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Gish Gallop - RationalWiki
July 21, Contract bridge. List of bidding conventions. After Duane Gish died, other cranks commentators have been known for employing personalized variants of the Gish Gallop. These include the Trump Tirade  and the Alex Avalanche.
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Gish Gallops can be sorted into spoken and written types. Both have different advantages and disadvantages for both the Galloper and the Gallopee. The formal debating term for this is spreading. 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.
It is now common for negative teams [against the topic of the debate] to attempt to win [debate] rounds by "spreading" their affirmative [for the topic of the debate]: presenting as many arguments as they can in their constructive [opening] speeches in the hopes that their opponents may not answer one argument "drop it" , leaving it on the flow [a chart of arguments made within the debate] for the judge to base the[ir] decision on.
Negative teams have the advantage of being able to focus on selected affirmative arguments, while, in general, affirmative teams must respond to every negative argument.
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Some negative teams present a dozen different arguments with numerous subpoints, none well developed, but each an argument to which the affirmative team must respond. Many debaters understandably feel that this strategy is unfair and 'a scare tactic'. In the process, the round becomes filled with arguments that are not fully developed, teams talk past each other, and the round becomes hard for judges and opponents to flow [fill in that chart of arguments made in the round].
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. 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. 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?
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.
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.
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 in which case it may take several actual experts in multiple fields to properly debunk the Gallop 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.
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 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. Refuting a Gish Gallop is hard.
Not because it's a well-formed argument that forces you to reconsider your worldview in a new light, a process taking critical thought over a long span of time. Not at all. It's hard because there's so fucking much to refute.
Every claim probably requires at minimum one Google search, a writeup of what was found, and a link to the source. Conversely, making the claim only requires one of those steps: the writeup itself. And if the Gish Gallop itself seems to have some substance, this process becomes much harder: each claim's evidence must be thoroughly debunked.
As such, the debunker must understand both the claim and why it's bullshit. The claimaint need only recite the claim. All of this is compounded once further if the Gish Galloper chooses to respond to the rebuttal. The Galloper need only win on one issue to claim victory. Even though the rebuttal has won on the vast substance of the debate, the Galloper can play up any failures of the rebuttal as "critical flaws" or "central failures" that make everything else invalid.
As such, the rebutter must either 1 make their initial rebuttal so ironclad that it cannot be debated, which is incredibly time-consuming, or 2 fight an unfair second debate after they have already exhausted themselves while winning the first debate. And worst of all: when the first Gish Gallop is completely rebutted, the Galloper may simply produce a second Gish Gallop, repeating this whole process once more. Psychologist Brian Earp once described how a hypothetical researcher, Lord Voldemort , could swamp the scientific literature in favor of a certain medical procedure.
As he wrote: . A similar phenomenon can play out in debates in medicine. Either they can ignore you, or they can put their own research priorities on hold to try to combat the worst of your offenses. Ignore you, and you win by default. Engage you, and you win like the pig in the proverb who enjoys hanging out in the mud.
Let us assume that the Galloper is Galloping in good faith. They genuinely believe every word of the nonsense they spew. It may be that they recognize that they cannot weave their ideology into one coherent mass — that it is flawed and has contradictions. But they are too invested to ever let it go. The Gish Gallop — spewing out a point and then quickly moving on — might be a preservation mechanism in the face of facts you don't like.
Debunkers and skeptics have long held that the Gish Gallop is a tactic designed to frustrate opposition and create the illusion of controversy, which it certainly does. However, the behavior may also be a cause rather than a symptom.
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The rapid change of topics also allows a conspiracy theorist to avoid an undesirable topic or uncomfortable fact before it leaves any lasting impression, moving on instead to ground that feels safer until that too is abandoned, and so on. If this is one's response to any and all criticism, we have every reason to expect some holes and inconsistencies in one's recollection.
Short-term memory fades. We sometimes need to apply special practices to remember things. The Gish Gallop is the exact opposite, a technique not to remember, a means to permanently avoid or repress something we wish to forget. Hence we may argue with a conspiracy theorist endlessly, finding ourselves retracing old ground with nauseating consistency. Not only may the arguments contained within the Gish Gallop misuse statistics , but the case for the Gish Gallop itself may make fallacious use of statistics. This is flawed logic in at least two ways. For one, probabilities given for arguments almost certainly emerge fully formed from a rectum , and could be much lower e.
In addition, calculations such as the one described assume that all the probabilities are completely independent , which is untrue for practically all Gish Gallops, given that all the arguments are related to a common theme. The strength of the Gish Gallop is in its ability to create the appearance of authority and control.
The Galloper frames the debate and forces opponents to respond on their terms.