Monday, 2 January 2012

The 'Gish Gallop'

Until the last 2 or 3 months I had never noticed the term 'Gish Gallop'.  That is not to say that I was unaware of the debating technique, either in writing or in person.  I'm sure we have all seen it happen, where one of the contributors to a debate tries to drown their opponent with a stream of barely relevant drivel in order to prevent the opponent from getting a word in.  In a parliamentary context, the technique of 'filibustering' is used for a similar purpose.

Duane Gish is an American biochemist and a prominent member of the creationist movement.  Gish has been characterized as using a rapid-fire approach during a debate, presenting arguments and changing topics very quickly.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the (US) National Center for Science Education, has dubbed this approach the "Gish Gallop," describing it as "where the creationist is allowed to run on for 45 minutes or an hour, spewing forth torrents of error that the evolutionist hasn't a prayer of refuting in the format of a debate".  This is the context in which the term is most often heard. 

She also criticized Gish for failing to answer objections that his opponents did actually manage to raise. 

The technique is far from rare, and far from acceptable.  The solution to the problem is very clear in the formal debates.  It is obvious that it is the job of the chair of the debate to give both parties an equal opportunity to make their argument and it appears to me that the gish gallop is a sign of failure to keep control of the debate.

Small note:  Have you ever noticed this being used in the comments on blogs?  :))

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