Sunday, March 22, 2009

DI Mouthpiece and Quote-mining

One of the many targets of opportunity over at the Discovery institute is Casey Luskin. I know I have talked about him a little bit before. But I think he's really out-done himself this time. The sheer number of times he's made himself a target is truly staggering, but this time he's really made it so easy.

First a little about little Casey. First up, he's a lawyer! Yup, that's right, he's a lawyer. His current job is Program Officer in Public Policy & Legal Affairs for the DI, more specifically the Center for Science and Culture, formerly called the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture at the DI. He does have an Earth Science degree, which I believe he earned specifically because he wanted something to beat up Biologists with. However, I wanted you to know he is NOT a scientist, he is not working as a scientists, and as far as I can tell he has NEVER worked as a scientist. Lauri Lebo identified him as a "staff attorney at the Discovery institute" in her excellent book "The Devil in Dover". No, he wasn't on the legal team, he stood around outside handing out press releases, claiming how everyone against Intelligent Design was lying. Yea, real scientific. I guess his legal skills are as honed as his scientific skills.

OK, so what has he been up to lately. Well the non-scientist has taken it upon himself to critique the work of real scientists. Actually 'critique' seems to be a much stronger word. What Casey has been doing is quote-mining the work of Kevin Padian and Nick Matzk. Now if you aren't sure what I mean by quote-mining, basically it is taking quotes and using them out of context in order a draw a conclusion, usually in conflict with the original work. I discussed it in blog posts "Quote Mining" and "More on Quote Mining", which has my favorite example of quote-mining which shows how Ben Stein did it to Charles Darwin during his mockmentary "Expelled".

Well Casey tried to take on Kevin Padian -- a Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Curator of Paleontology, University of California Museum of Paleontology and President of the National Center for Science Education; and Nicholas J. Matzke currently a doctoral student in evolutionary biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Nick is also the former Public Information Project Director at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and served an instrumental role in NCSE's preparation for the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial. One of his chief contributions was discovering drafts of Of Pandas and People which demonstrated that the term "intelligent design" was later substituted for "creationism". He's also co-authored many papers critical of the DI's work. Needless to say I doubt Kevin and Nick are on Casey's Christmas Card list.

Whatever the reason, rather than do an actual critique, Casey simply did a little quote-mining and tried to change the purpose of their paper. Mike Dumford, a graduate student in the Department of Zoology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, pointed this out on his blog "The Questionable Authority". in the article "Casey Luskin, Galloping Paranoia, and Not Taking Intelligent Design Seriously" he takes Casey to task over his quote-mining. Take a look, apparently Casey literally grabbed several quotes from different parts of the paper and pulled them together in a way that changed the meaning, or at least in a way that makes it seem to change the meaning. Luskin didn't even make it challenging -- which pretty well sums up little Casey!

In other words he did a Number 3! Do you remember RationalPortion's advice on determining whether or not what you are reading has been quote-mined? Here is a reminder:

The most interesting part is how to tell if you are reading quote-mined nuggets:
  1. Is the quote being used in a way that incriminates the source of the quote? (i.e. An outspoken supporter of 2nd Amendment rights being quoted as saying something against gun ownership)
  2. The usage of an ellipsis in the middle of the quote (i.e. "Despite what researchers learned of the links between cancer and smoking ... cancer was not caused by cigarette smoking alone.")
  3. "Broken quotes" -- quotes which are split into smaller pieces and arranged like Frankenstein's monster, held together with narrative. (i.e. Senator Clinton said that she supports "withdrawing from Iraq" as quickly as possible because "Iran is a dangerous threat to be reckoned with.")
  4. Poor or absent citation of source. Attributing the quote to someone by name, but not specifying the specific source of the quote.
See what I mean, Casey pulled a Number 3. Now Mike isn't the only one who has a good handle on just how 'informed' Casey is. PZ Myers, over on Pharyngula posted "Junky Genomes, Again" which brings Casey's honesty into question yet again. Pretty much more of the same. Last year the DI handed out an award named after little Casey, the Casey Luskin Graduate Award. Funny how last years winner remained anonymous! Maybe it's not so prestigious after all! Plus the winner was graduating with a degree in history! You know this would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic!


  1. Nice. :D

    You know -- I would like to believe that quote mining is something that's done by people on both sides of the political spectrum, and that I'm not seeing it on the left-leaning side because I'm biased -- but honestly, I just don't see it!

    It seems to be a trick common to both Republican/Conservatives as well as Creationists / ID supporters. Why do you think that is?

  2. I think anyone who quote-mines doesn't think their target audience will check on it, and simply accept it as gospel. Why check the facts when you are hearing something that aligns with your personal beliefs.

    Of course why check the facts when someone says something that goes against your beliefs, because you might learn something and find yourself questioning those beliefs. Oh we can't have people questioning belief systems! It's easier to be a sheep and follow blindly and believe the 72 virgins or eternal life -- whatever the belief system claims is waiting.

    People who quote-mine must know they are lying, but they do it anyway. I try and always provide the original source link so folks can check for themselves the quote and read the content and intent of the original words!