Friday, May 22, 2009


Here We Go Again!


Are they just dumb or are they duplicitous?

That's always the question with quote miners.

Of course, they throw these quotes around with the pretense of understanding what they mean when, in fact, most of the miners have never read the source of the quote and few would understand it if they had. In that sense they are being dishonest. That is particularly the case when, by virtue of a person's job, an air of authority is leant to any pronouncement he or she might make.

That's the situation with Gailon Totheroh, Health Editor for the Christian Broadcasting Network News, even though nothing in his résumé would recommend him for any such expertise. The closest thing to any scientific education is an associate degree in chemistry from a community college. He has a B.A. in German from a real university and an advanced degree from a phony one: an M.A. in Public Affairs Journalism from Regent University. His work history before his CBN gig was in public relations, human resources, property management, and "publication research."

Anyway, he's trying to cast doubt on the overwhelming evidence for common descent, and, in particular, on poor Ida, who we already know is being shamelessly over-hyped, by dragging out a quote mine of David Raup, that already is in the Quote Mine Project and, typically, involves Punctuated Equilibria, a common target of quote miners everywhere. The perpetrator of the most recent example I dealt with actually came back to "defend" himself ... by doing more quote mining!

I wonder if really they think such tactics reflect well on their beliefs?


A couple of things that I wonder about quote mines.

I wonder how these quote mines originate. Are there people reading through the literature looking for nifty things to dig up? It must be an extremely tedious job, given that the miner can't and won't understand what he's reading.

But the other thing is that many of the quote mines even as presented by the miner, aren't very convincing of how bad evolution is. My first reaction to many of the quote mines was something like "so what?"

Tom S.
Are there people reading through the literature looking for nifty things to dig up?

I suspect, based on how these things are passed around, that it is a hit and miss affair, rather than any concerted effort. Some quote is discovered (probably through the popular press) that gets sent to some preacher or (since the web) submitted to some creationist site. I'm sure Gould was a source of a lot of them, not only his own but, because of papers or books he mentioned, of quote mines of other people as well, since his column was so easily obtained and deliberately accessible to non-scientists. Also, if you look through the QMP you'll see several that are from newspapers and news magazines. They're not combing the primary literature, they're getting the quotes from the popular press (though some may then go to the primary article to see if there's something else they can use).

... many of the quote mines even as presented by the miner, aren't very convincing of how bad evolution is.

Part of that is your familiarity with the real scientific disputes going on. That's why Punk Eek was such a fertile area for miners. For example, when Raup says something like "species appear in the sequence very suddenly, show little or no change during their existence in the record, then abruptly go out of the record" you know he is not talking about the support the fossil record gives to common descent but about the tempo and mode of evolutionary change. To a creationist ignorant of the science, it sounds a bit like support for special creation and, at that point Morton's Demon slams the door of their brain shut and no further questions about whether it really supports creationism can penetrate.

What the miners are looking for is not evidence against evolution but anything that remotely sounds like it counters evolution or supports creation, since they know, either consciously or subconsciously, that "close" is good enough.
Origin of a quote mine. “When you are falling off a cliff, you still desperately try to grasp and hold onto weeds and grass, even with the knowledge that it won’t keep you from falling”
Recall Andrew Snelling's Revised Quote Book. I suspect that's the source of a good many. You can still get it for just four bucks.

And I have a faint memory that there's a creationist CD out there that has a collection of "evolutionist" quotations, though a fast search didn't turn it up.
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