Red Herring

Also Known as: Smoke Screen, Wild Goose Chase.

Description

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

Topic A is under discussion.
Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).
Topic A is abandoned.

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim.

This fallacy is committed when someone introduces irrelevant material to the issue being discussed, so that everyone's attention is diverted away from the points made, towards a different conclusion.
 

Examples

"We admit that this measure is popular. But we also urge you to note that there are so many bond issues on this ballot that the whole thing is getting ridiculous."

Freeing animals is immoral. It is against the law.

"Argument" for a tax cut: "You know, 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."

"Argument" for making grad school requirements stricter: "I think there is great merit in making the requirements stricter for the graduate students. I recommend that you support it, too. After all, we are in a budget crisis and we do not want our salaries affected."

"You may claim that the death penalty is an ineffective deterrent against crime -- but what about the victims of crime? How do you think surviving family members feel when they see the man who murdered their son kept in prison at their expense? Is it right that they should pay for their son's murderer to be fed and housed?"