Quote miner, quote miner, pants on fire …

| 39 Comments

I was quite relieved that Jason Rosenhouse wrote his piece on William Dembski’s recent bloviations about quote-mining. Specifically, Dembski was challenging a portion of something written by Dave Mullenix and myself about a year ago published on Panda’s Thumb.* I had felt that I had an obligation to respond, but several commitments had prior claim to my time (and I simply took Monday off to go fishing).

My personal reaction to Dembski’s blog was surprise. I was far more critical of Dembski in my chapter for [u]Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism[/u] (Matt Young, Taner Edis (Editors), 2004 Rutgers University Press). But, Dembski hasn’t been able to respond to any of the critical studies found there. I was also rather pleased that our effort had been worth the attention of “the Isaac Newton” of whatever. I suspect that this is the consequence of two features of the different publications. My WIDF chapter demonstrated that Dembski’s standard claim that his “explanatory filter” was the long unsuspected theoretical basis for archaeology and forensic science is in fact absolutely false. However, throughout WIDF all the contributors were careful to only address the factual, and logical failures of the so-called “scientific aspects” of Intelligent Design Creationism.

In Dembski’s Five Questions: Number One, Dave and I showed that Dembski is dishonest. The intellectual argument in WIDF is one that Dembski is able to ignore because his followers won’t be bothered. The personal charismatic affront threatens Dembski’s money shot. Secondly, while [u]Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism[/u] is selling quite well going to the second printing, the PT blog is reaching a daily audience larger than the current sales of WIDF. (Get on the ball yuz guys and buy the book)!

Dembski started an ARN discussion thread (and then left it) regarding his distortion of Peter Ward’s writing,. Some of the comments on that venue were of such high quality that I really did not see much to add. Specifically, the poster called “N. Wells” made two comments, the first, like Jason, reiterates our point that the Ward’s intent is entirely different from Dembski’s usage. The second illustrated the manner in which Dembski abused Ward as clearly as anything I could write.

There are still points of interest left to note on Dembski’s latest round.

Dembski, “Pretty convincing indicator that the Cambrian explosion poses a challenge to conventional evolutionary theory, wouldn’t you say? Note that this is not a misquote: I indicate clearly that Ward does not support ID and there’s sufficient unedited material here to make clear that he really is saying that the Cambrian explosion poses a challenge to conventional evolutionary theory.”

Second,

Dembski, “Word of advice: if you are an evolutionist and don’t want to be quoted by evolution critics for being critical of evolution, resist the urge — don’t criticize it.’

Here, Dembski seems to be approving of misrepresentation (oh well- lying) about science in the service of creationism. Few alternatives seem to exist. Among them are, Dembski is seriously suggesting that he is not distorting Ward’s clear intent and meaning. If this is so, then we must make some major changes in how to view Dembski’s mental competence. However, the possibility exists that he has merely chosen this as a way to amuse himself waiting for the end of his brief tenure at Baylor University before moving to the more appropriate seminary setting. Alternately, Dembski is merely attempting to draw attention to himself. If so he has been successful, but at the cost of what little credibility he may have retained as a serious scholar. Dembski’s latest round seems to leave no other alternatives.

My larger intent had been to critically challenge each of Dembski’s “Five Questions.” However, I ran out of enthusiasm. As Dembski observed,

“Next thing I read on the web is a piece (co-authored by Hurd) twice as long as my original piece focused on the sin of quote-mining (go here). And, as is now standard operating procedure, the original author of the quote is contacted for comment on being ‘quote-mined.’

The facts are that it took much longer to expose just the lies from one of Dembski’s “Five Questions Evolutionists Would Rather Dodge’ that it took Dembski to write all five of them them. We had to read Dembski’s bilge, we read the quotes from the original sources (sometimes entire books we personally purchased). Ward was just one of many authors whose work had been stolen. We in fact contacted Ward merely to get the appropriate reference (which he could not remember). When I called him on the phone, he said that he couldn’t recall the proper citation even after I read to him the quote used by Dembski. It was then I mentioned that I would have to contact Dembski next and Ward asked me to convey his displeasure. However, it should be standard that the author’s of works misrepresented by creationists be contacted, and it should become standard practice that those abused authors defend their integrity by directly confronting the liars in print if not in person.

* I think that my nominating Dave as co-author was entirely appropriate as he made several substantive contributions directly leading to the paper’s writing, its content, and some language. The item would not, and could not have been written without his contribution which in my practice results in co-authorship. Dave, you need not be so modest.

39 Comments

Dembski Wrote:

And, as is now standard operating procedure, the original author of the quote is contacted for comment on being “quote-mined.”

Isn’t that just like an “evolutionist” - tattling on the IDers for insinuating support from accomplished scientists. Jeez. What a bunch of crybabies. Next they’ll be whining about having legitimate controversies within evolution being construed as controversy between evolution and ID.

Dembski is known as “the Isaac Newton etc.” because most of his intellect is devoted to theological musings which are not worthy of the respect we accord to real science.

Clearly, what began as a slur has been adopted by Dembski in the manner of a proud child who has brought home a dead cat, and the irony is lost on him ;)

hell, they do it with non-legitmate non-controversies, so why not?

Personally, if I had some creationist hack mis-quote me I would probably like to be informed about it. People might start thinking I had gone off the deep end.

I’m more and more convinced that the best model for ALL the ID DI folks is political hacks that come on after a debate and try to “spin” everything. Truth isn’t the issue, it’s all about making a good impression on people that aren’t going to bother to check things out. Their texts read more like negative political ads than anything else (“Dr. Gould _says_ he believes in evolution, but he once wrote about something called Punctuated Equilibrium! So which is it Dr. Gould?”). Take a qoute that can sound bad and play it over and over and over (“Senator Kerry says we have to pass a global test!”) totally devoid of context and original meaning.

OK, may be par for the course in politics these days, but it’s still unacceptable in scholarly or scientific discourse. Yet another reason ID has passed the crank threshold.

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not that i am the official welcoming committee or anything, but er, welcome!

It seems to me that the Creationists and ID’ers lack faith.

The logic of the evolutionary position is so well established, that if you _could_ convince YEC/ID people, it should have happened by now. Instead they require that the existence of god be proven, and evolution is one (of many) scientific arguments that calls god in question. Hence it must be “refuted” else their faith is shaken.

As an atheist myself, I am forever saddened by the narrow mindedness of (often otherwise intelligent) people when it comes to religious issues.

To get past this, is the challenge for the scientifically literate. We have achieved this in the past, with flat earth, and geocentrism falling away. Even the Catholic church has admitted its failings over Galileo.

Can we learn from this? Can we apply these lessons to the current debates?

cheers, Robert.

RJQ, I am glad you found PT. It is really good to learn that the internet resources in the appendix were helpful to someone.

Matt Young emailed and let me know that our book is gooing into a third printing. Now, if we only made some $$. Oh well, noble efforts are their own reward. Right? Wasn’t there a memo about that?

RAL, your point is well taken: the change in the religious fundamentalists will have to come from within their own number. What we must do in to effect containment (to use an old political phrase).

“Wasn’t there a memo about that?”

I think I left it in the file next to the article on why teachers should work for merit pay.

RAL Wrote:

The logic of the evolutionary position is so well established, that if you _could_ convince YEC/ID people, it should have happened by now. Instead they require that the existence of god be proven, and evolution is one (of many) scientific arguments that calls god in question. Hence it must be “refuted” else their faith is shaken.

Actually, evolution doesn’t call god in question at all. In fact, evolution doesn’t say anything about God at all.

Evolution does refute a literal translation of the creation in Genesis and THIS is what the YEC/ID people are getting upset about, one translation from a fundamentalist viewpoint (a minority among Christians).

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Dr. GH: * I think that my nominating Dave as co-author was entirely appropriate as he made several substantive contributions directly leading to the paper’s writing, its content, and some language. The item would not, and could not have been written without his contribution which in my practice results in co-authorship. Dave, you need not be so modest.

No problem, Gary, I was flattered. Has anybody read some of the threads on ARN about quote mining? I really don’t think they know what the term means. In fact, I get the impression they don’t understand how to properly quote someone in the first place. The IDea seems to be that if you don’t misspell any of the person’s words, it’s a fair quote, even if you end up totally misrepresenting the person’s true opinion, as revealed in subsequent pages after the one quoted from.

I can see where a scientist might get through college and grad school without learning much about quoting because scientific papers don’t normally have many quotes in them, but there aren’t very many scientists in the ID camp. Don’t philosophers, theologians and lawyers get taught the basics of honest quoting before they’re allowed to graduate? Are there any philosophers, theologians or lawyers reading this that can tell us if this was covered in their training?

Maybe this is a subject that just isn’t covered in ID friendly college courses. Perhaps we anti IDers are guilty of violating that old maxim, “Never attribute to dishonesty what can easily be explained by ignorance.”

we have an excellent example of a quote miner right here on PT. His name is John Davison and you can see great examples of quote mining in a lot of his posts on the Bathroom Wall. Just in case anyone out there was confused on the issue.

he very often likes to misquote Einstein on determinism.

I knew there was a reason the wise folks here on PT kept him around.

cheers

I can see where a scientist might get through college and grad school without learning much about quoting because scientific papers don’t normally have many quotes in them, but there aren’t very many scientists in the ID camp. Don’t philosophers, theologians and lawyers get taught the basics of honest quoting before they’re allowed to graduate? Are there any philosophers, theologians or lawyers reading this that can tell us if this was covered in their training?

As an attorney (and a scientist) I think I can answer part of your question.

Law students are taught about citation inaccuracies (whether the page number is correct, quotes must be verbatim, etc); they are not, for the most part, instructed in the art of evaluating references (what does the quote really mean).

To answer your question: Honest (accurate) quotations – yes. Intellectually honest quotations – no.

Quote mining is a real problem. However, so is a hairline trigger on firing the “you are a quote miner” charge, just because the in-context, referenced, and accurate relaying of the quote argues against one’s position.

So, David Heddle, do you think Dembski deserves the title or not?

GCT,

So, David Heddle, do you think Dembski deserves the title or not?

Perhaps, I don’t know– I don’t read Dembski. If he is actually using someone’s quotes to distort their position, and has been corrected, and yet persists, then of course he is wrong. If that person meant when he said when he said it, then Dembski is obligated (in my opinion) to add “but X has changed his view.” If that person’s view at the time of the quote is being distorted, then Dembski is obligated to retract. This ain’t rocket science.

According to the link provided, Ward wrote “this is the problem” followed by “and here is the answer.” And Dembski only quotes the first part. If the part he leaves off is rock solid, then there is a case to be made. If the part he leaves off is speculative, then I would say Dembski should at least refer to it to provide an accurate view of Ward’s position.

Or is it like what happens when I quote Hawking:

It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us. A brief History of Time, p. 127

It doesn’t matter how much I point out that Hawking is an athiest, does not support ID, that his quote only demonstrates that fine tuning exists in the current models, and that he then speculates on a theory that would avoid the “beginning” problem– I still get accused of quote mining.

David Heddle,

1. I asked you if Dembski deserves the title of quote miner and you did not give a definitive answer. Yes or no? He obviously has misrepresented Ward’s views (as evidenced by a reading of the text in question and from Ward’s own mouth.) Why all the “ifs”?

2. Please tell me what exactly you mean to convey with that Hawking quote? Are you implying that Hawking somehow supports cosmological ID?

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GCT,

I did answer you question. I haven’t read Dembski–but if what is reported here is accurate then he is guilty of quote mining.

You proved my point exactly. I say that Hawking doesn’t support ID, but get asked if that is my claim. No, for the gazillionth time, I only claim that Hawking’s quote points out that he recognizes fine-tuning as a problem in the standard models. Nothing more, nothing less.

David Heddle, untwist your panties, I was just asking. Jeez.

If you want to read the Dembski articles, there are links here in the posts over the last couple days that you could use to read it. I would suggest that you do read it before you start complaining about people firing off the “quote miner” label too quickly. Then, maybe you would give a yes or no answer to my question?

Which “standard models” is Hawking talking about? I haven’t read the book, so I’m looking for a little background here.

GCT,

I have no time or interest to read Dembski. I’ll leave it as I stated: If what is reported here is accurate then I agree he is quote mining. That’s as definitive as I can get.

I don’t want to get off topic, but to answer your question, Hawking was referring to the standard big-bang model. I only brought it up as an example to make the point that quote-mining is an easy charge to make.

David Heddle, perhaps you should also point out that Hawking was speaking about the anthropic principle as well (yeah, I found a link to the text on the internet.)

You have “no time or interest” to read Dembski’s article? It would take you 5 minutes. Don’t you think that 5 minutes is worth spending in order to inform yourself about a discussion before you jump into it? Or did you just jump into the discussion to complain about the treatment you and your philosophies receive here? If that is the case, I will join the Rev. in saying “Boo hoo hoo” to you.

Fascinatingly Dembski seems to be continuing his quote mining here with a 1977 quote by Gould.

Does Dembski believe that science has not progressed since 1977, especially as it pertains to the Cambrian explosion? Or is Dembski unfamiliar with the research relevant to the Cambrian explosion? Limiting oneself to Meyers’ ‘paper’ …?? I guess Dembski still believes in Wells’ ‘Icons’? Another great example of the scientific vacuity of ID… Thanks Mr Dembski.

Dembski has commented elsewhere that his career is ruined. I wonder to what extent he considers quote mining to be responsible or does he only hold others responsible for the demise? Just like ID complaining that the lack of ID relevant science is caused by some grand conspiracy, surpressing dissent and endangering careers of ID supporters?

ID, on one hand calling for ‘teach the controversy’, is quick to silence the voices of those who expose the vacuity of its claims. Dembski in his blog fails to provide any relevant links to those who exposed the vacuity of his comments although he does mention PT. Comments which critically expose the vacuity of ID are quickly removed and user accounts are deleted. Reminds me of ISCID… While the lack of relevant ID papers surely has played a role, the moderation policy surely have contributed to its demise. ID can only go so far in hiding its scientific vacuity. In fact, in their efforts to hide it, they end up exposing it. Isn’t that ironic?

It would seem that Dembski’s credibility meter is registering in the negative, if that’s possible. I wonder, why do other ID proponents brook his dissembling? His actions do more to damn the ID movement than ID opponents.

Off topic: on another PT thread someone offered that questions can be posed. I have a high school level knowledge of biology from the last millennium, so pardon any simplistic wording.

What percentage of DNA (genes?) are common among all living things?

Thanks.

What percentage of DNA (genes?) are common among all living things?

We have not sequenced all that many species. There are genes that seem to be present in most genomes that have been sequenced, but I personally could not say what the “percentage” of all genes these might represent.

If you don’t know if a person is quote mining or not, it’s more than a bit foolish to chide people about being quick on the trigger on accusations.

It’s like chiding people for accusations of right wing fundamentalism when talking about James Dobson and Pat Robertson–you look pretty naive and uninformed.

Steven Laskoski wrote

Actually, evolution doesn’t call god in question at all. In fact, evolution doesn’t say anything about God at all.

Evolution does refute a literal translation of the creation in Genesis and THIS is what the YEC/ID people are getting upset about, one translation from a fundamentalist viewpoint (a minority among Christians).

Unlike the laws of physics, which can be interpreted as God’s means of running the universe, evolution, and its non-directed nature, puts paid to the notion of God having a plan for the universe, God’s Will, man created in the image of God, etc. Evolution undermines religious belief much more than any other area of science. Traditions (so-called religions) with no notion of God’s Will provided to us as Revelation - e.g., Buddhism - aren’t so threatened by evolution.

Can I bore everyone again?

Bob Somerby wrote a very interesting post today about resolving semantic debates:

What happens in a semantic dispute? Surprise! In a semantic dispute, everyone agrees on the facts; it may not seem that way at first glance, but the facts really aren’t in dispute. Instead, people fight about favored ways to describe the facts—facts on which everyone agrees. And that’s what’s happening in the current debate (on whether Bush’s plan reduces benefits or increases cuts), where everyone does agree on the facts. …

“Which side is right?” Jackson asks. But in a real semantic dispute, that’s rarely the most helpful question to ask. Except in highly technical areas, we rarely have hard-and-fast rules prescribing the names we get to call things. For that reason, the best way to resolve a semantic dispute is to look for ways to describe the facts while avoiding the terms that are in dispute.

SOmething to thing about. I thought Sir Toejam might like this.

There’s more good stuff if you follow the link.

www.dailyhowler.com

Re “Unlike the laws of physics, which can be interpreted as God’s means of running the universe, evolution, and its non-directed nature,”

But aren’t the laws of physics “undirected” as well?

Henry

“SOmething to thing about. I thought Sir Toejam might like this.

There’s more good stuff if you follow the link.

www.dailyhowler.com”

heh. been there. how long will you let heddley hang himself on the al gore quote about atheism in the other thread?

as to why i specifically might like it… which one of my rambling missives in particular might have triggered that repsonse?

cheers

None in particular – but I know you enjoy discussing “strategery”.

lol. I think that word will go down in history as the single best word to associate with ‘ol GW.

None in particular — but I know you enjoy discussing “strategery”.

Only if it’s “nucular”.

not defending Georgie, mind you, but:

“Bush isn’t the only American president to lose the “nucular” war. In his “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine in May 2001, William Safire lamented that, besides Bush, at least three other presidents—Eisenhower, Carter, and Clinton—have mangled the word.”

on the implications of your posts…

whatchya got against heavy lifting?

not that i can’t take a ribbing, mind you.

The discussion seems to have moved on, and so shall we.

I thank the cogent commentors and will say adios to this instalment of the Dembski Follies.

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This page contains a single entry by Gary Hurd published on May 3, 2005 3:50 PM.

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