Quote mining

Quote mining is the practice of purposely compiling frequently misleading quotes from large volumes of literature or speech.

The term is pejorative. "Quote miners" are often accused of contextomy and misquotation, in an attempt to represent the views of the person being quoted inaccurately. For example, if a person being quoted disagrees with some position, a quote miner will present quotes that suggest that instead, this person is supportive of this position. Material that ostensibly bolsters this position is often taken out of context. Exposition that is at odds with the argument being made in the same text is excluded or otherwise obscured.

The expression is also sometimes used in a slightly weaker sense, merely meaning that a quote is being used to support an idea that the original author rejects. In this second case, even a quote which is accurate can be considered a "mined quote".


The phrase originated in the mid-1990s. It is commonly used by members of the scientific community to describe a method frequently employed by creationists to support their arguments, though it can be and often is used outside of the "science vs. faith" discussion. Creationists often present "mined quotes" which, when taken out of context, appear to undercut evolution, or quotes which have been altered so that it appears as though the source of the quotation opposes evolution when this is not true. Although the phrase originated relatively recently, complaints about the practice are not new. Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote in his famous 1973 essay "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" that

Entire books of quotes have been created by creationists, such as That Their Words May Be Used Against Them, by creation scientist Henry Morris, and The Revised Quote Book by Andrew Snelling.

The above quote itself could be turned into an example of quote mining:

MOreover, quote mining is a favorite work of anti-Islamic writers, usually as they quote out of context and jumps from ayah to another ayah having no relevance to prove their allegations against the Quran and as a whole, Islam. Common examples are Ayaan Hirsha Ali, Taslima Nasrin, Aaron Shohri, etc.


Kulp's accusation of Price in Deluge Geology

In an influential paper debunking flood geology, that was presented to the Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation in 1949, prominent evangelical geochemist J. Laurence Kulp accused George McCready Price of claiming repeatedly "that thrust faulting is a fiction", quoting in support a statement by McConnel of the Canadian Survey Report of 1886, when "[Price] has listed a small part of the quotation which gave clear evidence for such thrusting.

Darwin on the eye

A typical example of quote mining is taken from The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in which he considers the evolution of the eye:

This quote is clearly taken out of context because Darwin continues:

In this case, the originally quoted sentence is a rhetorical device: Darwin is first admitting to the 'seeming' strength of a criticism in order to better refute it. Darwin, in fact, goes on to devote three further pages to this subject, all of arguing as to why he believes the original objection to be unwarranted. Thus, presenting the original sentence alone gives the reader a false impression of what Darwin thinks about the subject: that he thinks a problem is unsolvable, when in fact in context he was merely admitting that it might seem unsolvable, at first. The creationist organization "Answers in Genesis" has noted the unfairness of quoting Darwin in this way, and urged others not to use the quote without including the following explanatory material.

Expelled's Darwin quote

In the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, to support of his claim that the theory of evolution inspired Nazism, the movie's host, Ben Stein, attributes the following statement to Charles Darwin's book The Descent of Man:

Stein stops there, then names Darwin as the author in a way that suggests that Darwin provided a rationale for the activities of the Nazis. However, the original source shows that Stein has significantly changed the text and meaning of the paragraph, by leaving out whole and partial sentences without indicating that he had done so. The original paragraph (page 168) (words that Stein omitted shown in bold) and the very next sentences in the book state:

According to John Moore writing in the National Post:

The Expelled Exposed website also points out that the same misleading selective quotation from this passage was used by anti-evolutionist William Jennings Bryan in the 1925 Scopes Trial, but the full passage makes it clear that Darwin was not advocating eugenics. The eugenics movement relied on simplistic and faulty assumptions about heredity, and by the 1920s evolutionary biologists were criticizing eugenics. Clarence Darrow, who defended the teaching of human evolution in the Scopes trial, wrote a scathing repudiation of eugenics.

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