(Pseudo-)Science Blog

Web log for PH 170: Philosophy of Science and Pseudoscience – – – – – – – – – – – Professor Peter Bokulich



Gish Gallop (fallacy of the day)

By Peter Bokulich

The term “Gish Gallop” was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. The phrase refers to a debate tactic that was a favorite of Duane Gish, a young-Earth creationist who was also a highly skilled debater.

The Gish Gallop is the tactic of snowing your opponent under a mountain of supposed “pieces of evidence” or “problem cases” and claiming that the opponent’s inability to respond to this pile of evidence shows that your side is right. This tactic counts as a fallacy because its effectiveness doesn’t depend on presenting arguments that are right or even well-supported. Quantity is offered as a substitute for quality.

The tactic is nevertheless often quite effective, for the following reasons:

  • The audience is left with the impression that there’s a huge amount of evidence on your side. 
  • It’s impossible for your opponent to respond to all the misleading/false claims in the limited amount of time allowed in a debate.
  • A falsehood can be quickly and appealingly stated. It takes much more time to offer an accurate account of the science.
  • Even if your opponent shoots down one or two arguments, you’re still left with a dozen untouched arguments.
  • The audience is left with the impression that your opponent can’t respond to the other problems.
  • Because of specialization in science, no one will have knowledge of all the “problem cases” you can dredge up.\
  • Your opponent will often seem defensive: offering rebuttals that may seem arcane to non-scientists.
  • The audience won’t remember details, but will remember “there were a whole lot of problems for evolution/climate change, and the scientist didn’t really have answers.”

Here a version of a Gish Gallop in print.

And below the fold is an example of a scientist picking apart a Gish Gallop by Monckton. Notice how much time it takes Abraham to debunk each of Monckton’s false (but brief) claims.

3 Responses so far

This is a very clear summary of Gish Gallop — thank you. I have already linked to you when dealing with a climate science denier trying to Gallop all over the place and will certainly do so in the future.

[…] evolutionists simply cannot adequately answer or explain in a single debate. This tactic is called Gish galloping. When steamrollered by an avalanche of misinterpretations and untruths, those on the side of […]

I suppose you could compare the Gish Gallop to a “Grand Finale” at the end of a fireworks display, in which the leftover shells are shot up in rapid succession. Grand finale shells by themselves are often cheaper-looking and less interesting than the shells used in the rest of the show, but in their sheer bulk, they make the finale a dazzling, almost impossible act to follow.

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