Sat, Mar

Gish Galloping Through this Week’s Convention


GELFAND’S WORLD--A few decades ago, I attended a presentation that was held in the biology research building at the institution where I worked.

It was, strangely enough, a lecture that attacked the very idea of evolution. Now this was a strange thing to be sure, because evolution is the fundamental, core idea underlying biological thinking. That the sponsors had chosen the lecture room just upstairs from where I did research was perhaps just an accident, but there I was, and I learned all about how the truth can be twisted. 

The speaker was a man by the name of Duane Gish (Graphic above). He was a trained biochemist with his own Ph.D. who obviously despised the concept of evolution and wanted to explain to the audience why this was so. 

As I listened, something became evident. He wouldn’t actually outright lie (at least most of the time), but he strung bits and pieces of information together in a way that bent logic. Over the course of half an hour or so, he went through at least a dozen different arguments that were all based on half-truths and semi-logic, all in a way dedicated to casting doubt on the fact of evolution. 

Not only did he argue these half-truths, but he did so with startling rapidity. Had this been a conventional debate with a professional biologist trying to refute the Gish presentation, it would have been difficult at best. That’s because it’s much harder to refute a lie – and it takes much longer – than it takes to state the lie originally 

I remember saying quietly, “That’s a lie,” each time that Gish would say something that went against well established scientific fact. It was a lot of little lies. 

The presentation style I witnessed that night eventually received a description of its own. It has been called, ever since, the Gish Gallup. You can read about it in Wikipedia and other places if you choose, but the term is an apt description. It refers to the process of adding together so many half-truths so quickly that it creates a false logic that is hard for any person to argue against given the constraints of the debate hall. 

By the way, it is possible to refute the arguments that Gish and his colleagues told the college kids. It has been done many times, often in book form. It just takes effort. Put it this way – it is a lot easier to say that the attack on the World Trade Center was a conspiracy helmed by George W. Bush than it is to carefully refute arguments about the size of the broken girders found at the bottom of the pile. To make the specious argument, you just say it out loud. To refute it, you have to cite engineering and metallurgical principles and even use math. 

Gish Galloping can also be done with full-fledged lies. Trump had the largest crowd of any presidential inauguration in history was how this administration got started, and it hasn’t slowed down. The Washington Post kept count of Trump’s presidential lies and we are past the twenty thousand mark as of now. How do you refute so many mistruths? The answer is that it takes time and effort. There is a whole industry of fact checking the presidential remarks. It’s not been a pretty thing to follow. 

So we can expect that CNN and the Washington Post will be doing their own fact checking of this week’s Republican National Convention, which will lag the presidential remarks by a couple of hours or so. 

Then the Republicans, doing their own version of the Gish Gallup, will just as quickly refer to the fact checking as “fake news.” 

What the Gish Gallup and the Trump Trot have in common are the lack of good faith in putting together an argument. Gish could make up a fanciful argument for why it is against evolution that there are four bases A,T,G, and C in DNA (it isn’t a real argument, but I saw him try to make it). Trump could claim that the Mueller Report totally exonerated him in the Russia investigation (it didn’t, as it plainly says). Trump claims conspiracies such as the “deep state” are aligned against him. Anything that has been carefully demonstrated to be true about him is called “fake.” 

There is something that numbs the mind and batters the senses to experience such Trump trots and Gish gallops repeatedly. And I fear that the American people will be subjected to such a blend of illogic and misinformation this week. We will be told that the Trump administration has been downright heroic in its battle against the Covid-19 epidemic. Any imperfections (such as the most recent 75 thousand dead) will be blamed on the Democratic Party and the Chinese. Trump will claim that he has been best for the economy of any recent president (a peculiar claim, to be sure). He has even claimed recently that he protected people with preexisting medical conditions, even though his political party stands officially for destroying the Affordable Care Act. 

So what other surprises are we going to be fed over this coming week? I can’t really anticipate. But it will be something. 

The Best People 

When Donald Trump was running for president, he promised that he would have the best people as his advisers. Admittedly the guy doesn’t have a lot of adjectives in his vocabulary, and most of what he does have are superlatives, where “best” is one of them along with “beautiful.” But still, there have been 89 criminal indictments in the Trump administration, and 24 convictions. (The respective numbers for the full 8 years of the Obama administration are zero and zero.) 

What Trump meant by “the best” was presumably people who were the best for him. Steve Bannon for example. At this point in the Trump presidency, I have come to believe that Trump didn’t even use the word “best” with any sense of irony – he is actually that narcissistic and self-absorbed. 

By the people he surrounds himself with, you will know him. We have a pretty good idea by now. In my reading, the one word I see the most often is Grifters. Trump likes having people around who are willing to lie for him. Even when you don’t count the people who have been indicted on criminal counts, there are the press relations people, and the Kellyanne Conways (she of “alternative facts”), and the current PR person who began by saying she wouldn’t lie to us. 

Black Votes Matter 

I don’t exactly know how to write a slogan like BLM, but vote suppression looks to be a real thing.  Georgia is a state where the Democrats, given a really great voter turnout, could pick up a U.S. Senate seat. That’s because there are two on the ballot, one being a replacement. So this could come down to a tight count. Vote theft (the legal kind, carried out by the authorities) is an ugly thing, a tradition carried down from the days of slavery and then Jim Crow. A more honest Supreme Court would not have overturned federal protections and a more honest presidential administration (with an even somewhat honest Attorney General) would have intervened. 

It's up to the mass of voters and political activists and dedicated attorneys to put a stop to this. 

How about filing mass lawsuits in the federal courts in the districts where these things are happening? The activists can begin by filing suits over voter registration and ID card procedures – something which could be done starting now – and continue from there. It seems to me that there are only a very few questions in play for any potential voter: Is this a real live person who is a citizen, such as a person who was born in the United States of America, and is not a convicted felon? 

By the way, the activists in Florida should also be filing lawsuits on behalf of thousands of felons who should already have gotten their voting rights back. The Florida voters made their intentions clear a couple of years ago, but the Republicans in control of the government did the equivalent of putting a poll tax on the felons by requiring that they pay off all their court costs and fines before they could become legal voters. 

How about some mass rallies for Black Votes Matter? 

A press that ought to be outraged 

It’s time the honest, honorable press take the muzzles off themselves, particularly at those phony White House campaign rallies pretending to be press briefings. 

I noticed that one member of the White House press corps actually asked Trump about his record on appointments. It’s about time. 

Earlier, a member of the press asked Trump whether he took any responsibility for the Covid-19 crisis. 

Every single Trump surrogate who goes out on the campaign trail and tries to stir up Trump votes should be asked those questions and more. The press will probably be met by the anger and derision of the well-trained Trump voter, but this is another thing that ought to be reported fully on the evening news. 

One last thing: Over the past couple of weeks, the anti-Trump movement has been feeling its oats. People are talking back to the red-hat brigades, which often enough are synonymous with the no-mask brigades. In places where pro-Trump groups have been demonstrating regularly, there are now counter-protests. It’s been characteristic of the pro-Trump side that they like to pretend to being the kind to use physical intimidation, but they’re not really getting away with it this month.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])