Ã¢â‚¬Å“Quote MiningÃ¢â‚¬Â is a pejorative term used to refer to the practice of compiling quotations, often from oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s opponents. As anyone who has studied evolution for any length of time knows, one need not quote ID proponents or creationists for authority against evolution or Darwinism. The Darwinists themselves can be quoted for practically every proposition that an ID proponent or a creationist would advance. When this is done, however, Darwinists often level the charge of Ã¢â‚¬Å“quote mining,Ã¢â‚¬Â and accuse their opponents of taking the quotations out of context. For example, in his 1973 article Ã¢â‚¬Å“Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.Ã¢â‚¬Â Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote:
Their [i.e., creationistsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢] favorite sport is stringing together quotations, carefully and sometimes expertly taken out of context, to show that nothing is really established or agreed upon among evolutionists. Some of my colleagues and myself have been amused and amazed to read ourselves quoted in a way showing that we are really antievolutionists under the skin.
The quote mining charge did not end with Dobzhansky. In 1996 Michael Behe responded to a charge of quote mining as follows:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Coyne complains the book is Ã¢â‚¬Ëœheavily lardedÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ with quotations from evolutionists. This leads into his being upset with being quoted himself, as discussed above. That aside, however. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what to make of this statement. What is a book concerning evolution supposed to contain if not quotes from evolutionists? Quotes from accountants? Michael Behe, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Reply to my critics,Ã¢â‚¬Â Boston Review, November 1996; http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_brrespbr.htm.
The response to the DarwinistÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s charge is four-fold. First, it should hardly be surprising that ID proponents and creationists quote Darwinists. Every lawyer knows that an Ã¢â‚¬Å“admission against interestÃ¢â‚¬Â is very powerful evidence. Also, a writer is immune to the charge of bias when he quotes his opponents for a proposition, and this is especially true in the origins debate where the views of a non-Darwinist who might be quoted for the same proposition are often dismissed before they are given a hearing.
Secondly, any work about evolution is bound to contain quotations from Darwinists. Therefore, attributing nefarious motives to a writer merely for quoting a Darwinist in an anti-Darwinist work is, as Behe suggests above, just silly.
Thirdly, to be fair any quotation must be accompanied by an accurate citation to the quotationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s source, and in my experience ID proponents and creationist are assiduous in this respect.. This allows anyone who cares to do so the opportunity to check the accuracy and context of the quotation.
Finally, using a quotation from a Darwinist to disparage some particular aspect of Darwinism, does not, as Dobzhansy suggests, necessarily imply that the Darwinist disagrees with the theory as a whole. For example, if I were writing about the fossil record I could quote Niles Eldrege as follows: Ã¢â‚¬Å“[Anatomical] Change in the manner Darwin expected is just not found in the fossil record.Ã¢â‚¬Â Eldrege is a dyed-in-the-wool evolutionist, and nowhere do I say or even suggest otherwise. I quote him for no other reason than to demonstrate that the fossil record does not support DarwinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s predictions. Someone who reads this quotation might extrapolate from the proposition that Eldrege does not believe the fossil record supports DarwinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s predictions to the false conclusion that Eldrege does not support Darwinism generally. But this is not my fault, especially given the fact that I will give a citation to EldregeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s book The Myths of Human Evolution, the barest perusal of which demonstrates otherwise.
I believe the DarwinistsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ charges of quote mining has less to do with their asserted concerns about cherry picking, quotations taken out of context, and misleading implications, and more to do with the fact that the ore in this particular mine is so overwhelmingly rich. In other words, it is becoming clearer with every passing year that the evidence does not support the neo-Darwinist synthesis, and it is not only ID proponents and creationists who know this. Darwinists know it perhaps better than anyone else. Therefore, Darwinists are between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis when they want to talk to each other in the journals. When dealing with yet more non-confirming data, they can either not mention it or try to deal with it. If they take the former option they leave themselves open to charges of sloppy work or even fraud when the evidence inevitably comes to light. If they take the latter option, however, they are putting more ore in the mine, which they are loathe to do.