Bronze-level articleGish Gallop

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If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!
Albert Einstein, commenting on the book 100 Authors Against Einstein

The Gish Gallop, named after creationist Duane Gish, is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood in real time. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. Sam Harris describes the technique as "starting 10 fires in 10 minutes."

The formal debating jargon term for this is spreading.[1] It arose as a way to throw as much rubbish into five minutes as possible. In response, some debate judges now limit number of arguments as well as time. However, in places where debating judges aren't there to call bullshit on the practice, like the internet, such techniques are remarkably common.

Contents

Bullet-point lists

In written form, a Gish Gallop is most commonly observed as a long list of supposed facts or reasons, as a pamphlet or green ink web page, with a title that proudly boasts the number of reasons involved. To truly qualify as a Gish Gallop, this number must be at least 50 — a "top 10" list isn't really what this is about — and many truly epic examples hit triple figures. The individual points must also be fairly terse; often to the point where, individually, each point is easy to refute because it simply proves nothing. But combined, a Gish Gallop might run into the same length as a multi-page essay running into thousands of words. This provides insight into the motives of the Gish Galloper, as there seems to be some conflict between the scale of the Gallop and the shortness of the individual points. If brevity and ease-of-understanding was the aim (as suggested by short, easy-to-digest points) then they would be better off with a smaller number of points, like "the best five reasons" or "the top ten arguments." These not only stick in the mind of a reader, but also form a core argument that can be expanded on. If, on the other hand, a coherent and thorough argument was the intention (as suggested by the excessive word count), then the purpose would be best served by using the thousands of words expended in the Gallop to make a full essay, with points expanded and elaborated on to ensure they were thoroughly argued. By taking a curious middle ground, a Gish Gallop tries to create the illusion of authority and an incredible weight of evidence by sheer quantity alone, without any quality to back it up. To supporters, the illusion works, but those who disagree with the Galloper's points often find the amount of repetitive assertions and non-explanations offered tedious to deal with.

Spurious argument from authority

The gallop is often used as an indirect argument from authority, as it appears to paint the "galloper" as an expert in a broad range of subjects and the opponent as an incompetent bumbler who didn't do their homework before the debate. Such emphasis on style over substance is the reason many scientists disdain public debates as a forum for disseminating opinions.

It is often successfully combined with the "point refuted a thousand times" (PRATT). The gallop must consist of as many points as possible, and even old and worn out arguments are useful in overwhelming the respondent and bamboozling the audience. The technique also takes advantage of the one single proof fallacy, since if a respondent only manages to refute 99 out of 100 points there is still one point that proves the galloper correct. The galloper takes to heart Joseph Stalin's advice that "quantity has a quality all its own."

Argumentum ad tl;dr

A related distraction technique, familiar to readers of A Storehouse of Knowledge, involves swamping an opponent in long-winded screeds of text to artificially inflate the appearance of depth and quality of information presented. Quite often, the actual content of several paragraphs can be summed in a sentence. While the Gish Gallop floods an opponent with many, but relatively short points, argumentum ad tl;dr flings text walls so massive and impenetrable that even Victor Hugo would blush. Both tactics, however, have exactly the same purpose: to bury and obfuscate the core points that need to be discussed under a quantity of superfluous information. A user might well think that these techniques show that they know what they're talking about, but in the end they act simply as distractions. Note that both are different (but not mutually exclusive) from argumentum ad nauseam, which bolsters the apparent credibility of the argument simply by repeating the same thing over and over and over and over again.

For example, Jason Lisle's blog posts and "research paper" about the anisotropic synchrony convention prattle on endlessly about relativistic physics, hiding the fact that his fundamental assumptions were, to say the least, a little far-fetched. Similarly, engineer Dewey Larson has written numerous books on his theories about matter, going on for pages and pages about the need for critical thinking and letting evidence fit hypotheses, when what he actually proposes in these weighty self-published tomes can be summed up in a medium-length sentence.

Use by creationists

The evolution of living organisms is a large and complex subject, and even professionals cannot study more than a small part of it during their whole careers. Furthermore, while making a statement is quick and easy, convincingly refuting it takes time regardless of how inaccurate the statement is.[2] Since many debates involve a three quarter hour presentation with a half hour rebuttal, correcting all the Creationist misinformation under these conditions is difficult or impossible. Generally creationists are more than willing to debate when the debating rules favor them in this way.

Since they have no scientific model of their own to present, they will spend all of their time in what is known affectionately as the "Gish Gallop", in which they skip around from topic to topic spewing out an unceasing blizzard of baloney and unsupported assertions about evolutionary theory, leaving the poor evolutionist to attempt to catch up and correct them all.[3]

In responding to the Gish Gallop, where possible it is best to

...narrow the debate down to a single topic--the age of the earth, or the fossil record--and then debate it through to its logical conclusion. This defeats the Gish Gallop, and also prevents the common creationist tactic of suddenly changing the subject whenever he or she gets uncomfortable.[3]

It is also important to challenge creationists whenever they make unsupported claims.

Examples

The following are prime examples of the "Gish Gallop". They are usually characterized as "lists", titled "100 reasons why..." or similar. Thus, the points raised in the gallop are often very short and non-specific. It takes a lot of effort to fully refute everything and it is far easier for the galloper to add another question than it is for the respondent to formulate a suitable answer, which is the point behind the tactic.

- 25 mostly meaningless questions, some of which are just the same thing repeated for a different example. They're not terribly difficult to answer, and in most cases imply the response "so what?"
- you read that right; even RationalWiki has a Gish Gallop on it.
- Yep. 101 evidences. Countable nouns be damned! Trying to refute this work takes time, a lot of time. Years, in fact. But that's the point! Under the principle of falsifiability, only one piece of evidence is needed.
- 100 reasons, each reason with about 20 words in it. To pick one at random: "6) Significant changes in climate have continually occurred throughout geologic time." doesn't actually prove anything!
- Ray Comfort's attempt to gallop through as many apparent "facts" as possible.
- 276! Usually it's the ink that's green, not the background.
- From the Eagle Forum. Many of these aren't actually reasons and many just repeat the same thing again and again. But hey, it's 77 reasons.
An email that was circulated to multiple atheist bloggers around 2008. It does raise the question that if you need 50 reasons to believe in God, you must have very little faith.
  • A Hundred authors against Einstein
- Published in 1931, this was an attempt to discredit the theory of relativity by weight of numbers alone - although "100" authors was an overestimate. Because of the simple errors and straw man nature of the work - not helped by the brevity of the entries - Hans Reichenbach described it as "unintentionally funny".

YEC website owner Philip J. Rayment has been making full use of the Gish Gallop technique on A Storehouse of Knowledge. He has improved the technique even further by introducing an annoying green "quote template" to further fragment discussion.[5]

See also

Abusers of this technique

Cousins of this technique

External links

Footnotes

  1. You can hear some mind-boggling examples here
  2. "Debates and the Globetrotters" from Talk.Origins
  3. 3.0 3.1 http://web.archive.org/web/20090226071224/http://www.geocities.com/capecanaveral/hangar/2437/debate2.htm
  4. [1]
  5. a fine example of Gish Galloping
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