am an open minded individual. What we should really discuss is my record on votes that expanded educational opportunities for all children.”
- In conversation - “I am pretty sure that evolution is not a very good explanation for human life. Anyway, I am pretty offended that anyone would suggest that I came from a monkey.”
- In business, arguing in favor of an increase in health care contributions from employees - “We are going to be forced to increase the amount of your contribution to your health care costs by 10%. Do note that we continue to provide lunches at a standard cost in the cafeteria, and we know what a huge benefit that is for most workers!”
- In government, defending one’s inaction in regards to increased crime - “The crime in this city, has, in fact increased lately. However, let’s consider that the weather has changed as well. Things change over time. Sometimes they are linked, sometimes they are not, but only time will tell.”
- In conversation - “When you start saying things to me like I need to eat healthier or get more exercise, that says to me that you think I’m fat. I like me, and I like the way I look and more people should have better self esteem.”
- In business, arguing in favor of moving to another state - “Sure, South Carolina is quite a distance from Maryland, but it is better for our business model. And, really, who doesn’t like warmer weather? The weather will definitely be a plus.”
Now you see how red herrings can work in arguments.