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Red Herring

This fallacy consists in diverting attention from the real issue by focusing instead on an issue having only a surface relevance to the first.

Examples:

  1. Son: "Wow, Dad, it's really hard to make a living on my salary." Father: "Consider yourself lucky, son. Why, when I was your age, I only made $40 a week."
  2. Senator Clark: "Why are you not willing to support the antiabortion amendment? Don't you have any feelings at all for the unborn children whose lives are being indiscriminately blotted out?" Senator Rich: "I just don't understand why you people who get so worked up about lives being blotted out by abortion don't have the same feelings about the thousands of lives that are blotted out every year by the indiscriminate use of handguns. Is not the issue of the sanctity of human life involved in both issues? Why have you not supported us in our efforts at gun-control legislation?"
  3. Student: "The opinions of the students are completely ignored in the process of determining both curricular changes and social programs. The students should have a much greater voice in campus governance, because we have a very great stake in this institution, and we think that we have a positive contribution to make." Professor: "The faculty are the ones who need a greater voice. Professors can be fired without explanation, and they have no control over who is promoted or given tenure. Their opinions about budgetary allotments are completely ignored. Why aren't you concerned about the injustice the faculty is experiencing?"
  4. Daughter: "I'm so hurt that Todd broke up with me, Mom." Mother: "Just think of all the starving children in Africa, honey. Your problems will seem pretty insignificant then."
  5. Ms. Olive has objected to my views on capital punishment by trying to show that the taking of human life, legally or illegally, cannot be ethically justified. But the matter is really simple, isn't it? Murderers certainly aren't ethically justified in taking the lives of their victims. Does anyone ever think of the poor victim?
  6. Andy: "Hey, what's with all this junk food you bought? You're always railing at me about eating healthy." Aunt Bea: "Don't fuss -- it was on sale."
  7. Reporter: "It seems to me that if you were elected president, the Congress with which you would have to work would not be very cooperative at all. How could you, as president, bring about any reform or help enact any beneficial legislation with a Congress that was almost totally opposed to your programs?" Ross Perot: "Well, if I were elected, about half the members of Congress would drop dead of heart attacks, and half of my problem would be solved from the outset."
  8. Jack: "Bob Dylan is the greatest performer of our time." Jill: "Well, Dylan is a fine writer, but as a performer, he stinks. I saw a concert of his once and we was singing unintelligibly and looked like he was falling asleep." Jack: "Well, Fleetwood Mac, one of your favorite groups, is not so great in concert either."
  9. Teresa: "It's so obvious that an open society will always be vulnerable to terrorist attack, so the question is how much of our free movement we are willing to sacrifice for national security." George: "No, the question is how our government agencies could have been so stupid as to ignore all the signs of the impending attack."
  10. Reporter: "Mr. President, your opponent, Walter Mondale is considerably younger than you. Do you think that with the threat of nuclear war, age should be an issue in this campaign?" President Reagan: "Not at all. I am not going to exploit my opponent's youth and inexperience."