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. Quote mining an opponent in a debate commits the straw man fallacy.
- "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.
- "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, Origin of the Species 1859)
- "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." (Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species 1859)
Charles Darwin argued in for his theory by first stating the objection and then going through the work of showing exactly how Evolution evolution would explain the result. Quote mining in this context is simply taking Darwin's presentation of the objection as he himself objecting to his theory or conceding defeat. Ironically, this is done so that creationists can suppose that their What good is half a eye? arguments are sound and insuperable even though the first edition of Origin of the Species dealt with the question.
- The Quote Mine Project, a large collection of mined quotes.