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Language, Logic, and Action Pt. 2: Red Herrings and Category Errors

In part 1 of this series, we looked at how some articles utilize “headlinese” in order to get readers to do the dirty work of committing logical fallacies. The reader, once having committed the logical fallacies, would likely accept the conclusions of their invalid inferences, acting in accordance with their false conclusions. In this article, we will be looking at how some publications use the red herring and category error fallacies to support their narrative and, simultaneously, draw attention away from the truth. The philosophy department of Texas State University defines the fallacy as follows –

“This fallacy consists in diverting attention from the real issue by focusing instead on an issue having only a surface relevance to the first.”1

While valiant attempts were made by “alternative” media outlets (e.g. Project Veritas, Infowars, The Corbett Report), as well as independent vloggers and bloggers, to demonstrate that COVID-19 is much less deadly than the Spanish Flu and other deadly viruses2 and, in fact, has a mortality rate around that of a severe flu,3 other reports were being published dealing with other consequences purportedly attributable to COVID-19. However, the problem here is not merely that it takes attention away from a real problem (viz. the deception of the public by various media personnel, virology experts, and governmental authorities), but that it is guilty of committing a category error. According to the Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy,

When one ascribes a concept to one logical type or category when it is in fact of another, a category [error] is committed.4

This confusion of categories  can be seen in titles like –

“Coronavirus is plunging the global economy into its worst crisis since 2009”5
“OECD: Coronavirus could tip Europe into a recession.”6
“Covid-19 poses greater risk to economy than a hard Brexit, says Hammond”7
“How Coronavirus Is Threatening More Than Just Supply and Demand”8

These articles are guilty of committing a category error because COVID-19 is a virus, its effects are biological not economic. Secondly, even if COVID-19 could affect economies, the economic problems the US and other nations began to experience were not the result of the virus. The economic problems we are facing are the result of human responses to the virus including, but not limited to, the following–

    • Shutting down local business
    • Shutting down meat processing facilities
    • Restricting or prohibiting tourism
    • Restricting or prohibiting travel

COVID-19 hasn’t done anything to the global economy; humans have, namely politicians and the medical experts who have been advising them.

This shift of emphasis, or scapegoating, is beneficial to the coronapocalypse advocates because it perpetuates the idea that COVID-19 is a quasi-omnipresent, quasi-omnipotent, and quasi-incomprehensible virus which is on a quest to destroy our bodies, minds, and livelihood – despite clear evidence to the contrary. It is also beneficial to the coronapocalypticists because it diverts attention away from them. If the number of deaths attributable to COVID-19 is not exponentially high on its own, in other words, this is not a problem for the coronapocalypticists, seeing as they can claim that the exponentially high death rate is attributable to the virus and its total affect on the world (e.g. economic failure, suicides, etc). By erroneously identifying COVID-19 as a virus that affects economies, attention is drawn away from the daily growing body of critics who know that the virus is nowhere nearly as deadly as has been claimed time and again by coronapocalypticists. In the case of COVID-19, then, the red herrings and category errors walk hand in hand.

[Continued in Pt. 3]


1“Red Herring,” Texas State University, Accessed June 7, 2020. https://www.txstate.edu/philosophy/resources/fallacy-definitions/Red-Herring.html. 
2  See Blackwell, Tom. “New Coronavirus May Be No More Dangerous than the Flu Despite Worldwide Alarm: Experts,” National Post. February 03, 2020. https://nationalpost.com/health/new-coronavirus-may-be-no-more-dangerous-than-the-flu-despite-worldwide-alarm-experts. 
 See Fauci, Anthony. Lane, H. Clifford. Redfield, Robert R. “Covid-19 — Navigating the Uncharted,” in New England Journal of Medicine Vol. 382, No. 13 (March, 2020), 1,268-1,269. 
4 Bunnin, Nicholas., Yu, Jiyuan. (Germany: Wiley. 2008),104. 
5 Riley, Charles. CNN Business. 2020. “Coronavirus Is Plunging the Global Economy into Its Worst Crisis since 2009.” CNN Wire, March 2. 
6 Chapman, Ben. 2020. “OECD: Coronavirus Could Tip Europe into a Recession.” Independent (UK), March 3. 
7  Wheeler, Caroline. 2020. “Covid-19 Poses Greater Risk to Economy than a Hard Brexit, Says Hammond.” Sunday Times, The, March, 4. 
8 PR Newswire. 2020. “How Coronavirus Is Threatening More Than Just Supply and Demand.” PR Newswire US, March 10. 
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