Quote mining, in its pejorative sense, is the act of using partial or out-of-context quotations to support an argument. This practice differs from simply misquoting in that the quote is accurate but incomplete or mischaracterized. Creationists will frequently use partial quotes from scientists which, without the proper context, appear to support their arguments.
- "We have so many gaps in the evolutionary history of life, gaps in such key areas as the origin of the multi-cellular organisms, the origin of the vertebrates, not to mention the origins of most invertebrate groups." (McGowan, C., In the Beginning... A Scientist Shows Why the Creationists are Wrong, Prometheus Books, 1984, p. 95)
- "Soft parts, such as skin impressions of dinosaurs, and soft-bodied animals like jellyfish are sometimes preserved, and in some localities may be common, but they give us only brief glimpses of evolutionary histories. Obviously we have no record of the origin of life, and little or no evolutionary history of the soft-bodied organisms. It is hardly surprising, then, that we have so many gaps in the evolutionary history of life, gaps in such key areas as the origin of the multicellular organisms, the origin of vertebrates, not to mention the origins of most invertebrate groups. The creationists, of course, just love to draw attention to these gaps, which they score as points against evolution. We saw in Chapter 6, though, that their case is without foundation, because they have ignored vital evidence from the living world."
The partial quote is used as an example of a scientist "admitting" an apparent problem with evolution, while the full quote points out that this particular objection has already been addressed and refuted. Any decent scientist's goal is to discover the truth. Honesty and integrity are essential and science is, by its very nature, self-correcting. The fact that we don't have complete knowledge about everything means that any respectable science must admit that these gaps in our knowledge exist. Dishonest individuals prey on this honesty as an attempt to point out the weakness of a scientific position.
Ironically, they often adhere to a god of the gaps mentality which allows them to insert an unproven assertion (God did it) into the gaps which scientists are seeking to fill with verifiable knowledge.