Gish Gallop

Gish Gallop is a technique, named after the creationist Duane Gish who employed it, whereby someone argues a cause by hurling as many different half-truths and no-truths into a very short space of time that their opponent cannot hope to combat each point in real time. This leaves some points unanswered and allows the original speaker to try and claim his opponent lacks the counter-arguments.

While this term was originally coined by Eugenie Scott to describe the arguing techniques of creationists, but much the same tactics are employed by opponents of animal research. Not convinced that a few well developed lines of thought were suitable, many animal rights activists prefer to take a machine gun approach, hoping that some stray bullet will be the one necessary to convince their opposition.

After our recent annoucnement about the Science Action Network, an animal rights activist called “Northern animalrights” decided to come to our Facebook page to lay down the “facts” about animal research.

Click to Enlarge this example of Gish Gallop from the Facebook User “Nothern Animalrights”

The Rational Wiki have a page dedicated to explaining Gish Gallop. I wanted to see how well that described to the diatribe above.

Bullet-point Lists
In written form, a Gish Gallop is most commonly observed as a long list of supposed facts or reasons, … 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.

Not once, but twice our confused activist posts a list of 24 factually incoherent soundbites. Most of which are already debunked on the ‘Bad Science’ section of our website.

Spurious arguments 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 […]
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.

Spurious claims that morphine has the opposite effect on cats have been debunked countless times by scientists, as have most of the other points. However, lacking the time to provide answer for each one of his points in turn I am open for the “one single proof fallacy”.

So we see that this argument from Northern animalrights is definitely an example of Gish Gallop.  Sadly, so is much of the rest of the arguments that can be found on the internet (particularly our Facebook group).

Not that Gish Gallop is not the only problem with his arguing style. Northern animalrights regularly calls upon questionable scientists arguing against research, suggesting they are in better authority than the rest of the scientific community. He also has a lackadaisical attitude to the word “proof” suggesting both that his Gish Gallop constitutes proof, and that he had even managed to “prove beyond any doubt” that animal research doesn’t work (thankfully I see a lot of doubters out there).

Sadly, even if we are unimpressed his arguments, it will often serve to reinforce the belief of both the speaker, and those who follow his beliefs.

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.

Cheers

Tom

3 responses to “Gish Gallop

  1. And it can be so effective that the Gish Galloper can make a living out of it — http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/03/16/the-animal-rights-crank/

  2. One of the reasons that the Gish Gallop works in debates is that the person on the other side of the debate will often – especially if they are not an experienced debater – feel obliged to attempt to respond to each claim. At best this will result in them being on the defensive for the rest of the debate and unable to put forward their own arguments, and in most cases the task is impossible in any case and hey will end up looking superficial (particularly where a claim refers to old, obscure, or refers to a field well outside the area of expertise of the debater, andwill need considerable research before being debunked). The best counter to the Gish-Gallop is to not even attempt to debunk all the claims but to pick just one or two and thoroughly debunk them. Most reasonably unbiased audiences will realise that the Gish-Gallopers “evidence” is unreliable, and that it is unreasonable to expect their opponent to respond to each claim.

    The Gish Gallop is only one tactic used by anti-science debaters, and I’m reminded of something PZ Myers once said. When he was asked why he doesn’t take part in debates with creationists very often he pointed out that he was always at a disadvantage in such debates because he couldn’t “just make stuff up”.