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Quote mining

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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.

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 hold 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 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.


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.


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


Another 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.
—(Darwin 1872, 143-144)[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.[3] 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[4] have been set up as "quote mines", providing lists of mined quotes without the need to actually go to the source material. Most users of these quotes have never read the original source material, and would likely be hard pressed to actually find copies.[5]

Mark Ridley[edit]

The following quote, mentioned in New Scientist, has been used in an attempt to discredit evolution:[6]

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.[7]

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.

The article later goes on 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.

Attempted use by Private Eye for libel defence[edit]

A case brought by Lord Russel of Liverpool, a legal adviser at the Nuremberg trials, centring on whether his book The Scourge of the Swastika 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... " [8]

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.

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.[9].


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."[10]

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.

NASA as a defense agency[edit]

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

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:

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.

Title 35 is exclusively concerned with patent law. 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. 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.[edit]

See the main article on this topic:

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.


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

Creationists do this. A lot.


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 decontexted Biblical verses to get whatever twisted interpretation they can out of them. For example, Psalm 37:4[13] has been used to justify name it and claim it theology.

Of course, two can play that game. As the Bible says:[14] [15]

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, being completely baseless, need to resort to this to give the illusion of an overwhelming amount of evidence. By doing this you 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"[16]

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.

returns 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.

receives 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

External links[edit]


  1. If you're good, you can also pretend your fellow loonies said nice things rather than nasty things.
  2. Save for a standing army of anal-retentive skeptics, that is!
  3. One recent example is here
  4. This example 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. 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, 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. Incidentally, thanks to the Internet one can now read Darwin's quoted source 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.


  3. [1] "Panel and Quote Mining"
  4. Quote Mine Project: Or, Lies, Damned Lies and Quote Mines, Archive
  5. [2] Answers in Genesis quote page
  6. Conservapedia - Talk:Theory of Evolution/Archive 1
  7. [New Scientist, vol. 90, 25 June 1981, p. 831] Mark Ridley, Who doubts evolution?
  8. Adam MacQueen (2011). Private Eye: The First 50 Years, p. 49. Turner-Samels even managed to get the name of the publication wrong: he was actually quoting the Times Literary Supplement.
  9. The basis for this example comes largely from the internet essay 56 deceits in Fahrenheit 911 by Dave Kopel, found here.
  10. Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable, "Responsible capitalism" Speech delivered to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, UK Export Finance, 22 September 2010
  11. Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter X.
  12. Examples of Quote Mining in Posters leading up to Simon Fraser University Jesus week
  13. "Find your delight in the LORD who will give you your heart's desire." (NAB)
  14. Psalm 14:1, NIV: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"
  15. Psalm 53:1, NIV: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"