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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, 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 term for this is spreading. 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.
 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. The individual points must also be fairly terse, so that each point individually can be easy to refute because it simply proves nothing. But combined, a Gish Gallop might run to the same length as an essay of several thousand words. This provides insight into the motives of the 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 were 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, 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. By taking a curious middle ground, a Gish Gallop tries to create the illusion of authority and 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 repetitive assertions and non-explanations tedious.
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 up 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 one 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. 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.|
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.|
It is also important to challenge creationists whenever they make unsupported claims.
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.
- Ask Darwinists
- 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?"
- Talk:Christian Science/Archive 1
- You read that right; even RationalWiki has a Gish Gallop on it.
- 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe
- 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 that climate change is natural (Daily Express)
- 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!
- 100 Reasons to Believe the Bible is Supernatural in Origin
- Ray Comfort's attempt to gallop through as many apparent "facts" as possible.
- 276 (276!!) Strange coincidences of 9/11
- 276! Usually it's the ink that's green, not the background.
- 77 Non-religious Reasons to Support Man/Woman Marriage
- 50 Reasons to Believe in God
- Ponatahi Christian School's list of reasons they teach creationism
- 29 points in total. But once you realise that the first two points allow them to pick and choose what science to believe in "just because," there's not much point in continuing further down the list.
- 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.
 The paradox of the Gish
If one responds to a Gish Gallop by trying to dissect each and every point their opponent has made it would lead to the response becoming a Gish Gallop as well. This is especially true in list form, since one would have to address many different claims, which is probably in list form itself.
 See also
 Abusers of this technique
- William Lane Craig
- Dinesh D'Souza
- Scott Huse
- Mitt Romney (after the first televised presidential debate, news sites linked to this article as a reference to what he was doing)
- Alex Jones
- Dennis Prager (See Still the Best Hope)
- John Hawkins has made a career out of this technique
- Andros Kyprianou, a Cypriot politician has been actively using this technique to redirect the subject of his political party's involvement in unethical activities
 Cousins of this technique
- How Not To Argue With Creationists, by Jim Lippard
- Debating Creationists: Some Pointers -- two articles at TalkOrigins.org
- A climate Gish Gallop of epic proportions
- ↑ Snowball, D., 1994: Theory and Practice in Academic Debate: A reference guide.
- ↑ You can hear some mind-boggling examples here
- ↑ "Debates and the Globetrotters" from Talk.Origins
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 http://web.archive.org/web/20090226071224/http://www.geocities.com/capecanaveral/hangar/2437/debate2.htm
- ↑ A fine example of Gish Galloping
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