How to Counter the Gish Gallop

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2023

I was keen to read that the debating method practiced by Trump, Putin, anti-vaxxers, and climate deniers of flooding the zone with a firehose of incorrect information has a name: the Gish Gallop. From Mehdi Hasan's piece in The Atlantic, adapted from his new book, Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking (ebook):

Trump may be the grand master of the Gish Gallop, but he is not its originator. That honor goes to the person who gave the method its name: Duane Tolbert Gish.

Gish was a biochemist at the Institute for Creation Research, a pseudo-scientific group that maintains all life on Earth was created in six days by the God of the Old Testament at some point in the past 10,000 years, with evolution playing no part. Gish publicized the ICR and its creed — and himself — by winning debates against evolutionists across the country.

During debates, after letting his opponent go first, Gish would "begin talking very quickly for perhaps an hour", overwhelming his opponent with factual-sounding nonsense. According to Hasan, there are a few tactics you can use to counter the Gish Gallop, but you've got to be prepared. For instance, you can call them out:

Don't let your audience be fooled into assuming that your opponent has special command of the subject because of all the "facts" they've just spouted. Explain to them what your opponent is doing, and that the Gallop is really just a sleight of hand.