Creationist Wisdom — Example 79: Quote-Mining

CREATIONISTS frequently engage in the shady practice of quote-mining, quoting material out of context to create the impression that an expert somehow rejects the theory of evolution.

The practice is inexcusable, because it requires fraudulent intent to pluck such quotes from a source that obviously isn’t creationist. The fraud is easily exposed when the original source is consulted, but quote-mined articles are never corrected. Creationists are confident that their followers won’t bother to verify their claims.

If you’d like to see the latest example of this technique, we’ve got one from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) — truly the fountainhead of creationist wisdom. They’ve posted something we virtually predicted: Does Altered Fish Vision Exhibit Evolution?

But first, we need to put this in context. A week ago we posted Why We Can See Blue Sky, about the first fish known to have switched from ultraviolet vision to violet vision — thus acquiring the ability to see blue light. We quoted one of the researchers who made what we thought was an unfortunately-worded statement. That statement was this, with the troublesome portion in red for emphasis:

“Evolutionary biology is filled with arguments that are misleading, at best,” Yokoyama says. “To make a strong case for the mechanisms of natural selection, you have to connect changes in specific molecules with changes in phenotypes, and then you have to connect these changes to the living environment.”

We knew that would be a problem, and we said:

Very nice, but we sense an opportunity for the quote-miners here. Yokoyama may wish he had been more circumspect in his phraseology.

We even suggested what we thought the researcher had intended to say, and we worded it in a way that would be less vulnerable to quote-mining. Our wording was:

Now that research like this is possible, we have the ability to test specific predictions of evolutionary biology and to provide empirical support for theory at a level of detail not previously attainable.

It was the researchers’ paper, not ours, so they wrote it their way. But we knew the quote-miners would find it. ICR’s “creation science” researchers didn’t disappoint us. Here are a few excerpts from their creationist account of that discovery, with bold font added by us:

Biologists recently analyzed special proteins in fish eyes that capture light photons, making vision possible. By comparing the sequences of a critical protein from different fish, they identified a particular alteration that likely occurred somewhere along the line of this fish’s ancestry.

We already know that. Let’s read on:

Emory University evolutionary biologist Shozo Yokoyama admitted in a university press release, “Evolutionary biology is filled with arguments that are misleading, at best …. To make a strong case for the mechanisms of natural selection, you have to connect changes in specific molecules with changes in phenotypes, and then you have to connect these changes to the living environment.”

Ooooooh! He admitted it! We’ve been exposed!

Actually, Yokoyama was clumsily saying only that the techniques he and his team used provided a new avenue for research. He’s quoted here, at the website of EurekAlert! (the online news service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) as follows:

“Normally, amino acid changes cause small structure changes, but in this case, a critical amino acid was deleted,” Yokoyama says. “The finding implies that we can find more examples of a similar switch to violet vision in different fish lineages,” he adds. “Comparing violet and UV pigments in fish living in different habitats will open an unprecedented opportunity to clarify the molecular basis of phenotypic adaptations, along with the genetics of UV and violet vision.”

There you are — his work provides an “unprecedented opportunity to clarify” certain molecular changes, because, as EurekAlert! says:

Their results provided a reference framework for further research, and helped bring to light the limitations of studies that rely on statistical analysis of gene sequences alone to identify adaptive mutations in proteins.

That’s the context for Yokoyama’s unfortunate statement that “Evolutionary biology is filled with arguments that are misleading, at best,” but the way ICR presents it, Yokoyama has openly declared that virtually all of evolutionary biology is “misleading at best.”

What else does ICR say? We continue:

The expectation of a loss of function follows from the creation model, which holds that creatures were originally designed with the highest levels of genetic organization and have been gradually losing information since.

[…]

This fish eye research, an endeavor to investigate evolutionary development, merely highlighted a loss of function due to the deletion of a small part of a protein. As such, it has nothing to do with wholesale gain of the type of new genetic information necessary to build a fish from a single-celled ancestor, as the evolutionary tale requires.

Got it? This isn’t evolution, it’s just loss of function — as creationism predicts.

Here’s ICR’s last paragraph:

Thus, the changes that occurred in these fish eyes point to the corruption that entered the world with humanity’s rebellion against God, resulting in the situation observed today in which “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

If the article from ICR seems like a tangled wreck — with a bit of quite-mining tossed onto the pile, you’re right. That’s creationism. So be prepared to see Yokoyama’s “Evolutionary biology is filled with arguments that are misleading, at best” being endlessly repeated at creationist websites, and then spammed into the comments section of pro-science blogs. That’s how the game is played.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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4 responses to “Creationist Wisdom — Example 79: Quote-Mining

  1. I hope they get quote-miner’s lung. That’ll teach ’em.

    *scowl*

  2. retiredsciguy

    LRA, would that be “Flack Lung Disease”?

  3. it’s interesting that the Wikipedia article (the first link above) emphasizes creationism. Creationists will surely whine that it’s biased, but the plain fact is that they practically “own” the process. No other line of argument so thorougly depends on it. I can’t imagine how anti-evolution approaches as radically different as ICR’s and the DI’s could co-exist without it.

    For more relevant detail, see reference 23 in the Wikipedia article : John Pieret’s “The Quote Mine Project.”

  4. Gabriel Hanna

    Creationists will surely whine that it’s biased, but the plain fact is that they practically “own” the process.

    Quoting people out of context has a long and ignoble history. Other than creationists, I can only think of Holocaust deniers who routinely practice it. Look for global warming skeptics to take it up, though.