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[wp]

The Gish Gallop is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that their opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time. More often than not, these myriad arguments are full of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments — the only condition is that there be many of them, not that they be particularly compelling on their own. They may be escape hatches or "gotcha" arguments that are specifically designed to be brief, but take a long time to unravel. Thus, galloping is frequently used in timed debates (especially by creationists) to overwhelm one's opponent.

Examples are commonly found in "list" articles that may claim to show "100 reasons for" something, or "50 reasons against" something. At this sort of level, with dozens upon dozens of minor arguments, each individual point on the list may only be a single sentence or two, and many may be a repeat or vague re-wording of a previous one. This is the intention: although it is trivial amount of effort on the part of the galloper to make a point, particularly if they just need to re-iterate an existing one a different way, a refutation may take much longer and someone addressing will be unable to refute all points in a similarly short order. If even one argument in a Gish Gallop is left standing at the end, or addressed insufficiently, the galloper will attempt to claim victory.

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" for example, which is perhaps the most stunning case. Sam Harris describes the technique as "starting 10 fires in 10 minutes."

Contents

[edit] In spoken debate

The formal debating term for this is spreading.[2][3] 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 when 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] 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 — 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] Spurious argument from authority

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 Joseph Stalin's advice that "quantity has a quality all its own."

[edit] 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. 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 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] 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.

Just 16 questions need so much background knowledge in so many different fields it is unlikely that any single person can answer them all without background research. [4]
  • Reconsidering Climate Change
Given 70 points and presented in a 110 Mb Powerpoint file, this was referred to by Skeptical Science as a "climate 'Gish Gallop' of epic proportions".[5]
  • 100 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.[6]

[edit] See also

[edit] Abusers of this technique

[edit] Cousins of this technique

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. "Debates and the Globetrotters" from Talk.Origins
  2. Snowball, D., 1994: Theory and Practice in Academic Debate: A reference guide.
  3. You can hear some mind-boggling examples here
  4. No! Not the list of stumpers again
  5. www.skepticalscience.com/climate-Gish-Gallop-of-epic-proportions.html, A climate 'Gish Gallop' of epic proportions
  6. A fine example of Gish Galloping
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