Quote mining

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Quote mining is use of the fallacy of quoting out of context, repeatedly employing misquotation in an attempt to skew or contort the meaning and purpose of the original author regarding a controversial topic. The quote miner's purpose can be to make the author or speaker look incompetent or mistaken or to use an author or speaker's own words to undermine their argument. The term quote mining originated in the creation-evolution controversy and is most common in that context, but there are some examples of it spreading to other fields.

The term quote mining is pejorative. "Quote miners" are often accused of contextomy, misquotation, and illegitimate use of ellipsis in an attempt to represent the views of the person being quoted inaccurately. Quote mining is a distinct form of misquotation because none of the words are changed or transcribed improperly, but it can have a similar effect. 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.

Quotes for quote mining are often taken from authoritative literature or speeches, dissected, or presented so as to appear in error or without the context that elucidates their intended meaning. Minor errors or inconsistencies, normal internal disagreements or outdated information are often used to question and to try to overturn a field of work.[1] Quote mining also takes advantage of author's use of a common rhetorical device, that of playing devil's advocate to one's own viewpoint, to produce quotes giving the exact opposite of the author's intention.[2]


[edit] Allegations of quote mining in the creation-evolution controversy

Scientists and their supporters used the term quote mining as early as the mid-1990s in newsgroup posts to describe quoting practices of certain creationists.[3][4][5] It is used by members of the scientific community to describe a method employed by creationists to support their arguments,[1][2][6] though it can be and often is used outside of the creation-evolution controversy. Complaints about the practice predate known use of the term: 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.

The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) described the use of "[a]n evolutionist's quote mistakenly used out of context" to "negate the entirety of [an] article and creationist claims regarding the lack of transitional forms" as "a smoke screen".[7] Answers in Genesis (AiG) states of the Darwin on the eye quote mine and a number of unrelated anti-evolution arguments:[8][off-topic?]

Persistently using discredited arguments is both ineffectual and, more importantly, immoral—it’s the truth that sets us free (John 8:32), not error, and Christ is “the truth” (John 14:6)! Since there is so much good evidence for creation, there is no need to use any of the “doubtful” arguments.

Both AiG and Henry M. Morris (founder of ICR) have been accused of producing books of mined quotes. TalkOrigins Archive (TOA) states that "entire books of these quotes have been published" and lists prominent creationist Henry M. Morris' That Their Words May Be Used Against Them and The Revised Quote Book (published by Creation Science Foundation, now AiG, and available from the AiG website[9]) as examples, in addition to a number of online creationist lists of quote-mines.[10] Both AiG and ICR quote mine Stephen Jay Gould on intermediate forms.[11]

[edit] Stephen Jay Gould on intermediate forms

The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change. All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt

Stephen Jay Gould[12][11]

The context that immediately follows demonstrates that this view is articulated only in order to reject it:

Although I reject this argument (for reasons discussed in ["The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change"]), let us grant the traditional escape and ask a different question.[12]

Gould was scathing on such misleading quotations:

Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists -- whether through design or stupidity, I do not know -- as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. The punctuations occur at the level of species; directional trends (on the staircase model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major groups.[13]

[edit] Darwin on 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.

Charles Darwin[14][15]

This quote is clearly taken out of context because Darwin continues:[16]

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.[15]

Gould wrote scathingly of this misrepresentation:

Anti-evolutionists continually cite this passage as supposed evidence that Darwin himself threw in the towel when faced with truly difficult and inherently implausible cases. But if they would only read the very next sentence[s], they would grasp Darwin's real reason for speaking of absurdity 'in the highest possible degree.' (Either they have read these following lines and have consciously suppressed them, an indictment of dishonesty; or they have never read them and have merely copied the half quotation from another source, a proof of inexcusable sloppiness. Darwin set up the overt 'absurdity' to display the power of natural selection in resolving even the most difficult cases – the ones that initially strike us as intractable in principle. The very next line, gave three reasons all supported by copious evidence for resolving the absurdity and accepting evolutionary development as the cause of optimally complex structures.[17]

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 second part of the paragraph in which Darwin explains the answer to the apparently intractable difficulty.[8]

[edit] Expelled's Darwin quote

Both Ben Stein, in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, and William Jennings Bryan, in the 1925 Scopes Trial, used the same quote mining[18] of a passage from Charles Darwin's book The Descent of Man. The heavily edited quote gives the impression that Darwin is supporting eugenics, when he is in fact explicitly rejecting it.

[edit] Other abuses

Besides the creation-evolution controversy, the fallacy of quoting out of context is also used in other areas. In some instances commentators have used the term quote mining, comparing the practice of others with creationist quote mining.[19][20]

  • Entertainment: with The Times reporting its frequent abuse by promoters with, for example, "I couldn’t help feeling that, for all the energy, razzmatazz and technical wizardry, the audience had been shortchanged" being pared down to "having "energy, razzmatazz and technical wizardry".[21] The European Union has since banned misleading quotations from theatre critics.[22]
  • Politics: in the 2000 United States Republican primary campaign, George W. Bush's campaign screened advertising including a 'warning' from John McCain's "conservative hometown paper" that "It's time the rest of the nation learns about the McCain we know." The paper (The Arizona Republic), however went on to say "There is much there to admire. After all, we have supported McCain in his past runs for office."[23]
  • Pseudohistory: A book review in The New York Times recounts Lerone Bennett Jr.'s "distortion by omission" in citing a letter from Abraham Lincoln as evidence that he "did not openly oppose the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party" because, as Lincoln explained, "they are mostly my old political and personal friends", while omitting to mention that the remainder of the letter describes Lincoln's break with these former Whig Party associates of his, and his anticipation of "painful necessity of my taking an open stand against them."[24]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes and references

  1. ^ a b Forrest, Barbara; Paul R. Gross (2004). Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 7. ISBN 0195157427. http://www.creationismstrojanhorse.com/. Retrieved on 2007-03-09. "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."" 
  2. ^ a b "The Counter-creationism Handbook", Mark Isaak, ISBN 0520249267 p 14
  3. ^ The Quote Mine Project, John Pieret (ed), TalkOrigins Archive
  4. ^ The Revised Quote Book, E.T. Babinski (ed), TalkOrigins Archive
  5. ^ According to the 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
  6. ^ Quote-Mining Comes to Ohio, Glenn Branch
  7. ^ Does Convincing Evidence For Evolution Exist?
  8. ^ a b Arguments we think creationists should NOT use
  9. ^ The Word Downloads, Answers in Genesis
  10. ^ The Quote Mine Project, John Pieret (ed), TalkOrigins Archive
  11. ^ a b Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda's Thumb, 1980, p. 189 — quoted in:
  12. ^ a b Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda's Thumb, 1980, p. 189, cited as Quote 41, The Quote Mine Project, TalkOrigins Archive
  13. ^ Evolution as Fact and Theory Science and Creationism, Stephen Jay Gould, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 124.
  14. ^ On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, 1st Edition, Chapter 6, p. 186, cited in Quote 2.8, The Quote Mine Project, TalkOrigins Archive
  15. ^ a b The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, 1st Edition, Chapter 6, pp. 186-7, quoted in:
    • 9. Fully-Developed Organs, Walt Brown
    • Fatal Flaws, Hank Hanegraaff p43
    • The Evolution of Man Scientifically Disproved, William A. Williams p56, Huse, Scott. 1996. The Collapse of Evolution. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, p. 73 (paraphrase) (cited in Claim CA113.1)
  16. ^ Claim CA113.1, TalkOrigins Archive
  17. ^ Common Pathways of Illumination, Natural History 12/94, p. 10, Stephen Jay Gould, cited in Cretinism or Evilution?: An Old, Out of Context Quotation
  18. ^ Look, ma! I can quote-mine historians too!, Andrea Bottaro, The Panda's Thumb
  19. ^ Zimmer, Carl (December 01 2005). "Quote Mining, Near and Far. The Loom: A blog about life, past and future". http://www.corante.com/loom/archives/2005/12/01/quote_mining_near_and_far.php. Retrieved on 2009-02-01. 
  20. ^ Lambert, Tim (May 2, 2006). "Deltoid: Tim Ball, Down in the Quote Mine". http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2006/05/tim_ball_down_in_the_quote_min.php. Retrieved on 2009-02-01. 
  21. ^ A helluva show. Really. It was hell, Jack Malvern, The Times, July 24, 2006
  22. ^ Mr Puff Tells Porky Pies, The Times, April 27, 2007
  23. ^ THE 2000 CAMPAIGN: THE AD CAMPAIGN; A Matter of Promises, John M. Broder, The New York Times, February 12, 2000
  24. ^ Lincoln the Devil, James M. MacPherson, The New York Times, August 27, 2000

[edit] External links

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