Simple, the Deniers would win … because they have no evidence or facts on their side.
Huh? If they have no evidence or facts, how can they win a debate?
Easy, because a debate is not about being right, it is about winning by appearing to be right. The more the audience does not understand the issue, the easier it is to win. You just need one thing, it’s called “the Gish Gallop.”
How this works: as fast as possible you tell as many lies and distortions as possible, cram them into the available time. It really does not matter whether you know them to be lies or whether they are things you actually believe yourself. The important thing is to pack in as much outrageous nonsense as possible into the time available.
Your opponent is then stuck using his time to either:
i) Simply state each lie is a lie, one for one, in which case it becomes his word/my word;
ii) Refuting the lies with facts and data, but of course refuting nonsense takes longer than saying it, so he might cover 1 point in 5, which leaves the impression that he had no answer for 4/5 points;
iii) Try to make his own points, in which case it can seem that he had no answer to any of the points you made.
No matter what he chooses, he uses up all of his time and the best he can do is seem to make it 50/50. As an added bonus most reasonable people become flustered when they hear outrageous nonsense and blatent lies being presented as “facts” and perform even more poorly.
Let’s take a simple example to illustrate this:
If I were to say “Water is a natural substance necessary for life, so the flooding of the US Midwest this summer was a good thing for people and crops” everyone would immediately recognize that what I said was idiotic. No problem there, just about everyone knows that the floods were a disaster.
What if I said “Water is a natural substance necessary for life, so increased rainfall on the US Midwest would be a good thing for people and crops”? How many would immediately realize that it is more or less the same as my first statement? And of course it depends how much more rainfall, which I didn’t specify.
My supposed opponent would then have to explain that the amount expected would cause flooding, explain why that amount is expected, and so on. All in all taking up much more time then it took me to make the statement.
So what if I said, as many Deniers do, that “CO2 is a natural substance necessary for life, so increased CO2 would be a good thing for forests and crops.” It is no less an outrageous statement than claiming flooding would be great, but how many members of the public would see that?
The fact is that the impacts of climate change and increased CO2 on plant growth are more complex than simple flooding, although just as devastating if not more so. Explaining why and how takes a considerable amount of time. In the meantime I will have made 10 other outrageous claims such as any of those found here which my opponent will not have time to address. So he gets one and I get 10 – I win.
You can see the Gish Gallop in action in this debate between Christopher Monckton and Richard Littlemore of DeSmogBlog . This one is quite interesting because it is pretty clear Monckton ‘won’ the debate … so he’s right, right?
But even so, Monckton ‘won’ the debate. Pretty much everything he had to say was utter bilge, but he still ‘won’.
To a limited extent the Gish Gallop works in the blogosphere as well, and for similar reasons. It take only 3 to 5 paragraphs to pack in a lot of nonsense, at least as many pages to thoroughly expose it for nonsense. In a world where people skim rather than read that will tend to have the same effect as running out of time, except you run out of reader attention instead.
Yep, the Gish Gallop is the way to go when you have no actual facts and even less integrity. The Gallop is used quite effectively by the Climate Change Deniers, professional industry shills like Patrick Moore, and the Creationists. As mentioned, in print is it easy to expose you as a total fraud, but who reads anymore?
Which is why smart people do not debate except in print. If the Climate Deniers have any real evidence disproving Climate Change they can publish it in the scientific literature, in which case there is no need for any debate.
And if, as seems to be the case, they have absolutely no evidence whatsoever, there is even less point to having a debate.
See also “Adventures on the East Side”
Oct 12/08 Waah, they won’t debate us II