Arguing the science and the Gish gallop

Real Climate is spot on the money, as usual. Good mix of “real” science, by people at the coal face, and those who’ve got the scars on their backs from trying to communicate the science to the public and policy-makers. Here’s something I was familiar with but didn’t have a name for… [excerpted from a Jan 6 2011 post]

Bell uses the key technique that denialists use in debates, dubbed by Eugenie Scott the “Gish gallop”, named after a master of the style, anti-evolutionist Duane Gish. The Gish gallop raises a barrage of obscure and marginal facts and fabrications that appear at first glance to cast doubt on the entire edifice under attack, but which on closer examination do no such thing. In real-time debates the number of particularities raised is sure to catch the opponent off guard; this is why challenges to such debates are often raised by enemies of science. Little or no knowledge of a holistic view of any given science is needed to construct such scattershot attacks.

Yep, you end up playing whack a mole, and that’s if you’re lucky. And by the time you “win”, you’ll have lost the audience, who’ll have taken home the message that there’s still a real “debate” going on about the science. Either way, the denialist nutjobs win…

The post continues…

The approach also works somewhat in print, if the references are sufficiently obscure and numerous. Ideally, someone will take the time to answer such an attack, but there is a fundamental asymmetry of forces at work. It is, in fact, easier to form an allegation than to track down a reasonable explanation of what it means and how it really fits in to the balance of evidence. Also, the skills required to reflect the science are deeper than the ones required to attack it; hence the defenders are outnumbered and outgunned. Still, sometimes an article is prominent enough that it merits a detailed response.

Here’s another link for Gish Gallop, over on rationalwiki…


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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One Response to Arguing the science and the Gish gallop

  1. mike k says:

    Thanks. Very informative. The main point to understnd is: don’t waste your time trying to be reasonable with the seriously deluded. Something about casting pearls before swine….

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