An Evaluation of Alleged Misquoting by Creationists—the Case of Jim Foley

Author: Dr. Jerry Bergman
Subject: Credibility of Creationists
Date: 10/11/2004

Abstract

The claim by Darwinists that  “misquoting” by creationists is universal, or close to it, was investigated in this paper, and a specific example was examined and shown to be incorrect.  Specifically, the claims of Jim Foley were evaluated and were shown to be totally erroneous.  The case I examined, Foley claimed, was one of the worst cases he has identified of creationist misquoting.  I have also evaluated at many other cases of alleged creationist misquoting and concluded the claim of misquoting is usually actually an attempt to misrepresent the creationist, although in some cases it was due to typographical errors, sloppiness, or was in a few cases actually contrived by anti-creationists.

Introduction

One of the most common claims made by many Darwinists (and especially groups called freethinkers, agnostics, atheists, humanists, and skeptics) is that creationists in general regularly misquote from others to try to make their case.  Professor Kitcher (1982, pp. 181-185) even claims that lying and distortion characterize creationists, claiming “for the creationists misleading quotation has become a way of life.”  A Google.com search found hundreds of “misquoting” claims, and some were no doubt valid.  The concern is, “is this problem more common among creationists?”  I will argue it is actually less common, at least by those academics associated with the major creationist organizations.  One example of a putative misquote is discussed in an article by Jim Foley found at  <http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/a_nebraska.html>.

Who is Jim Foley?

Jim Foley (on his website he goes by Jim, not James) is a very active opposer of all forms of creationism.  He has placed over 357 files (4,750,000 bytes) on his web site titled “fossil Hominids” FAQ at talk.origins Archive.  An indication of the type of arguments he commonly uses is revealed by the fact that on his website he frequently calls creationists inappropriate names, such as “stupid”, and claims that to argue with a creationist one “might as well argue with a squid” (2004, p. 2).  He admits his qualifications to write on human evolution are “in a word: none,” except a lot of reading (p. 2). He concludes “creationism is dreadful science” and that as a result of  “a campaign to evangelize fundamentalist religion” creationists are “running scared from the evidence” (2004, p. 1). I have not been able to verify anything about either his education or his line of work.  He evidently is employed in the computer field.

An evaluation of Foley’s Claims

So as not to be charged with misquoting here, I am printing below Foley’s entire article about this case.  Following the article I have included my detailed analysis of Foley’s claims.

Creationists’ Arguments: Misquotes

 

This file contains some of the more blatant instances in which creationists have misquoted their sources when writing about human evolution. In all cases where the text has been made bold the emphasis has been added by me.

Jerry Bergman, in an article about Nebraska Man (The History of Hesperopithecus haroldcookii Hominoidea, Creation Science Research Quarterly, 30:27-34, 1993) makes the following statement:

 

Nebraska Man also had a great patriotic significance because it was the first evidence, according to Osborn,

 

after seventy-five years of continuous search in all parts of our great Western territory of a [higher] primate. Evidence of this anthropoid ape-man was also proof that some primitive humans lived in America, and some speculated that it may even prove that mankind in North America predated European and African humans. We have all eagerly looked forward to such a discovery (quoted in Blinderman, 1985, p.48)

 

However, the quoted paper (Blinderman 1985: The curious case of Nebraska man. Science 85, June:47-9) makes no such statement! Blinderman said:  So Nebraska Man had great patriotic significance. “This is the very first evidence,” Osborn wrote, “after seventy-five years of continuous search in all parts of our great western territory, of a [higher] Primate. … we have all eagerly looked forward to such a discovery ….” (ellipses by Blinderman).

The references to “ape-man” and “proof” were added, either by Bergman or by a source which he copied from. In fact, although Osborn did misidentify the Nebraska Man tooth as a primate, he deliberately did not make any claims to its status as an ape-man.

This claim has often been repeated and has even been transposed on the internet “Evolution vs. Creation Forum” to the following claim:

What else about Bergman? How about making a nonexistant [sic] line about Nebraska Man, preportedly [sic] from the journal “Science” [sic] (he flat-out added in the following line into a paragraph, right between two real lines: “Evidence of this anthropoid ape-man was also proof that some primitive humans lived in America, and some speculated that it may even prove that mankind in North America predated European and African humans” – c’mon, who would even believe that “Science” [sic] wrote the word “ape-man” in the first place???) (www.evcforum.net/ubb/Forum7HTML/000091-7.html)* 

My Response

The examples discussed in this article are claimed to be “the more blatant instances” of “Creationist … Misquotes” and presumably the worst example—the claim about my article discussed below—was listed first. For this reason, a detailed examination of this putative example of creationist misquoting will shed some light on the commonly made claim that creationists regularly misquote evolutionists. I was alerted to this claim by another web site, and ignored it until colleagues encouraged me to respond.

First of all, there is no such journal as Creation Science Research Quarterly but I did publish an article in The Creation Research Society Quarterly (30:27-34, 1993) on Hesperopithecus, so I will assume that is the article Foley quoted.  What happened was two pairs of quotation marks were left out and the section was indented incorrectly (this is no more serious than using an incorrect name for a journal as did Jim Foley in his article; We all make mistakes).  The paragraph should have read as follows:

“after seventy-five years of continuous search in all parts of our great Western territory of a [higher] primate.” Evidence of this anthropoid ape-man was also proof that some primitive humans lived in America, and some speculated that it may even prove that mankind in North America predated European and African humans.  “We have all eagerly looked forward to such a discovery” (quoted in Blinderman, 1985, p.48).

To conclude from this mistake that the quotation is an attempt to deceive requires knowledge of intent, something for which no basis of fact exists (and, in this case, Foley assumed the worst without evidence).  I had no reason to believe that the information was wrong, but I have been unable to locate the original quotation. The reference given by Blinderman was not complete (no page number was given), and I read the entire article he cited and was unable to locate the Osborn quotation that he used. Actually, when revising the article, because the quotation of concern here is a secondary source and not required to support my point, I quoted directly from Osborn himself (and omitted the Blinderman reference totally here).  The concern here is “did Osborn make any claims about Hesperopithecus status as an ape man?”  Foley implies that the quotation was doctored to prove my claim—a claim that he implies is false.

Usually when a paper finally is published, four or five reviewers and the editor go though it. As noted, what evidently happened was the quotation marks were left off of the quotation (I could not find the quotation cited in the Blinderman article; if someone finds it, please let me know). Where and how the error happened, I cannot at this date determine. As I have published around 600 articles, books, monographs etc, if each one were carefully reviewed, one likely would find minor mistakes such as this one. I have, when revising my own articles, found several myself.

In one paper, a whole paragraph was taken word for word from another source but, fortunately, this was caught by a reviewer and was corrected. In another paper, a total of six long quotes lost the indentation spacing to signal a quotation but, fortunately, I caught this when proofing the galleys. If I missed one lost indentation in this article, no doubt I would have been accused of plagiarism. In this case, I found out in converting from a Macintosh to Windows via RTF that indention is sometimes lost. To accuse one of maliciousness until one has good evidence of wrongdoing is irresponsible.  So far as I know, this is the only case where I have been accused of misquoting.

I used to have graduate students do much of my research work (a very common practice), and a few of them were not very accurate (I could check all of their work, but then I might as well have done the work myself in the first place). I now try to check everything carefully, but sometimes mistakes do slip by. A concern is how typographical errors occur.  After analyzing my own, it is apparent that some occur because many of my manuscripts are handwritten or dictated, and then typed by a secretary. At times, the secretary is unable to read my writing, but these mistakes are usually caught in proofing (and even though I always carefully proof my work, nonetheless, mistakes occasionally slip by). Part of the problem is we have had several typists at the college (some excellent, others far less accurate). The concern is not that typographical errors occur (they will occasionally occur, as every author knows, and I commonly see them in textbooks), but how many occur compared to other writers. I am not aware of any scientific survey that has assessed the average number of typographical errors per each type of article.  In my experience, though, it is a significant problem.  I often write to colleagues for off prints of their articles and, not uncommonly, find hand corrections made in the article. Those colleagues are usually evolutionists.

Mistakes are not unique to my work and, for this reason, an Erratum section is a regular feature of many journals.  The January 28, 2000 issue of Science lists six errors, for example.  Darwin himself, in his Origin, made thousands (yes thousands) of changes that appeared in later editions.  One study found

The scale which Darwin carried out five revisions makes is impossible without … a [variorum] text, to comprehend the development of his book.  Of the 3, 878 sentences in the first edition, nearly 3,000, about 75 per cent, were rewritten from one to five times each.  Over 1,500 sentences were added, and of the original sentences plus these, nearly 325 were dropped.  Of the original and added sentences there are nearly 7,500 variants of all kinds.  In terms of net added sentences, the sixth edition is nearly a third as long again as the first (Peckham, 1959 p. 9).

 

Darwin made hundreds of changes to correct errors or to clarify points that were misunderstood in the earlier editions of his books.  Barrett, et al. (1987, pp. 1136-1137), listed 70 “errors” in the text of Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Darwin himself listed 25 errors (p. 1135).  Another concern is, in endeavoring to use one’s time wisely, one must ask if the additional energy required to produce a totally error-free article versus a 99.9% error-free article is even worth it.  After this typographical concern surfaced, I endeavored to recheck several of the articles I had published.  This requires locating the books, sometimes on inter-library loan if I cannot locate my own copy—a difficulty considering my library has over 40,000 books (it is generally organized, but I do misplace material).  The last article I reviewed, I spent a total of nine hours checking all the quotes, and located only two typographical errors, one comma was omitted (which was not required anyway), and another substituted a word that did not change the original meaning.  Was investing nine hours of time worth it to correct these errors?  I believe that it was, but it means that work on another paper was put off for another two days.

Furthermore, I perceive that some errors by creationist are sometimes deliberate.  One colleague stated that he found the likelihood of an openly creationist letter being published in anything but a local newspaper is close to zero except if he adds typographical errors.  He usually misspells a name and claims he has found that this improves the likelihood that the letter will be published because editors are more likely to publish letters that make creationists look foolish.  Although errors are a common ploy used to discredit creationists, his perception is that it is better that the letter is published and his thoughts conveyed than to remain silent.  Most discerning persons will realize that the typographical error may detract from the paper but is irrelevant.

When evolutionists quote creationists, they are also prone to utilize “sic” in an effort to imply that the writer is incompetent.  This ploy, in my estimation, is irresponsible, and generally creationists avoid this practice while quoting others.  I usually correct the errors and simply state “The errors in the original were corrected,” or I ignore them (the errors are often not major, but often a matter of judgment as to the best punctuation, or English usage rules, which varies according to place and time). I commonly find errors in the many papers and book manuscripts that I review, but do not go around accusing the authors of dishonesty, but, at the most, of carelessness.

Studies have found that incorrect references are fairly common in the scientific literature (Simkin, et al., New Scientist, Dec. 14, 2002). Several studies have concluded that scientists are “sloppy reporters” because many do not bother to read the original papers that they cite (Muir, 2002, p. 12).  Mikhail Simkin and Vwani Roychowdhury of the University of California, Los Angeles, while studying how information is spread, noticed from examining a citation database that reference misprints were “fairly common.”  They also found that many of the mistakes are identical, suggesting that many scientists simply copied a reference from another paper rather than read the original. To determine how common this problem is, Simkin and Roychowdhury evaluated the citation data for a famous 1973 scientific paper that they found was cited 4,300 times. The study found

that fully 196 citations contained misprints in the volume, page, or year.  Despite the fact that a billion different versions of erroneous reference are possible, they counted only 45.  The most popular mistake appeared 78 times.  The pattern suggests that 45 scientists, who might well have read the paper, made an error when they cited it.  Then 151 others copied their misprints without reading the original  (Muir, 2002, p. 12).

The researchers concluded that no one bothered to read the paper that they cited in at least 77 per cent of the 196 misprinted citations identified.

The researchers found similar patterns for the dozen other high-profile papers that they researched.  Another study led by Peter Davey at the University of Dundee on the evolution of antibiotic resistance concluded that “many researchers fail to meet even the minimum standards required to make their research useful.”  Davey concluded that “Seventy percent of what is published is a waste of time.”  When Davey’s team reviewed the papers, they found that only 26 percent of them met what they determined were minimum research criteria (Tuma, 2002, p. 23). According to these studies, my reference errors are below average (but not perfect).

Are Foley’s Charges Correct?

A typographical error (which is all that has been shown to have occurred in this case) is quite different from my trying to mislead readers as Jim Foley has claimed. The quotation adds nothing to the paper, and the charge against me is not only inaccurate, but slanderous. The major concern is whether the claim that Osborn did “not make any claims” that Nebraska Man was “an ape-man” but only a “primate” is accurate. In fact, Osborn referred to “Nebraska Man” as more than an “ape-man,” specifically as a man-ape (stressing human traits), and he did say in print that this “discovery” was “proof that some primitive humans lived in America” in numerous places.

One example is from The Forum (Vol. 73, June 1925, pp. 800-801) where Osborn said that Hesperopithecus was “irrefutable evidence that the man-apes wandered over from Asia into North America.”  Osborn adds that this “little tooth speaks volumes of truth” in support of his conclusion.  I located other quotes that said the same thing (see Osborn, 1925, pp. 42-43, where he said the tooth “speaks to the presence of the higher or manlike apes in our Western country” (emphasis in both cases mine).  Scurrilous and totally unjustified attacks such as Foley’s were a major factor that influenced me to move from my former agnostic worldview to a theistic and, eventually, to a creation world view.  

The Implications of this Example

When one attempts to disprove the arguments of an article by pointing out minor typographical errors, it clearly indicates that one lacks a factual case against the article (if one did, one would present one’s case).  Furthermore, when one’s claims are quite simply wrong, this indicates gross irresponsibility and lack of even basic research.  The fact is, some people (especially many Darwinists) try to “treat publications as if they are carved in stone” when, in fact, research “is a dynamic enterprise, and a publication is only a chapter in ongoing debates” (Purugganan, 2003, p. 117).  Yet Foley throws in my face a minor typographical error (which does not change the facts) over a decade after the article was written. A comparable example is someone charging Jim Foley of lying about the existence of nonexistant journals or concluding that, if he cannot even get the title of the journal that he reviewing an article out of correct that he cannot be trusted.

Another Example

A quotation regarded by a veteran creation misquotation hunter (Hoagland, 2002, pp. 4-5) as “one of the worst misquotes ever,” was from a Watchtower publication.  This quotation “has given JWs much bad publicity on Usenet. Lewontin himself wasn’t very happy about it.”  The quotation, from the book  Life—How Did It Get Here?  By Evolution or by Creation? (1985, p. 143, Chapter 11 “The Amazing Design of Living Things”) is as follows:

Evolutionist Richard Lewontin admitted that organisms “appear to have been carefully and artfully designed,” so that some scientists viewed them as “the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer.” It will be useful to consider some of this evidence (quoted from my copy of the book which was not the same as that printed in the article by Hoagland).

The entire quotation from Scientific American (Vol. 239, Sept. 1978, p. 213), italicized to highlight the section used in the section above, is as follows:

The manifest fit between organisms and their environment is a major outcome of evolution…. Life forms are more than simply multiple and diverse, however. Organisms fit remarkably well into the external world in which they live. They have morphologies, physiologies and behaviors that appear to have been carefully and artfully designed to enable each organism to appropriate the world around it for its own life. It was the marvelous fit of organisms to the environment, much more than the great diversity of forms, that was the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer. Darwin realized that if a naturalistic theory of evolution was to be successful, it would have to explain the apparent perfection of organisms and not simply their variation.

When I showed this quotation to Darwinists, they were “horrified,” but when I showed it to a class of college students they could not understand what the concern was over. The Watchtower here may be misleading, and it is true that it is not always accurate, but if this is the “worst misquote” ever, this implies that judgments on misquoting are less clear cut than critics would like us to believe.  

Summary

The common misquote claim is a ploy to discourage others from considering creationist arguments.  The implication is that creationists are not to be trusted, thus it is a waste of time to read their articles.  When I was deeply involved in the atheistic movement as a young man, the finding that many Darwinists were not honest (or accurate), and that academic creationists, in contrast, were more often accurate, was an important factor in my acceptance of the theistic world view.  Conversely, Foley implies that creationists universally misquote (and many creationist critiques openly claim that all creationists routinely misquote or are otherwise dishonest) in an effort to deceive, but imply that Darwinists are above reproach in this regard.

It is true that some creationists are irresponsible, but several of the major creationist organizations are now aggressively trying to critique those persons who claim to be, or are identified as, creationists who fail to live up to professional academic standards in their work (see the Answers in Genesis website for numerous examples).  Fortunately, respected, fair and unbiased researchers are making inroads in counteracting the slanderous, often blatantly bigoted, claims of many Darwinists such as those discussed in this paper (see, for example, Witham,  2002).

* My response to the web site section quoted above is it is typical of the attacks against theists and contains many mistakes in addition to those Foley made. For example the journal was not Science but Science 85, a very different journal published for a different purpose.  Science 85 was a general science magazine for general audiences that is now out of business. Furthermore, as documented above, the inference in the quotation is that a scientific journal would not use the term “ape-man” as found in the statement “c’mon, who would even believe that “Science” wrote the word “ape-man” in the first place???” is simply not true. 

References

Barrett, Paul H., et al. (editors).  1987.  A Concordance to Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and                     Selection in Relation to Sex.           Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Bergman, Jerry. 1993.  The History of Hesperopithecus haroldcookii HominoideaCreation  Research Society Quarterly, 30(1):27-34.

Blinderman, Charles.  1985.  “The Curious Case of Nebraska Man.”  Science 85 6(6):46-49.

Darwin, Charles.  1959.  The Origin of Species.  A variorum text edited by Morse Peckham.  Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Foley, Jim.  2002.  “Creationists Arguments:  Misquotes.”

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/misquotes.html.

Hoagland, Jan S.  2002.  “Misquotations in the Creation Book.”    http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/6040/cemisq.htm

Kitcher, Philip. 1982. Abusing Science; The Case Against Creationism. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.

Muir, Hazel.  2002.  “Misprinted Citations Finger Scientists Who Fail to do their Homework.” New Scientist, 176(2373):12.

Osborn, Henry Fairfield.  1925.  The Earth Speaks to Bryan.  New York: Scribners.

Purugganan, Michael.  2003.  Interview.  Nature 421:117.

Tuma, Rabiya.  2002.  “Sloppy Studies ‘Wasting Time’.”  New Scientist, October 12, p. 23.

Witham, Larry.  2002.  Where Darwin Meets the Bible.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Appendix

Comments on the above article:

One reviewer wrote “I don’t think Foley’s gnat-bite is worth driving him into the ground for 10 pages.”

My response:

            I see this line of attack as a major way used to silence the creationist world view (and intelligent design as well), and thus I believe that we must respond to it, especially since many of these charges are contrived or, at-the-least, very distorted, as this article illustrates.  I am trying to address the whole problem, and used Foley’s article as a good example.