Conservatives have figured out a neat little rhetorical trick: tell lies so fast your opponents can’t keep up.
Mark Twain once famously said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Twain wasn’t praising lies with this comment, of course, but modern-day conservatives seem to think he was dishing out advice instead of damning the practice of dishonesty. Conservatives have figured out a neat little rhetorical trick: One lie is easy for your opponents to debunk. Tell one lie after another, however, and your opponent’s debunkings will never catch up. By the time the liberal opposition has debunked one lie, there’s a dozen more to take its place.
Science educator Eugenie Scott deemed the technique the “Gish Gallop,” named for a notoriously sleazy creationist named Duane Gish. The Urban Dictionary defines the Gish Gallop as a technique that “involves spewing so much bullshit in such a short span on that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it.” Often users of the Gish Gallop know their arguments are nonsense or made in bad faith, but don’t particularly care because they are so dead set on advancing their agenda. Unfortunately, the strategy is so effective that it’s been expanding rapidly in right-wing circles. Here are just a few of the most disturbing examples of the Gish Gallop in action.
1. Creationism. It’s no surprise creationists inspired the coining of the term Gish Gallop, as they have perfected the art of making up nonsense faster than scientists can refute it. The list of false or irrelevant claims made by creationists, as chronicled by Talk Origins, numbers in the dozens, perhaps even hundreds, and more are always being spun out. Trying to argue with a creationist, therefore, turns into a hellish game of Whack-A-Mole. Debunk the lie that the speed of light is not constant, and you’ll find he’s already arguing that humans co-existed with dinosaurs. Argue that it’s unconstitutional to put the story of Adam and Eve in the science classroom, and find he’s pretending he was never asking for that and instead wants to “teach the controversy.”
“Teaching the controversy” is a classic Gish Gallop apology. The conservative wants to make it seem like he’s supporting open-minded debate, but instead he just wants an opportunity to dump a bunch of lies on students with the knowledge that they’ll never have the time and attention to carefully parse every debunking.
2. Climate change denialism. This strategy worked so well for creationism it makes perfect sense that it would be imported to the world of climate change denialism. Climate change denialists have many changing excuses for why they reject the science showing that human-caused greenhouse gases are changing the climate, but what all these reasons have in common is they are utter nonsense in service of a predetermined opposition to taking any action to prevent further damage.
Skeptical Science, a website devoted to debunking right-wing lies on this topic, has compiled a dizzying list of 176 common claims by climate denialists and links to why they are false. Some of these lies directly contradict each other. For instance, it can’t both be true that climate change is “natural” and that it’s not happening at all. No matter, since the point of these lies is not to create a real discussion about the issue, but to confuse the issue so much it’s impossible to get any real momentum behind efforts to stop global warming.