Bronze-level articleGish Gallop

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Not to be confused with argumentum ad nauseam (repeating the same point over and over), this is spewing many different points all at once.
If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!
Albert Einstein, commenting on the book 100 Authors Against Einstein[wp]

The Gish Gallop (also known as proof by verbosity) is the fallacious debating tactic of simply drowning your opponent in such a torrent of small, interlocking arguments that your opponent cannot possibly rebut each one in real time. It is similar to the on the spot fallacy, because it's unreasonable for someone to have an answer immediately available to every single argument presented.

Although it is a trivial amount of effort on the galloper's part to make each point before skipping to the next (particularly if they cite from a pre-concocted list of gallop arguments), a refutation of the same gallop may likely take much longer and require significantly more effort (per the basic principle that it's always easier to make a mess than to clean it back up again).

The tedium inherent in untangling a gish gallop typically allows for very little "creative license" or vivid rhetoric (in deliberate contrast to the exciting point-dashing central to the galloping), which in turn risks boring the audience or readers, further loosening the refuter's grip on the crowd.

This is especially true in that the galloper need only win a single one out of all his component arguments in order to be able to cast doubt on the entire refutation attempt. For this reason, the refuter must achieve a 100% success ratio (with all the yawn-inducing elaboration that goes with such precision). Thus, gish galloping is frequently used (and particularly devastating) in timed debates and in character-limited debate mediums such as over Twitter or in newspaper editorials.

Examples of gish gallops are commonly found online, in crank "list" articles that claim to show "[X many hundred] reasons for (or against) [Y]". At this level of attempted verbosity, with dozens upon dozens or even hundreds of minor arguments, each separate "reason" is likely to only consist of a few sentences.

Gish gallops are almost always performed with numerous other logical fallacies baked in. The myriad of component arguments constituting the gallop may typically intersperse a few perfectly uncontroversial claims — the basic validity of which are intended to lend undue credence to the gallop at large — with a devious hodgepodge of half-truths, outright lies, red herrings and straw men — which, if not rebutted, pile up into egregious problems for the refuter.

They may also be escape hatches or "gotcha" arguments, which — like the gish gallop itself — are specifically designed to be brief but take a long time to unravel.

However, gish gallops aren't impossible to defeat — just tricky (not to say near-impossible for the unprepared). Upon closer inspection, many of the allegedly stand-alone component arguments may turn out to be nothing but thinly-veiled repetitions or simple rephrasings of the same basic points — which only makes the list taller, not more correct (hence; "proof by verbosity"). This essential flaw in the gallop means that a skilled rebuttal of one component argument may in fact be a rebuttal to many.

Contents

[edit] Origins

The term was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, named after creationist Duane Gish.[1] Creationists are fond of it; see "101 evidences for a young age of the Earth and the universe" or the various lists of creationist scientists. Sam Harris describes the technique as "starting 10 fires in 10 minutes".

[edit] Types

Cite a giant wall of text, or a three hour long [Y]ou[T]ube video, and then claim it as irrefutable proof.

When they ask for the relevant excerpt, whine about how it's not your job to do the research for them.

When they go through the video and start explaining why the video is wrong, accuse them of cherry picking [...] because they aren't addressing the "important" arguments.

When they ask you what the important arguments are, insist that it's not your job to do the research for them.

And... repeat.
—/u/LRonPaul2012[2]

Gish Gallops can be sorted into spoken and written types. Both have different advantages and disadvantages (for both the Galloper and the Gallop-ee).

[edit] In spoken debate

The formal debating term for this is spreading.[3][4] Because debates are timed, the technique arose as a way to throw as much rubbish into five minutes as possible, leaving an opponent no choice but to ignore multiple ones. In response, some debate judges now limit number of arguments that a debater can make as well as time, and opponents and moderators often try to keep people on topic as closely as possible. However, in places where debating judges aren't there to call bullshit on the practice (like the Internet, or where creationists control the environment) such techniques are remarkably common. Any audience whose consciousness isn't quite raised to the technique may mistake it for a vast breadth of knowledge on a subject.

For inexperienced live debaters, in the public or academic setting, spreading can be a difficult tactic to respond to. The Gish Gallop in particular relies on making numerous points that are difficult to follow individually, often on a sufficiently wide variety of points that an opponent likely will not have the working knowledge of every subject touched on required to respond to it. The most effective (or in some cases only) way to respond to it is to press through the fog of bad presentation, following these points individually so that they can be lumped together based on their respective, individually weak arguments and then dismantled in groups, and maintain as a broad knowledge base for situations where research can't be easily consulted. On the whole, most of the difficulty of dealing with it is due to the learning curve — it can definitely be overcome with practice.

[edit] In written debate

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 — see the examples below. The individual points must also be fairly terse, so that each point individually can be easy to refute. Writing a single paragraph or two to refute, say "How come there are still monkeys?" is easy enough. But combined, a Gish Gallop might run to the same length as an essay of several thousand words, as each point requires in-depth deconstruction, refutation and evidence, whereas the initial assertion needs to be just that, an assertion.

This provides insight into the motives of the Galloper. By using a quantity of arguments as a quality itself, a Gish Gallop tries to create the illusion of authority and weight of evidence. It is effectively style over substance. If brevity and ease of understanding were the aim then they would be better off with a smaller number of points, like "the best five reasons" or "the top ten arguments" as opposed to lists of hundreds. If, on the other hand, the aim was a coherent and thorough argument (as suggested by the 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 each point expanded and elaborated on to ensure it was thoroughly argued.

For example, in "77 Non-religious Reasons to Support Man/Woman Marriage," the overall word count is around 2,300 — the size of a substantial essay that would include references, quotes, definitions, asides and thoroughly unpacked terms. Yet the list of reasons itself contains no such things — it is mostly repetitive points on the same vague theme masquerading as separate reasons. Citations aren't given, reasons aren't expanded upon, they are merely left hanging despite the word count being available. In short, the point is not to provide "77 reasons" but to provide "77 reasons."

To supporters, the illusion works, but those who disagree with the Galloper's points often find the repetitive assertions and non-explanations tedious.

[edit] Why it's a problem

[edit] Spurious argument from authority

They muddy the water, to make it seem deep.
Friedrich Nietzsche[5]

The Gish 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 or with an extensive knowledge of an individual one. Simultaneously it presents opponents (in spoken debates) or refuters (in written, Internet-based ones) as incompetent bumblers 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 the advice (commonly misattributed to Joseph Stalin) that "quantity has a quality all its own."

[edit] Argumentum ad tl;dr

A related distraction technique involves swamping an opponent in long-winded screeds of text to artificially inflate the appearance of depth and quality of information presented. In an argumentum ad tl;dr, the actual content of several paragraphs can be summed up in a sentence or two. 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 Marcel Proust 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 one sentence — a sentence that he doesn't get to himself for at least 3-4 chapters.

[edit] How to respond

There are several ways to rebut a Gish Gallop:

  1. Gish Rebuttal: Go toe-to-toe and rebut every individual argument. This is the most difficult method (since every point is in contention) but the most effective answer (because the Galloper's argument is completely demolished and has no legs to stand on). An additional problem is that, if the rebuttal features even one error, the Galloper can sieze on that (see "Single Flaw Rebuttal") and claim all rebuttals are similarly flawed.
  2. Small Sample Rebuttal: Select a portion of their arguments (first 10, random 10, etc.) and rebut that. This is the second most difficult method (since many points are in contention) but the second most effective answer (because it shows that a representative sample of the Galloper's evidence is flawed, which casts doubt on the remaining portion).
  3. Best Point Rebuttal: Ask the Galloper to select and summarize the "best" proof and debate that. This is the second easiest method (since only one point is debated and the burden of proof is shifted to the Galloper) but second least effective answer (because even though it's the best point, they can easily argue that all the other points are good enough to win).
  4. Single Flaw Rebuttal: Select the weakest argument the Galloper presents, rebut it, and call it a day. This is the easiest method (since it's necessarily the easiest-to-rebut argument) but is terribly ineffective. This method is unlikely to persuade the Galloper or any onlookers -- it doesn't even look like you've tried.
  5. Fallacy Namedropping: Say that it's a Gish Gallop and walk away, having convinced nobody but yourself.

There is no "best"

[edit] Examples

The following are some 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.

[edit] Abusers of this technique

[edit] See also

Cousins of this technique:

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. "Debates and the Globetrotters", Talk.Origins
  2. https://www.reddit.com/r/libertarian/comments/3zkca1/trackreddit/cynaycq/
  3. Snowball, D., 1994: Theory and Practice in Academic Debate: A Reference Guide. California State University, Fullerton.
  4. You can hear some mind-boggling examples here.
  5. [1] - originally "Sie sind mir auch nicht reinlich genug: sie trüben Alle ihr Gewässer, dass es tief scheine"[2][3]
  6. No! Not the list of stumpers again, Pharyngula
  7. A climate 'Gish Gallop' of epic proportions, Skeptical Science
  8. A fine example of Gish Galloping


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