Quote mining is the deceitful tactic of taking quotes out of context in order to make them seemingly agree with the quote miner’s viewpoint.
It’s a way of lying.
The following quote, mentioned in New Scientist, has been used in an attempt to discredit evolution:
|“In any case, no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favour of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation|
However, the quote leaves out the very next sentence, which not only provides context, but shows the author’s point of view much more accurately:
|“This does not mean that the theory of evolution is unproven.”|
The article later goes on to state that:
|“So what is the evidence that species have evolved? There have traditionally been three kinds of evidence, and it is these, not the “fossil evidence”, that the critics should be thinking about. The three arguments are from the observed evolution of species, from biogeography, and from the hierarchical structure of taxonomy.”|
Another famous example, possibly one of the most famous examples of quote mining, is the following misquotation of Charles Darwin, where the bold section is often presented without including the rest of the quote.
|“To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound.”|
|—(Darwin 1872, 143-144)|
As may be seen, the quote has been taken out of context to give it the opposite meaning, thus appearing to support a different conclusion from that in the original article. Bolder quote miners may actually use ellipsis to omit material that contradicts their point of view even in the middle of a sentence or paragraph, safe in the knowledge that their audience will not look up the full quote.
Supporters of this dishonest tactic often defend themselves against accusations of quote mining by stating that only supporters of evolution use the term, therefore it is invalid. However, this is largely due to the fact that the primary group using these tactics, strenuously avoided in academic circles, are Creationists, therefore their opponents will most often be the ones leveling the charge. This says less about the validity of the term as the desire to cling to a spurious tactic when few, if any, other arguments are available.
As a result of widespread use of quote mining in Creationist circles, several sites have been set up as “quote mines”, providing lists of mined quotes without the need to actually go to the source material. Most users of these quotes have never read the original source material, and would likely be hard pressed to actually find copies.
A classic and definitive example of quote mining comes in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore excerpts a speech by Condoleeza Rice, where she says:
|“Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11″|
At which point the camera cuts away, the audience laughs and thinks that Rice is being deceptive in trying to argue that al Qaeda and Iraq were jointly involved in planning 9/11. The rest of the speech continues:
|“Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11. It’s not that Saddam Hussein was somehow himself and his regime involved in 9/11, but, if you think about what caused 9/11, it is the rise of ideologies of hatred that lead people to drive airplanes into buildings in New York. This is a great terrorist, international terrorist network that is determined to defeat freedom. It has perverted Islam from a peaceful religion into one in which they call on it for violence. And they’re all linked. And Iraq is a central front because, if and when, and we will, we change the nature of Iraq to a place that is peaceful and democratic and prosperous in the heart of the Middle East, you will begin to change the Middle East….”|
This proves that Rice was making no such point. It is also worth noting that the speech was made in November 2003, so it is disingenuous for Moore to argue that it was a part of “drumming up public support for the war” which started in March 2003.
In which leaked e-mails were copiously quote mined in order to insinuate scientists were using “tricks” to “hide the decline.”
Quote mining in action
Quote Mining Index – QMI
In his book The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins jokingly suggested that you could create a Quote Mining Index (QMI) by calculating the ratio of the number of times a quote is mined versus the number of times it is quoted in full. For example, his quote,
|“It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.”|
returns 1,250 hits on Google. Whilst the next sentence:
|“Evolutionists of all stripes believe, however, that this does not represent a very large gap in the fossil record.”|
receives only 63 hits. That is 19.8 quote mines to every “legitimate” use of the quote, or a QMI of 19.8.
Quote mining the Bible
No, you don’t say!
Biblical quote mining is rampant among theologians, especially Christian fundamentalists. Taking advantage of the fact that the many authors and editors that created the Bible left behind many contradictions and other situations where the Bible can be quoted against itself (sometimes even within the same book!), Christian writers have often decontexted Biblical verses to get whatever twisted interpretation they can out of them; for example, Psalm 37:4 has been used to justify name it and claim it theology.
As the Bible says:
|“There is no God.”|
Quote mines (external links)
These places have done all the hard work for you, so all you need to do is cut and paste to prove evolution is wrong, etc.
- “Scientific facts which annihilate evolutionary theory”, at The Evolution Cruncher
- “The Atheist Test“, which uses the above-mentioned Darwin quote-mine. The site has so far not responded to notification of the “mistake”.
- A bunch of out-of-context (and probably out of date also) quotes by scientists allegedly casting doubts on evolution is at Anointed-One.
- A quote miner fails
- Don Patton’s collection of quotations on evolution - many with some staggeringly dishonest quote mining, including an ellipsis (…) that spans 4 whole chapters of Origin of Species!
- TV tricks of the trade – quotes and cutaways
Looking for outright lies?
Popular quote mines
|This page is a project to present the full context of quotes used by conservatives, creationists and wingnuts as arguments from authority.|
Charles Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882).
The Origin of Species
The Eye and Natural Selection
|“to suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.”||“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated; but I may remark that, as some of the lowest organisms in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light, it does not seem impossible that certain sensitive elements in their sarcode should become aggregated and developed into nerves, endowed with this special sensibility.”|
Quote Mining Index (QMI) - 5.3
The Fossil Record and Transitional Forms
“So that the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great. But assuredly, if this theory be true, such have lived upon earth”
By the theory of natural selection all living species have been connected with the parent-species of each genus, by differences not greater than we see between the natural and domestic varieties of the same species at the present day; and these parent-species, now generally extinct, have in their turn been similarly connected with more ancient forms; and so on backwards, always converging to the common ancestor of each great class. So that the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great. But assuredly, if this theory be true, such have lived upon the earth.
“ON THE LAPSE OF TIME, AS INFERRED FROM THE RATE OF DEPOSITION AND EXTENT OF DENUDATION.
“Independently of our not finding fossil remains of such infinitely numerous connecting links, it may be objected that time cannot have sufficed for so great an amount of organic change, all changes having been effected slowly. It is hardly possible for me to recall to the reader who is not a practical geologist, the facts leading the mind feebly to comprehend the lapse of time. He who can read Sir Charles Lyell’s grand work on thePrinciples of Geology, which the future historian will recognise as having produced a revolution in natural science, and yet does not admit how vast have been the past periods of time, may at once close this volume. Not that it suffices to study the Principles of Geology, or to read special treatises by different observers on separate formations, and to mark how each author attempts to give an inadequate idea of the duration of each formation, or even of each stratum. We can best gain some idea of past time by knowing the agencies at work; and learning how deeply the surface of the land has been denuded, and how much sediment has been deposited. As Lyell has well remarked, the extent and thickness of our sedimentary formations are the result and the measure of the denudation which the earth’s crust has elsewhere undergone. Therefore a man should examine for himself the great piles of superimposed strata, and watch the rivulets bringing down mud, and the waves wearing away the sea-cliffs, in order to comprehend something about the duration of past time, the monuments of which we see all around us.”
QMI – 2.7
Karl Popper (28 July 1902 – 17 September 1994)
1976, ISBN 0-415-28590-9
Falsifiability of natural selection
|“Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme”||“I intend to argue that the theory of natural selection is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program; and although it is no doubt the best at present available, it can perhaps be slightly improved.”And later in the same book: “And yet, the theory is invaluable. I do not see how, without it, our knowledge could have grown as it has done since Darwin. In trying to explain experiments with bacteria which become adapted to, say, penicillin, it is quite clear that we are greatly helped by the theory of natural selection. Although it is metaphysical, it sheds much light upon very concrete and very practical researches. It allows us to study adaptation to a new environment (such as a penicillin-infested environment) in a rational way: it suggests the existence of a mechanism of adaptation, and it allows us even to study in detail the mechanism at work. And it is the only theory so far which does all that.”And later in life: “I have changed my mind about the testability and logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation.”|
QMI – 645
Mark Ridley (8 September, 1956-)
Who Doubts Evolution?
New Scientist, vol. 90, 25 June 1981, p. 831
|“In any case, no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favour of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation.”||“In any case, no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favour of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation. This does not mean that the theory of evolution is unproven.”And later in the article: “So what is the evidence that species have evolved? There have traditionally been three kinds of evidence, and it is these, not the “fossil evidence”, that the critics should be thinking about. The three arguments are from the observed evolution of species, from biogeography, and from the hierarchical structure of taxonomy.”And in his 1993 book Evolution: “In other respects, as we saw at the beginning of the chapter … , the fossil record provides important evidence for evolution. Against alternatives other than separate creation and transformism, the fossil record is valuable because it shows that the living world has not always been like it is now. The existence alone of fossils shows that there has been some kind of change, though it does not have to have been change in the sense of descent with modification.”|
QMI – 4.3
Twidale, Charles Rowland
Charles Rowland Twidale, Australian geologist
On the survival of paleoforms
American Journal of Science, vol. 276, 1 January 1976, pp. 77–95
Paleoforms as embarrassment to science
|“The survival of these paleoforms is in some degree an embarrassment to all the commonly accepted models of landscape development.”||The section containing this passage discusses existing theories of landscape development to contrast them with the author’s alternative model, presented later in the paper, which explains how paleoforms can survive for long periods of time.Later in the article: “Even if the conclusions reached by many workers over the years are only partly correct, it is clear that remnants of paleoforms are an integral part of the modern land surface … The hills are not everlasting as Jacob implied (Genesis, 49, 26), but they persist for much longer periods than has been generally conceded.”|