Anti-Science Arguments Employing the tactics of Gish Gallop and Argumentum Ad Nauseam

This page will explore two common tactics used by anti-science activists to present their propaganda: Gish Gallop, a ‘tribute to’ the behavior of creationist Duane Gish, and Argumentum ad nauseam.

 Gish Gallop is an argument technique that can be described as uncontrollable, verbal diarrhea, where an explosive, never ending stream of mephitic claims is presented against a well-established and supported scientific theory.  The claims are designed to overwhelm all reason (and the scientific conclusions) with verbal quantity rather than legitimate evidence. 

 Argumentum ad nauseam (argument by repetition) is the tactic of repeating the same misleading, unsupportable, out of context claims over and over and over… with the hope that at least some of the opinions will be perceived by the audience as legitimate if they are repeated often enough – or perhaps with the expectation that if the false opinions are repeated over and over, those refuting the claims will become exhausted and give up.

Gish ad nauseam Gallop (GanG) is an anti-science tactic that combines argumentum ad nauseam and Gish Gallop.  Not only is a stream of false claims released to overwhelm any legitimate refutations, the same claims are repeated over and over and over… enhancing the verbal diarrhea and releasing an avalanche of claims designed to smother any opposition by force rather than reason.

The GanG activists not only present a litany of claims - one  after another, after another, after another.... and are never swayed or distracted from dumping the next claim into the mess by any specific refutation of a proceeding claim.  The result is an overwhelming tsunami of claims – which can be released quickly and which, frequently require significant time to refute because the issues are extremely complex and can’t be cleaned up by a simple denial. It is far easier to make a mess than to clean it up.

Anti-science Gish Gallop and Argumentum ad nauseam arguments frequently include a third anti-science tactic, unwarranted Fear Mongering, to try and sway public opinions by using misleading/misrepresented/fabricated statements like "fluoride is toxic" completely out of context of any exposure levels. By the time a rational, informed individual has replied to a "fluoride is toxic", or fluoride lowers IQ" claim, the GanG commenter has dumped another ton of garbage into the mix.

Here’s an example of 29 specific false, out-of-context &/or misleading Gish Gallop, fear-mongering, anti-fluoridation claims, extracted from the comments in the example page, and packaged into a single sentence: 

Fluoride, used in roach and rat poison(1), is a toxic waste(2), dangerous to health(3) (1200 studies(4) show it is ineffective for teeth(5) and causes cancer(6), thyroid & pineal gland damage(7), broken hips from brittle bones(8), lowered IQ(9) and dental fluorosis in children(10), kidney disease(11), arthritis(12) and other serious health problems(13)) that is banned in most countries(14), but in some is used as an unregulated drug (medical treatment – look at the warning labels on fluoride toothpaste)(15) that’s dumped into the water as synthetic (16) H2SiF6 (which is contaminated with lead and arsenic)(17) and everyone is forced to drink(18) the poisonous drug, (f-) in their tap water without consent(19) and with no control over the dose(20)  – a “Big Money scheme (21) that is immoral(22) , should be illegal(23) and is an ineffective waste of money because most treated water goes directly down the drain(26) where it poisons fish(27), and thousands of science/health professionals oppose fluoridation(28) based on modern scientific evidence (Green, Bashash, Till, Malin, etc.) that shows the obvious dangers to health from fluoride exposure(29).

When posting in comment sections, Gish Gallopers usually expand each false/misleading claim into several sentences (by adding additional irrelevant details) and present them one at a time, sometimes waiting for a rebuttal, but  usually ignoring any posting of facts that refute the claim.

 There are several reasons Gish ad nauseam Gallop fear-mongering sometimes succeeds in convincing individuals to trust anti-science opinions over established scientific conclusions:
1) Fear is an extremely strong motivator and survival mechanism.  However, fear can be hijacked by unscrupulous  individuals and employed to manipulate beliefs and actions of others.
2) Since the anti-science claims can appear, on the surface, logical and valid – and are presented with great passion – these tactics can be effectively used to sway the beliefs of well-meaning citizens who don’t have the training and/or experience to understand the complex scientific issues behind each of the claims.
3) It can take several pages of detailed discussion with legitimate supporting scientific evidence to refute each of the above claims – just stating fluoridation doesn’t lower IQ , cause cancer or harm the environment, is probably not sufficient “evidence” to cause people to ignore the claims.
4) If a person does not fully understand the underlying science, it is impossible for many people to actually understand the arguments – either those that are science-based or the anti-science opinions – but they must trust someone.  Because most anti-science claims are very simply stated and are carefully designed to invoke fear about the consequences of the science-based alternative, those individuals who don’t fully understand the underlying issues can be scammed into believing they are doing the right, ethical thing by trusting the anti-science propaganda.

Over a several week period in February 2020, I engaged in three comment sections with a vocal anti-fluoridation activist who frequently uses GanG tactics in any comment section that references fluoride or fluoridation.  I kept replying (mostly) with specific evidence-based refutations of the opinions presented and repeated challenges to provide specific, relevant scientific evidence to prove any of the opinions that were presented.  I provide This Example of the three comment sections with about 369 comments, with about 148 from the GanG practitioner.