Monday, August 25, 2014

David Klinghoffer recognizes the problems with authorities and quote mining

We all know the drill by now. Intelligent design Creationists attempt to discredit evolution and science by pointing out what they see as flaws in basic theory. They also spend a considerable amount of time attempting to discredit individual scientists using guilt by association or direct character assaults.

One of their favorite tricks is to lift quotations out of context and present them in a way that makes it look like famous scientists are supporting Intelligent Design Creationism—or, at least, supporting the idea that evolution is flawed.

The tactic is so widespread and despicable that it led to formation of The Quote Mine Project
Or, Lies, Damned Lies and Quote Mines
. That project ran out of steam about eight years ago because the authors just couldn't keep up with all the misinformation coming out of books, lectures, and articles from leading members of the Discovery Institute.

Stephen Meyer is a expert at this. Here are a couple of examples from his book Darwin's Doubt (2013).
Because despite the widespread impression to the contrary—conveyed by textbooks, the popular media, and spokespersons for official science—the orthodox neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution has reached an impasse nearly as acute as the one faced by chemical evolutionary theory. Leading figures in several subdisciplines of biology—cell biology, developmental biology, molecular biology, paleontology, and even evolutionary biology—now openly criticze key tenets of the modern version of Darwinian theory in the peer-reviewed technical literature. Sinec 1980, when Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould declared that neo-Darwinism "is effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy," the weight of ctirical opinion in biology has grown steadily with each passing year. (p. ix)
See how it works? Meyer is pretending to be an "insider" on the subject of evolutionary theory. He's familiar with the views of the "leading figures" and he's revealing to his readers the fact that evolution is in trouble even though scientists are trying to cover it up.

He quotes a 34 year old article by Gould to back up his case. Gould wasn't talking about the modern version of evolutionary theory—the one that incorporates Neutral Theory and population genetics. He was talking about the hardened version of synthetic theory ("Modern Synthesis") as described by Ernst Mayr back in the 1960s. In his 1980 article Gould said, "... if Mayr's characterization of synthetic theory is accurate, then that theory, as a general proposition, is effectively dead ...."

Lots has been written about this quote, including a lengthy discussion in Gould's last book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory [Is the "Modern Synthesis" effectively dead?]. Stephen Meyer should be aware of the context and meaning but that doesn't stop him from quote mining to misrepresent the views of 21st century evolutionary biologists.

Here's another example from the same book. It comes from Chapter 6 where Meyer is attempting to discredit the molecular evidence showing that the Cambrian organisms have a history that extends back into the Precambrian.
Just as the molecular data do not point unequivocally to a single date for the last common ancestor of all the Cambrian animals (the point of deep divergence), they do not point unequivocally to a single coherent tree depicting the evolution of animals in the Precambrian. Numerous papers have noted the prevalence of contradictory trees based on evidence from molecular genetics. A 2009 paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution notes that "evolutionary trees from different genes often have conflicting branching patterns." Likewise, a 2012 paper in Biological Reviews notes that "phylogenetic conflict is common, and frequently the norm rather than the exception." Echoing these views, a January 2009 cover story and review article in New Scientist observed that today the tree-of-life project "lies in tatters, torn to pieces by an onslaught of negative evidence." As the article explains, "Many biologists now argue that the tree concept is obsolete and needs to be discarded," because the evidence suggests that "the evolution of animals and plants isn't exactly tree-like."
None of those papers, articles, and quotes have anything to do with whether molecular data refute the claim that Cambrian animals sprang into existence in a geological instant [see Darwin Was Wrong?] [Stephen Meyer's Errors]. But Meyer makes it look like he's on top of the scientific literature and it shows that molecular phylogenies cannot be trusted.

David Klinghoffer has just addressed this issue in a post on Evolution News & Views (sic): In Debates over Cosmic and Biological Origins, Here's the "My Good Friend" Meme. He quotes a reader named "Ryan" who says ...
It seems clear to me that this tactic is an act of desperation. It's not simply an attempt to improperly discredit some piece of evidence used by their opponents without having to produce any actual counterevidence or argument. Even more than this, it's a psychological tactic intended to manipulate the audience, painting themselves as being within the real scientific community, and therefore "in-the-know," while their debate opponent, ... is outside the real scientific community, guilty of the worst of all possible crimes: not being one of the cool kids.
That's exactly right and Ryan deserves credit for recognizing the fallacy.

David Klinghoffer, to his credit as well, reinforces the point and says that such tactics are childish.1
On the other hand, let's cut these guys some slack. Invoking buddies in the audience, on a screen, or by quoting (and misreprsenting) their email correspondence is a cheap trick to pull, cashing in social status in a way that's straight out of junior high school.

1. I'm well aware of the fact that I'm quote mining. Ryan and David Klinghoffer don't really criticize Intelligent Design Creationists, their attack is aimed at scientists. Their attack is ironical, Mine is cynical, skeptical, and deliberate.

Gould, S.J. (1980) Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging? Paleobiology 6:119-130. [PDF]


  1. Speaking of pretending to be an insider, the 1st sentence of Chapter 3 of Darwin's Doubt is "In the spring of 2000, the Discovery Institute, where I do my research, sponsored a lecture at they University of Washington geology department by the renowned Chinese paleontologist J. Y. Chen (see Fig 3.1)." (Boldface added.) Fig. 3.1 is a photo of Chen.
    Gee, Meyer does research, and he even has a photo of a renowned paleontologist who has come all the way from China. Who knew?

    1. Well, in a way Meyer does do "research". He searches, re-searches, re-searches, and re-searches scientific papers, books, etc., for stuff that he can dishonestly quote mine and otherwise distort.

    2. So Ted, are you saying that any paleontologist from China is not qualified to speak?

      How so anglo-saxonist of you?

      Eruditon really pisses you all off to no end??!!!

      Well, we'll just keep chippin' away, thank you.

      Any you can keep chirpin' away if you'd like....The sound of birds is always soothing to the ear.....

    3. So Ted, are you saying that any paleontologist from China is not qualified to speak?

      ...and IDiots just miss the point again.

    4. So IDists are LIARS and Pedro is Mother Theresa.

      Just love the level of argumentation. You a student of Diogenes?

      Those F#$%n' liars, those IDiots, God, what liars, LIAR, LIAR, waaaaaaaa.....

      ...reminds me of that bit of maternal wisdom....howz it go?? The one that screams the loudest is guilty.

      Pedro, don't get upset when Behe calls you all out on your pedantic diversions.

      natural selection has alway been a bit player...a maintenance junkie trying to keep intact what's already been made.

      Good luck with your inflatable raft there, Pedro.

    5. ...and IDiots just miss the point again.

      Yes, it's one of the chief obstacles advocates of science have in arguing with creationists. Almost all creationists are as droolingly stupid as Steve here, such that they are unable to comprehend a simple argument stated in plain English. So it's a considerable challenge to word one's argument in such a way that they can actually follow it.

    6. Just love the level of argumentation.

      Argumentation, heck - I'd just settle for coherence. Did you and Gary Gaulin attend the same English composition classes? Natural selection, maintenance junkies, inflatable rafts - this is supposed to make sense?

    7. natural selection has alway been a bit player...a maintenance junkie trying to keep intact what's already been made.

      By a god, no doubt, that goes around poking into organism's genomes and puffing mutations into existence by magic as required on a case by case basis. Makes sense, Steve. No doubt ID will be the great scientific revolution of the 21th century.

    8. Steve wrote: So the IDists are LIARS

      This is the first correct thing Steve has said regarding the Discovery Institute. Yes, they are all liars - all of them. It's not an epithet, though, it's their job description. The Disco Tute is a propaganda organization focused on social change. They try to achieve their goals by creating doubt about science and they do that by lying about science. It's not rocket science, although they lie about rocket science, too.

      Professor Moran is admirable in not dismissing the IDiots at face value but taking the time to expose their prevarications. For example, to simply point out that Behe is wrong misses the more accurate characterization of Behe being deliberately misleading. Behe starts with his conclusion, the Intelligent Designer, then tries to find the tiniest cherry to pick that may, if one squints, support is preconceived conclusion. However, in doing so Moran and others provide a valuable science education moment for the rest of us.

    9. Steve just swwops in, issues a series of incoherent ad hominem attacks, declares victory and takes off to the next site that allows comments. It's hit and run posting at its worst.

    10. Chris B: Steve just swwops in, issues a series of incoherent ad hominem attacks, declares victory and takes off to the next site that allows comments. It's hit and run posting at its worst.

      Perhaps he was simply trying to be 'meta' about the whole affair by doing some quote mining of Ted and Pedro's comments. Too bad (for him) that he doesn't seem to have the skills to do so properly :).

  2. Since we talked about anthropocentric bias in the other thread and the subject of the Cambrian explosion came up here too, it occurred to me that creationists love the Cambrian explosion and talking about animals but nobody ever mentions plants and fungi. Why is that? Can some of the creationists who visit this blog enlighten me on the subject? Those lineages also evolved multicellularity and a few others did too. If the "sudden" appearance of animals (which is a false claim, but let's ignore that for a second) is evidence of design, what is the fossil record of algae and land plants evidence for?

    Why is nobody commenting on their fossil record? Is it because that one is much more gradual, because the earliest multicellular algae appear in the fossil record hundreds of millions of years before the Cambrian, or simply because nobody pays any attention to anything other than metazoans?

    1. According to some creationists plants aren't even alive. In their minds I'm sure that goes for fungi too.

  3. Typo alert: "Lot's has bee written about this quote" -- should be "Lot's been written . . ." or "A lot has been written . . ." or some variant?

    1. Another typo alert: "Meyr" (Ernst) should be "Mayr" (lest anyone should confuse him with Meyer).

    2. @Piotr Gąsiorowski

      Oops! Looks like I confused myself! Thanks.

  4. One of the more amusing (or infuriating) examples of a quote mine from Meyer's book was described on the Panda's Thumb. Meyer spliced together two phrases by Charles R. Marshall that in the original document were separated by fifteen pages:

  5. i should say I don't understand why evolutionists accuse creationists etc of quote mining!
    yet it fits a bigger equation. evolutionism is so much making its case on the credibility of the small numbers of researchers that to allow even a few musings of criticism about points of evolution UNDERMINES the whole credibility of the theory.
    Creationists use quotes fair and square and no more in error then anyone who uses quotes.
    its demonstrating its about AUTHORITY and not the merits that substains evolutionary biology in its claim to be a scientific theory or tested hypothesis.
    Nobody does or accuses folks in any other science subject of quote mining. It never comes up.
    this could only be because evolution etc are subjects not proven by the evidence but evolution is proven by the degree ed authorizes claims its proven by the evidence.

    I get it or I don't about the fuss of using public quotes.

    1. I get it or I don't about the fuss of using public quotes.

      Covering all your bases, I see, Robert. Shall we take bets on which it is?

    2. Nobody does or accuses folks in any other science subject of quote mining. It never comes up.

      That's because scientists do their own research, they don't have to twist the results of others. But you are wrong, there is an equivalent of quote mining in other fields. It is done by "paradoxers" who, for example, try to show that physics is self-contradictory. A favorite trick is to show that equation 10.69 in a standard textbook contradicts equation 5.38. And they are right, because 10.69 is a simplification of 5.38 which holds only in certain cases, so yes you can find circumstances in which 10.69 is invalid. This behavior is just as wrong and dishonest as quote mining but requires a far higher level of technical expertise. That is why there are far more quote miners than paradoxers.

    3. Hey Bobby B, we godless evilutionists can play the quote-mine game too:

      "I believe God has called AiG to ... override the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case and compel for-profit employers to cover the full range of contraception for their employees, as required by the Affordable Care Act.”

      "There is no God."
      --Ken Ham, "A Prophetic Message", Core Ministry News 25 Aug 2014.

      I'm just using quotes "fair and square" just like a good old-school young Earth creationist like yourself. Now wouldn't it be annoying if "our side" did that constantly to "your side"?

    4. YEC or ID creationists do not dishonestly use quotes wrong.
      if, i say , IF they get a quote out of context, or misunderstood it, or miss saw words then its honest error.
      Saying creationists strive to get quotes wrong is losing credibility for the accuser.
      Its all dumb and besides the point of a science contention.
      By the way I find evolutionist do correct or say this or that evolutionist is wrong or a old idea is wrong because they want to accomplish something new in the subject.
      As I said much ado about nothing.

    5. YEC or ID creationists do not dishonestly use quotes wrong.

      The only other option is that they're too stupid to understand what they read and copy-paste correctly. Doesn't look good either way.

    6. I'm one of the contributors to the The Quote Mine Project mentioned by Professor Moran in his post. I would be very interested if you can point to a quote that's been unfairly "dissected" in The Quote Mine Project. Far from such quotes being used "fair and square", they reveal either a staggering lack of honesty, or a mind-numbing level of incompetence. My experience with creationists makes me lean towards the former.

    7. In other words, Byers, you approve of quote mining as long as it's done by god pushers. Being willfully dishonest for 'yhwh-jesus-holy-ghost' is a righteous tool in the creationist toolbox, eh?

  6. Augary
    its a bother to investigate accusations like these.
    my experience is that id or YEC nEVER use quotes except they believe the quote is aexcellent point and obviously there to be checked by anyone.

    If errors are made its no more then usual then any people using ones opponents quotes.
    Putting a light on creationist quotes is missing the equation of human incompetence.
    We could do the same but its not the same.
    These quotes are relevant to researchers own questioning of evolution.
    Nobody seeks out ones opponents use of quotes in our world.
    It would only be done if the side complaining believes their case is based on authority and not the facts proven.
    Its all like using ones spouse quotes against them.
    there might be error or not on both sides but its not relevant to the bigger issues.
    Trying to say, as you admit by your claim of dishonesty on Creationists, that creationists strive to deceive people is just silly.
    Creationists , better then most, have no such diabolical agenda.

    By the way. These are complicated matters. Easily people can misunderstand ones points. In complicated things context and words easily can give a wrong impression .
    I always have to watch carefully my words because the creationist is easily banned from internet forums. By other creationists. I'm pretty good and still get falsely attacked.

    1. Robert Byers,

      I’m puzzled. You write that quotes are "obviously there to be checked by anyone", but then state that "Nobody seeks out ones opponents use of quotes in our world." So, is it permissible to check quotes, or not? Or is it only permissible to check quotes, but not tell anyone else about your findings? Or is it that no one in your world is concerned about accuracy?

      You also wrote that "These quotes are relevant to researchers own questioning of evolution." In reality, most of these researchers don’t question evolution, but their words have been changed so it appears that they do. I would think that you would be happy that their true views have been revealed.

      Finally, you also seem to be of the opinion that erroneous quotations are not a result of bad intentions, but mere incompetence. But shouldn’t such incompetence be revealed? Or is that not a concern in your world? In my neck of the woods, competence is very important.