Have you ever lost an argument even though the evidence and logic were clearly on your side? If so, it is likely that your opponent was – either unknowingly or on purpose – using logical fallacies to defeat you.
Gish gallop is a type of logical fallacy – meaning an error in reasoning – that occurs when someone throws at you a myriad of half-truths and misleading statements in hopes of making their stance stronger. It’s used commonly in many different situations and domains, from simple disagreements with friends to debates between politicians, and therefore is important to learn about it.
In this article, we will explain in more detail how this frequent offender works.
✍️ Gish gallop is a fallacious debate tactic in which a person uses as many arguments as possible against their opponent without any consideration into the strength of the arguments.
The arguer’s aim is to quickly back their position with a large amount of “evidence”, however, it is typically hastily put together, inaccurate, and even irrelevant to the issue at hand. In fact, the more arguments one can come up with, and the vaguer they are, the more effective the tactic becomes.
As such, the Gish gallop fallacy only focuses on the quantity of the arguments, not the quality, in order to achieve its objective: to make it too difficult for the opponent to respond. As a result, the person committing it seemingly gains an upper hand in the debate.
Origin of the Term
The term “Gish gallop” was coined by Eugenie Scott, an executive director of the National Center for Science Education in the 1990s. She named it after a creationist Duane Gish, but also described the tactic in association with other creationists:
Creationist debaters are masters at presenting these half-truth non-sequiturs that the audience misunderstands as relevant points. These can be very difficult to counter in a debate situation, unless you have a lot of time. And you never have enough time to deal with even a fraction of the half-truths or plain erroneous statements that creationists can come out with.Eugenie Scott, Debates and the Globetrotters (1994).
Use of Gish Gallop
Why do people employ the Gish gallop tactic? One reason is that it is much easier to construct low-quality arguments (especially in large numbers) than valid, well-researched ones. And, since the evidence behind them is only vaguely mentioned, disproving such claims can be as difficult as disproving the strongest ones.
Also, people who aren’t experts in the field under discussion find simple arguments, such as anecdotes, more persuasive than arguments involving complex scientific ideas and technical jargon. Naturally, such people – from which a typical audience mostly consists of – are more drawn to claims that they can understand
Here are a few Gish gallop examples to further illustrate how it is used.
As so many other fallacies, this too can be effectively used in the political arena.
For instance, there are times when politicians conduct themselves inappropriately and end up getting caught. When such happens, they are questioned and accused by the media or fellow politicians. Now, to get themselves off the hook, they might resort to the gish gallop: he or she comes up with a large number of vague and misleading counter-arguments to simply make it too challenging to disprove all of them.
Examples may be found in less formal settings, such as a disagreement between a married couple:
One of the partners does a misdeed and gets confronted by the other. However, rather than address the accusation directly, the wrongdoer denies it and attempts to prove it by presenting as many reasons as possible why they are right; his or her goal is not to win by using sound reasoning and valid evidence but to overwhelm the other party with the number of counter-claims.
Gish gallop can also occur online when individuals wish to persuade others to adopt their beliefs and viewpoints.
For example, someone may publish their opinion on social media and back it up by citing a wide variety of sources that, in reality, are irrelevant to the topic or too unclear to be taken seriously. As such, the person may hope that the audience won’t take the time to verify the evidence and will simply assume that their claim is well justified.