The Gish Explosion

The rhetorical technique known as the Gish gallop is widely recognized and appreciated, especially among rationalists trying to debunk pseudoscientific claims to popular audiences. It’s one of the reasons why scientists are advised not to publicly debate creationists even if given assurances of ‘equal time’.

The technique relies upon the availability of only finite time to present arguments. I’ve noticed, however, that the basic mechanics of the trick work even better if there’s no such limitation. I call the resulting strategy the Gish Explosion.

The concept is simple: when arguing, present a twisted version of the opponent’s arguments as well as invalid attacks against the artificial target. When they respond, repeat the procedure with their statements about your earlier misrepresentations. Every defense they put up becomes a resource for further misrepresentation, and correcting your errors takes far more time, effort, and space than it does to make them.

Essentially, take the Strawman technique and make it recursive.

Based on the number of idiots I’ve seen using this strategy, it seems to be highly effective, especially since the only real defense I’m aware of is to cease discussion. With an insufficiently observant audience, this will be viewed as surrender on your part, and it’s never a good idea to rely on the intelligence and perception of the people you’re trying to convince. By and large, if they were smart enough to see through the technique, you wouldn’t need to convince them of your point in the first place.

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6 Responses to “The Gish Explosion”

  1. Or, in other words, “I’m running away with my tail between my legs because I don’t have the ability to mount an argument, and I’ve concocted an elaborate excuse for my intellectual failure.”

    What a dipshit.

  2. I heart you both m1 and m2. Your interactions are what I have in mind when I say I prefer pissing contests to circle jerks.

  3. mtraven, we can see what you claimed I said, what I actually said, and the difference between them.

    I’m not going to try to argue both my points and your exponentially-larger misrepresentations of them. Either you’re not honest enough to respond to the points made, and I have no reason to treat you like a reasonable being, or you’re not smart enough to recognize you’re not smart enough to grasp them, in which case noblesse oblige requires me not to give you or anyone else the false impression you’re a worthy equal.

    If the arguments were more complex, I’d give you the benefit of the doubt and assume this was all an honest misunderstanding on your part, but they’re too simple for this to be explicable by anything other than dishonesty or stupidity.

  4. I didn’t link to my post because Mr. Ginormous Brain here didn’t engage with the material the first time around.

    HA, I enjoy a good pissing match too, it’s why I mostly hang around blogs where I disagree with some of the fundamental premises of the owners. But Mr. Brain doesn’t seem to even understand the form, let alone the content, of what we are talking about. He thinks that linking to a Wikipedia page is a decisive argument in an area where there are no decisive arguments. He can’t even play the game, so he retreats to insults and sulking.

    Oh well, I’m getting embarrassed at the juvenile level this has descended to, so I’m done, but if anybody actually wants to have a discussion (aka pissing match) about social construction, feel free to drop by my place.

  5. Andy Wood Says:

    For the sake of an additional external opinion, I read the runaway discussion. A Gish Explosion did indeed take place. Not all of mtraven’s points were problematic (wrong), but the ratio was too high to read seriously. There is no justification for dismissing this post as an “excuse”

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