Quote mining

Quote mining

Quote mining is the practice of purposely compiling frequently misleading quotes from large volumes of literature or speech.cite book | last = Forrest | first = Barbara | authorlink = Barbara Forrest | coauthors = Paul R. Gross | title = Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design | url = http://www.creationismstrojanhorse.com/ | accessdate = 2007-03-09 | year = 2004 | publisher = Oxford University Press | location = Oxford | isbn = 0195157427 | quote =In the face of the extraordinary and often highly practical twentieth-century progress of the life sciences under the unifying concepts of evolution, [creationist] "science" consists of quote-mining — minute searching of the biological literature — including outdated literature — for minor slips and inconsistencies and for polemically promising examples of internal arguments. These internal disagreements, fundamental to the working of all natural science, are then presented dramatically to lay audiences as evidence of the fraudulence and impending collapse of "Darwinism." ]

The term is pejorative. "Quote miners" are often accused of contextomy and misquotation, in an attempt to represent the views of the person being quoted inaccurately. For example, if a person being quoted disagrees with some position, a quote miner will present quotes that suggest that instead, this person is supportive of this position. Material that ostensibly bolsters this position is often taken out of context. Exposition that is at odds with the argument being made in the same text is excluded or otherwise obscured.

The expression is also sometimes used in a slightly weaker sense, merely meaning that a quote is being used to support an idea that the original author rejects. In this second case, even a quote which is accurate can be considered a "mined quote".


The phrase originated in the mid-1990s. [According to the [http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/project.html Quote Mine Project] at TalkOrigins Archive, the first record of the term in talk.origins was a posting by Lenny Flank on March 30, 1997, with a February 2, 1996 reference in another Usenet group, rec.arts.comics.misc] It is commonly used by members of the scientific community to describe a method frequently employed by creationists ["The Counter-creationism Handbook", Mark Isaak, ISBN 0520249267 p 14] [ [http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/rncse_content/vol22/2089_quotemining_comes_to_ohio_12_30_1899.asp Quote-Mining Comes to Ohio] , Glenn Branch] to support their arguments, though it can be and often is used outside of the "science vs. faith" discussion. Creationists often present "mined quotes" which, when taken out of context, appear to undercut evolution, or quotes which have been altered so that it appears as though the source of the quotation opposes evolution when this is not true. Although the phrase originated relatively recently, complaints about the practice are not new. Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote in his famous 1973 essay "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" that

Their [Creationists' ] favorite sport is stringing together quotations, carefully and sometimes expertly taken out of context, to show that nothing is really established or agreed upon among evolutionists. Some of my colleagues and myself have been amused and amazed to read ourselves quoted in a way showing that we are really antievolutionists under the skin.

Entire books of quotes have been created by creationists, such as "That Their Words May Be Used Against Them", by creation scientist Henry Morris, ["That Their Words May Be Used Against Them", Henry Morris, Master Books, December 1997 ISBN 0890512280.] and "The Revised Quote Book" by Andrew Snelling. ["The Revised Quote Book", Andrew Snelling, Creation Science Foundation, Brisbane Queensland, 1990.]

The above quote itself could be turned into an example of quote mining:

...Nothing is really established or agreed upon among evolutionists. Some of my colleagues and myself... are really antievolutionists under the skin.

MOreover, quote mining is a favorite work of anti-Islamic writers, usually as they quote out of context and jumps from ayah to another ayah having no relevance to prove their allegations against the Quran and as a whole, Islam. Common examples are Ayaan Hirsha Ali, Taslima Nasrin, Aaron Shohri, etc.


Kulp's accusation of Price in "Deluge Geology"

In an influential paper debunking flood geology, that was presented to the Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation in 1949, prominent evangelical geochemist J. Laurence Kulp accused George McCready Price of claiming repeatedly "that thrust faulting is a fiction", quoting in support a statement by McConnel of the Canadian Survey Report of 1886, when " [Price] has listed a small part of the quotation which gave clear evidence for such thrusting." [Numbers(2006) p 189] [http://www.asa3.org/aSA/PSCF/1950/JASA3-50Kulp.html Deluge Geology] , J. Laurence Kulp]

Darwin on the eye

A typical example of quote mining [http://wiki.cotch.net/index.php?title=Darwin_on_evolution_of_the_eye] is taken from "The Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin in which he considers the evolution of the eye:

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.
"The Origin of Species", 1st Edition, , pp. 186-7

This quote is clearly taken out of context because Darwin continues:

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.

In this case, the originally quoted sentence is a rhetorical device: Darwin is first admitting to the 'seeming' strength of a criticism in order to better refute it. Darwin, in fact, goes on to devote three further pages to this subject, all of arguing as to why he believes the original objection to be unwarranted. Thus, presenting the original sentence alone gives the reader a false impression of what Darwin thinks about the subject: that he thinks a problem is unsolvable, when in fact in context he was merely admitting that it might seem unsolvable, at first. [ [http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/ce/3/part8.html Cretinism or Evilution?: An Old, Out of Context Quotation ] ] The creationist organization "Answers in Genesis" has noted the unfairness of quoting Darwin in this way, and urged others not to use the quote without including the following explanatory material. [ [http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/dont_use.asp#darwin_eye Arguments we think creationists should NOT use ] ]

"Expelled"'s Darwin quote

In the movie "", to support of his claim that the theory of evolution inspired Nazism, the movie's host, Ben Stein, attributes the following statement to Charles Darwin's book "The Descent of Man": [http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=six-things-ben-stein-doesnt-want-you-to-know Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn't Want You to Know...] , John Rennie and Steve Mirsky, Scientific American, April 16, 2008]

Stein stops there, then names Darwin as the author in a way that suggests that Darwin provided a rationale for the activities of the Nazis. However, the original source shows that Stein has significantly changed the text and meaning of the paragraph, by leaving out whole and partial sentences without indicating that he had done so. The original paragraph (page 168) (words that Stein omitted shown in bold) and the very next sentences in the book state:cite web |url=http://www.sciam.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=61D30BEB-A65E-7583-BB264FABBD4CD879 |title=Scientific American: Never You Mine: Ben Stein's Selective Quoting of Darwin |accessdate=2008-04-19 ]


With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.Charles Darwin (1871) "The Descent of Man", 1st edition, [http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=text&itemID=F937.1&pageseq=181 pages 168 -169] .]

According to John Moore writing in the "National Post":

The Expelled Exposed website also points out that the same misleading selective quotation from this passage was used by anti-evolutionist William Jennings Bryan in the 1925 Scopes Trial, but the full passage makes it clear that Darwin was not advocating eugenics. The eugenics movement relied on simplistic and faulty assumptions about heredity, and by the 1920s evolutionary biologists were criticizing eugenics. Clarence Darrow, who defended the teaching of human evolution in the Scopes trial, wrote a scathing repudiation of eugenics.cite web |url=http://www.expelledexposed.com/index.php/the-truth/hitler-eugenics |title=Hitler & Eugenics |accessdate=2008-04-16 |date=National Center for Science Education |work=Expelled Exposed |publisher=National Center for Science Education ]

ee also

*Galileo Gambit
*Cherry picking

Notes and references

External links

* [http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/project.html The Quote Mine Project] - hosted by the talk.origins archive
* [http://wiki.cotch.net/index.php?title=Quote-mining Quote-mining]
* [http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA113.html Index to creationist claims claim CA113 - quote mining]
* [http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/4008_issue_06_volume_2_number_4__3_4_2003.asp#Misquoted%20Scientists%20Respond "Misquoted Scientists Respond"] , John R. Cole, Creation/Evolution, Issue 06 (Volume 2, Number 4 - Fall 1981), NCSE website

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