RationalWiki's 2019 Fundraiser

There is no RationalWiki without you. We are a small non-profit with no staff – we are hundreds of volunteers who document pseudoscience and crankery around the world every day. We will never allow ads because we must remain independent. We cannot rely on big donors with corresponding big agendas. We are not the largest website around, but we believe we play an important role in defending truth and objectivity.

If everyone who saw this today donated $5, we would meet our goal for 2020.

Fighting pseudoscience isn't free.
We are 100% user-supported! Help and donate $5, $20 or whatever you can today with PayPal Logo.png!

Donations so far: $2200Goal: $3000
Silver-level article

Quote mining

From RationalWiki
(Redirected from Quoting out of context)
Jump to: navigation, search


Part of the series on
Logic and rhetoric
Icon logic.svg
Key articles
General logic
Bad logic
Dr. Jane Gupta: Though Prescott Pharmaceuticals claims that their VacsaDiet 3000 is 'guaranteed to help you shed those unsightly pounds', this claim has not been verified and many of the ingredients in the product present potential health risks.
Stephen Colbert: Hey, Bob! Dr. Jane Gupta just said that 'Prescott Pharmaceuticals VacsaDiet 3000 is guaranteed to help you shed those unsightly pounds.'
The Colbert Report[1]
Hitler was […] probably the greatest […] person ever to have lived.
RationalWiki[2]

Quote mining (also contextomy) is the fallacious tactic of taking quotes out of context in order to make them seemingly agree with the quote miner's viewpoint or to make the comments of an opponent seem more extreme or to make it seem that the opponent holds positions they don't in order to make their positions easier to refute or demonize.[note 1] It's a way of lying. This tactic is widely used among Young Earth Creationists (YEC) in an attempt to discredit evolution.

Quote mining is an informal fallacy and a fallacy of ambiguity, in that it removes context that is necessary to understand the mined quote.

Format[edit]

1: Read a large chunk of text, and notice something that agrees with your argument:

… Sentence that disagrees with my position. Sentence that disagrees with my position. Sentence that disagrees with my position. Sentence that agrees with my position. Sentence that disagrees with my position. Sentence that disagrees with my position. Sentence that disagrees with my position. …

2: Remove all unnecessary or disagreeing text:

Sentence that agrees with my position.

And you're done!

Another way is to make creative use of ellipses:

… Sentence that mentions something. Sentence that says something else. Sentence that disagrees with my position. Sentence that mentions something else. …

Cut out the part you don't like, add an ellipsis, for the sake of form:

Something that…agrees with my position.

And you've "corrected" the quote!

The best part is that no one will be the wiser, since few[note 2] would actually bother to look up the original and check the full context of your quote.

For extra points, you can reformat it as such:

Person X disagrees with my position; they write, "Sentence that disagrees with my position." Yet they later stated, "Sentence that agrees with my position." How can both be true, Person X?

This makes it seem like you're presenting "both sides" of Person X's views, when really all you care about is Sentence that agrees with my position.

With the above lessons firmly in mind, you are now ready to submit your overly long, self-published paper and earn yourself a fellowship at Creation Ministries International.

Examples[edit]

There are many examples of quote mining, probably because (sadly) it works.

Darwin[edit]

A 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.
—Charles Darwin[5][note 3]

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 ellipses to omit material that contradicts their point of view even in the middle of a sentence or paragraph,[note 4] safe in the knowledge that their audience will not look up the full quote.[note 5] The most brazen of all will go so far as abusing ellipses to string together phrases that are paragraphs apart, or even from entirely different chapters of a book.

Supporters of this dishonest tactic often try to defend themselves against accusations of quote mining by stating that only supporters of evolution use the term: therefore it is invalid.[11] However, this is largely because the primary group using these tactics, strenuously avoided in academic circles, are Young Earth Creationists; therefore their opponents will most often be the ones leveling the charge. This is less about the validity of the term and more about the desire to cling to a spurious tactic when few other arguments are available.

As a result of widespread use of quote mining in YEC circles, several sites[12] have been set up as "quote mines", providing lists of mined quotes without the need to actually go to the source material where one could get led astray into understanding evilutionism. Most users of these quotes have never read the original source material, and would likely be hard pressed to actually find copies.[13]

Mark Ridley[edit]

The following quote, mentioned in New Scientist, has been used in an attempt to discredit evolution:[14]

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.
—Mark Ridley[15]

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.
—Mark Ridley[15]

The article goes on in the next paragraph 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.
—Mark Ridley[15]

Attempted use by Private Eye for libel defence[edit]

A case brought by Lord Russel of Liverpool, a legal adviser at the Nuremberg trials, centering on whether his book The Scourge of the Swastika[16] was pornographic, was the first accusation of libel against Private Eye actually to make it to court, in 1965.

The success of the Eye's defence can perhaps be best summed up by this exchange in the courtroom:

David Turner-Samuels (for the Eye): With your permission, my lord, I will read an extract from The Times Literary Review — "Lord Russel's works could be said to be pornographic…"[17]

David Hirst, QC (for the plaintiff): Read the rest of the sentence.

David Turner-Samuels: "But they are not."

The Eye lost.

Fahrenheit 9/11[edit]

A classic and definitive example of quote mining comes in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore excerpts a speech by Condoleezza Rice, where she says:

Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11.
—Condoleezza Rice

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 led 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…

Although Rice did try to place the blame for 9/11 on Iraq by declaring it "a central front" of a "great terrorist, international terrorist network", she also stated that Saddam was not directly involved in 9/11. When Moore cited only one part out of context, he failed to include the entire statement where Rice says Saddam didn't plan 9/11 but actually is part of the terrorist conspiracy that caused 9/11 while not actually being involved (see: doublethink). 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, eight months before her speech.[18]

Climategate[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Climategate

In which leaked e-mails were copiously quote mined in order to insinuate scientists were using "tricks" to "hide the decline." In fact, this wasn't just quote mining choice phrases out of context, it involved actively removing the explanation of what "hide the decline" even meant. SPOILER ALERT: It didn't mean "covering up" or "faking data" but something far more boring — simply counteracting data that was known to be wrong.

Adam Smith on responsible capitalism[edit]

Speaking at the Liberal Democrat autumn conference, Liberal Democrat business secretary, Vincent Cable prompted rebuke from the Adam Smith Institute by quoting Adam Smith on regulation:

But Adam Smith himself was scathing about some forms of business behaviour — particularly those that led to the suppression of competition. He wrote "people of the same trade seldom meet together even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public."
—Vincent Cable[19]

However, Smith goes on to say:

It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary. A regulation which obliges all those of the same trade in a particular town to enter their names and places of abode in a public register, facilitates such assemblies… A regulation which enables those of the same trade to tax themselves in order to provide for their poor, their sick, their widows, and orphans, by giving them a common interest to manage, renders such assemblies necessary. An incorporation not only renders them necessary, but makes the act of the majority binding upon the whole.
—Adam Smith[20]

NASA as a defense agency[edit]

See the main article on this topic: NASA

The very first words of the book Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA by Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara, are:[21]:1

The NASA that we've known for over 50 years has been a lie.

Pseudo-justifying this announcement, Hoagland and Bara cite Sec. 305(i) of the Space Act:[21]:2

The Administration shall be considered a defense agency of the United States.

…of which the full version is:

The Administration shall be considered a defense agency of the United States for the purpose of Chapter 17, Title 35 of the US Code.[22]

Title 35 is exclusively concerned with patent law.[23] Chapter 17 says that if an employee of a "defense agency" (as defined) files an application for a patent, the commissioner of patents may keep it under wraps while checking with the bosses of the relevant agency to make sure publishing it won't blow some cosmic secret.[24] In other words, it simply brings NASA into line with other national enterprises in the context of boring old patent law. The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have the exact same wording in their charters.

For the record, NASA is by definition a civilian agency. Dilettantes like Hoagland and Bara get confused because the agency does undertake certain classified projects on a contract basis.

Breitbart.com[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Breitbart.com

Pretty much everything they get attention for is due to selectively editing quotes and videos so that the quotes appear to represent the opposite of their actual, in-context meaning. Breitbart's attack on Shirley Sherrod was particularly egregious.

Pseudoastronomy[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Pseudoastronomy

The Flat Earth and geocetrist movements have frequently resorted to quote mining to support their crankery.[25] Examples include:

  • Quoting part of physicist Albert A. Michelson's argument ("There was only one other possible conclusion to draw — that the earth was at rest.") without quoting his conclusion that contradicted that statement ("The hypothesis of a stationary ether is erroneous.").[26]
  • Video editing part of an interview with Buzz Aldrin to falsely make it look like he thought the Moon landings hadn't happened.[27][28]
  • Taking Neil deGrasse Tyson's "'pear-shaped' analogy" to explain the spheroid shape of Earth out of context.[29]
  • Editing a NASA video to make it seem like Apollo had not traversed a van Allen radiation belt.[30]
  • Leaving out the end of a sentence by Albert Einstein "Since then I have come to believe that the motion of the Earth cannot be detected by any optical experiment," (flat Earth version) which ends with "though the Earth is revolving around the Sun."[31]
  • The geocentrist 'documentary' film The Principle[32]

Creationism[edit]

See the main article on this topic: List of fallacious quotes by creationists

Creationists do this. A lot.

Others[edit]

The Bible[edit]

Theologians, especially Christian fundamentalist theologians, can acquire extensive skills in mining the Bible for nugget-quotes (conveniently-sized Biblical verses). Since many authors and editors have cobbled the texts of the Biblical canon together, such scripture contains many contradictions and other situations where the Bible can be quoted against itself (sometimes even within the same book!). Quote miners can take advantage of this largesse — and Christian writers have often decontextualized Biblical verses to get whatever twisted interpretation they can out of them. For example, Psalm 37:4[note 6] has been used to justify name it and claim it theology.

Of course, two can play that game. As the Bible says (Psalm 14:1):

There is no God.

Although maybe King David (the Bible attributes both of these psalms to him) himself quote mined this from a more nuanced statement.

Conspiracy theorists[edit]

Conspiracy theorists, lacking evidence, need to resort to quote mining to give the illusion of an overwhelming amount of evidence. By doing this one can do things like: Make the UN announce an International Court, announce a Global Currency, and make Obama announce a New World Order by quoting him saying the "Old order" is not working and that they need a "new order".[34]

Quote Mining Index[edit]

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 (or when context is also quoted) — using Google search results as a proxy for how many times the quotes appear. For example, his quote,

It is as though they [[[fossils]]] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.

returned 24,600 hits on Google. Whilst the following explanation:

Evolutionists of all stripes believe, however, that this really does represent a very large gap in the fossil record, a gap that is simply due to the fact that, for some reason, very few fossils have lasted from periods before about 600 million years ago.

returned only 3,160 hits. That is 7.8 quote mines to every "legitimate" use of the quote, or a QMI of 7.8.

See also[edit]

Blue Marble.jpg
CreationWiki.png

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. If you're good, you can also pretend your fellow loonies said nice things[3] rather than nasty things.[4]
  2. Save for a standing army of anal-retentive skeptics, that is!
  3. One recent example is from Conservapedia.[6]
  4. This example[7] from the movie Expelled is particularly malicious.
  5. A seemingly quite recent (2008) addition to the quote miner's armoury has been a quote pulled from Darwin's The Descent of Man, alleging to show he was a racist as demonstrated by Ken DeMeyer at Conservapedia.[8] Whenever this half paragraph is quoted by creationists, it always demonstrates the same omission thus revealing (ahem) the common descent of the quote mine. The ellipsis conceals the omission of the text "as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked (18. 'Anthropological Review,' April 1867, p. 236.)" revealing Darwin was repeating the opinion of his academic colleagues at the time,[9] and regardless of whether he was or was not a racist, his views were held in common with the greater part of the western world (and even so, trying to hold Darwin to present-day views of race is fallacious in the form of presentism). Incidentally, thanks to the Internet one can now read Darwin's quoted source[10] without even a trip to a university library. Also of note is the very next article in the review, entitled "The theory of development and its bearing on science and religion" which reminds us that the battle of getting fundamentalists to understand that while not antagonistic to their beliefs, science does in fact rule out events of creation by fiat has been going on for over a century and half.
  6. "Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart."

References[edit]

  1. 30 More Fallacies by Michael LaBossiere (May 21, 2011) A Philosopher's Blog.
  2. Adolf Hitler (Revision as of 13:27, 20 August 2019) Rationalwiki. A non-quote-mined quote with the same text: "Adolf Hitler … was leader of the German Nazi Party from 1921, chancellor and eventually dictator, or Führer ("leader"), of Nazi Germany from 1933 until his suicide in 1945. … Hitler was a bad human being, though solely as a politician he was probably the greatest that ever lived, as he invented modern politics: discredit the opposition, create fear to control the population, make a permanent enemy that isn't tangible, push agendas in state-controlled media and glorify the military as heroes to the nation like some sort of Mycaenan Greek city-state. … As the leading perpetrator of the most destructive war in modern history and for his role in the murder of six million European Jews, several million ethnic Slavs (among others), gypsies, homosexuals and communists, some view him as the most evil person ever to have lived."
  3. Ann Coulter (Revision as of 23:06, 31 December 2007) Conservapedia (archived from 7 Jul 2013 13:46:50 UTC).
  4. On CNBC's The Big Idea, Coulter said that "we" Christians "just want Jews to be perfected" by Jeremy Holden (October 10, 2007 4:30 PM EDT) Media Matters for America (archived from July 30, 2014).
  5. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: Or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin (1872) John Murray. pp. 143-144.
  6. Irreducible complexity (Revision as of 13:51, 24 December 2008) Conservapedia (archived from 7 Jul 2013 13:47:38 UTC).
  7. Expelled's Quote Mining (June 27, 2008) Discomforting Ignorance.
  8. Template:Mainpageleft (Revision as of 23:24, 14 September 2008) Conservapedia (archived from 7 Jul 2013 13:47:05 UTC).
  9. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin (1871) D. Appleton and Company. p. 201.
  10. Proceedings of the Paris Anthropological Society Anthropological Review (April 1867) 5(18):236.
  11. User talk:Aschlafly/Archive12: Panel and Quote Mining Conservapedia (archived from March 7, 2009).
  12. Quote Mine Project: Or, Lies, Damned Lies and Quote Mines by John Pieret (October 31, 2006) talk.origins Archive.
  13. [1] Answers in Genesis quote page
  14. Talk:Theory of Evolution/Archive 1: conservatives, where is the extensive criticism of the evolutionary position? Conservapedia (archived from July 18, 2017).
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Who Doubts Evolution? Palaeontologists disagree about the speed and pattern of evolution. But they do not — as much recent publicity has implied — doubt that evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is simply does not depend upon the fossil record. by Mark Ridley (25 June 1981) New Scientist90:831.
  16. The Scourge of the Swastika: A Short History of Nazi War Crimes by Edward Frederick Langley Russell (1954) Cassell.
  17. Private Eye: The First 50 Years by Adam MacQueen (2011) Private Eye. p. 49. ISBN 1901784568. Turner-Samels even managed to get the name of the publication wrong: he was actually quoting the Times Literary Supplement.
  18. Fifty-nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11 by Dave Kopel (2018).
  19. Responsible capitalism by Vince Cable (22/11/2012) Scopulus.
  20. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776), Book I, Chapter X. pp. 160-161.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA by Richard C. Hoagland & Mike Bara (2007) Feral House. 1st ed. ISBN 1932595260.
  22. Title 51 — National and Commercial Space Programs Office of the Law Revision Counsel, United States Code.
  23. U.S. Code: Title 35. Patents Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.
  24. 35 U.S. Code Chapter 17 — Secrecy Of Certain Inventions And Filing Applications In Foreign Country Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.
  25. Category: Quote Mining FlatEarth.ws.
  26. Albert Michelson in "Michelson and the Speed of Light" FlatEarth.ws.
  27. Buzz Aldrin's Interview & the Quote-Mining by Flat Earthers] FlatEarth.ws.
  28. Did Buzz Aldrin Admit That He Never Went to the Moon? Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin's answer to a question posed by a child was misrepresented as an admission that he didn't set foot on the moon. by Dan Evon (27 July 2018) Snopes.
  29. Neil deGrasse Tyson and His 'Pear-Shaped' Analogy FlatEarth.ws.
  30. Orion EFT-1, Apollo and the Van Allen Radiation Belts FlatEarth.ws.
  31. Quote-Mined Einstein Statement FlatEarth.ws.
  32. [https://flatearth.ws/the-principle 'The Principle': A Documentary Without Principle] FlatEarth.ws.
  33. Examples of Quote Mining in Posters leading up to Simon Fraser University Jesus week
  34. Barack Obama and the New World Order 666 by Bible Flock Box (Jul 31, 2014) YouTube