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Red Herring!

Red | Herring | 26th July 2021 | Virtual Wire

In everyday conversations, we have had our arguments snatched in a matter of seconds as soon as the other person brings in a totally different element into the topic. For example, when your parents ask you about your scores in the recent cycle test, instead of telling it right away to your parents, you might start talking about neighbourhood gossip to distract your parents.

It is also fairly common to do this frog-hopping during heated arguments. When you accuse your friend of not being on time, the friend might accuse you of being grumpy which can potentially turn the tracks on another rail of argument where your friend has the upper hand.


These are classic examples of a phenomenon called red herring and this tactic is usually used to avoid the key issue at hand by drawing attention to something closely related or totally unrelated topic. Red herring is a kind of preserved fish that has a strong smell that attracts animals.


When hunting was a sport, this fish was used in training hunting dogs to follow the original scent, despite the potential distraction of the strong scent of the red herring fish. Hence the term red herring is associated with distraction or misleading argument or information.

It is an informal logical fallacy. It is a logical fallacy because you are not trying to prove something false or using faulty reasoning to prove your point; reasoning simply doesn’t happen at all.


This tactic can come in handy in three situations: when someone doesn’t have enough evidence to support their argument, when a person wants to showcase the flaw in the other opponent and in the process cover up their flaws and when the person wants to play off the emotions of his audience.

This tactic is seen everywhere; from popular media to the political arena. The red herring phenomenon drives the narrative of thriller novels and movies by using an innocent onlooker as a scapegoat to confuse the audience and keep them on the edge of their seats.


When a minister talks about how much he or she has worked to improve the conditions of living in the country when questioned about the increasing unemployment rate, the red herring tactic is at work.


Though this might seem harmless and an obvious phenomenon to spot at first glance, it can take a terrible turn when used for the wrong reasons. The red herring phenomenon can be observed in popular media during the time of crisis when, instead of covering the crisis.

The trivial and mundane pieces of information like the day-to-day activities of celebrities occupy everyone’s news feed. This distraction from the key issue at hand could be a fatal blow to the intervention measures of the crisis.