A red herring is an irrelevant issue used as a distraction to divert attention from the primary issue. Red herrings are usually used in attempts to deliberately mislead.
There are various theories on the etymology of the phrase. They all involve laying out a fake scent trail to distract hounds by using a smoked red herring (the herring becomes red when smoked and is known for emitting a distinctive odor). In one version, the trail is laid by hunters to test the bloodhounds or to prolong a fox hunt. According to another version British fugitives used herring to distract hounds from their trail, and in yet another version poachers used herring to distract hunting hounds from the game so they could claim it themselves. The phrase was supposedly picked up in the 1920s to warn American investors that preliminary prospectuses, dubbed "red herrings," were not complete and could be misleading.  
This type of fallacy is a subset of the fallacy of irrelevance. Related fallacies of this type include: appeal to consequences, bandwagon fallacy, emotional appeal, guilt by association, straw man, and two wrongs make a right.
Also known as: smoke screen, wild goose chase
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