To board the bandwagon means (to use a more contemporary metaphor) to board the bus or train of what’s popular. Appeals to popularity are fallacious because the popularity of something is irrelevant to its actual merits.

Appeal to Popularity—Bandwagon

To board the bandwagon means (to use a more contemporary metaphor) to board the bus or train of what’s popular. Appeals to popularity are fallacious because the popularity of something is irrelevant to its actual merits. “Living together before marriage is the right thing to do because most couples are now doing it.” Bandwagon appeals are common in advertising where the claim that a product is popular substitutes for evidence of the product’s excellence. There are times, however, when popularity may indeed be relevant: “Global warming is probably caused by human activity because a preponderance of scientists now hold this position.” (Here we assume that scientists haven’t simply climbed on a bandwagon themselves, but have formed their opinions based on research data and well-vetted, peer-reviewed papers.)

Appeal to Pity

Here the arguer appeals to the audience’s sympathetic feelings in order to support a claim that should be decided on more relevant or objective grounds. “Honorable judge, I should not be fined $200 for speeding because I was distraught from hearing news of my brother’s illness and was rushing to see him in the hospital.”  Here the argument is fallacious because the arguer’s reason, while evoking sympathy, is not a relevant justification for speeding (as it might have been, for instance, if the arguer had been rushing an injured person to the emergency room). In many cases, however, an arguer can legitimately appeal to pity, as in the case of fund-raising for victims of a tsunami or other disaster.

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Red Herring

This fallacy’s funny name derives from the practice of using a red herring (a highly odiferous fish) to throw dogs off a scent that they are supposed to be tracking. It refers to the practice of throwing an audience offtrack by raising an unrelated or irrelevant point. “Debating a gas tax increase is valuable, but I really think there should be an extra tax on SUVs.” Here the arguer, apparently uncomfortable with the gas tax issue, diverts the conversation to the emotionally charged issue of owning SUVs. A conversant who noted how the argument has gotten offtrack might say, “Stop talking, everyone. The SUV question is a red herring; let’s get back to the topic of a gas tax increase.”

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