Unquote

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In many political debates a body of quotes has developed that is used to attack the "other side."  When these quotes are checked it is often found that the statements are inaccurate, taken out of context, or even simple made up (see quote mining).  Many times these are simply copied from second hand sources without any attempt to check for context or accuracy.  Here are some example from the "brownlash" literature.

Beware of second hand quotes

The first example is of a quote that was both taken out of context and had several sentences added to it. (I learned of this example from Fred Gielow who put a notice on his web site after learning of the errors.) 

Here is what Dixy Lee Ray, in one of her frequent attacks on the media, claimed Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post, said (Trashing the Planet, page 76):  

To hell with the news. I’m no longer interested in the news. I’m interested in causes. We don’t print the truth. We don’t pretend to print the truth.  We print what people tell us.  It's up to the public to decide what's true.

Now here is what Bradlee said as quoted by David Brooks in The Wall Street Journal (October 5, 1989)  Bradlee was commenting on statements by other journalists that they had become advocates for the environment.  (Ray also included in her references (page 184) the cryptic note that Bradlee remarks were reported "much earlier, by John McKetta of the National Council for Environmental Balance."  Since Brooks reported that Bradlee spoke at a recent conference, it is hard to see how his comment could have been reported "much earlier"):

I don't think there's any danger in doing what you suggest.  There's a minor danger in saying it, because as soon as you say, ‘To hell with the news, I’m no longer interested in the news, I’m interested in causes,’ you’ve got a whole kooky constituency to respond to, which you can waste a lot of time on.

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The value for truth

This example comes from a section of Julian Simon's book The Ultimate Resource 2 titled "The Value for Truth".  Simon uses a lengthy quote from Haroun Tazieff's forward to Maduro and Schauerhammer's The Hole in the Ozone Scare.  (The whole quote can be found at http://www.inform.umd.edu/EdRes/Colleges/BMGT/.Faculty/JSimon/Ultimate_Resource/TCHAR40.txt ).  Simon ends his quoting on page 573 with this sentence:

Thus, the matter of presenting the industrial accident at the ICMESA factory in Seveso as an apocalyptic catastrophe was a matter of deliberate disinformation -- in less diplomatic language what one calls a lie.

By stopping here, Simon makes it appear that the environmentalists are the liars.  But if you continue in the original it is clear that Tazieff considered the manufacturers of PCBs to be the main liars.  Here is the entire paragraph (page ix):

Thus, the matter of presenting the industrial accident at the ICMESA factory in Seveso as an apocalyptic catastrophe was a matter of deliberate disinformation -- in less diplomatic language what one calls a lie.  The wherefore of this very expensive crime (just think of what is implied by a propaganda campaign on a global scale) is found in the shadowy concerns of monopolies.  The production and commercialization of PCBs was coming to an end.  These are substances, used as dielectics, whose extraordinary qualities of chemical stability, nontoxicity, nonflammability, and nonexplosivity explain why they were being used by the entire world, with annual benefits that figure in billions of dollars.  Those who held the PCB monopoly, rather than accepting the end of their control, decide to support a ban on their high-quality product and to find another patented molecule as a substitute.

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I only have eyes for yew

One of the persistent claims of the anti-Al Gore factions is that he would sacrifice people to protect yew trees.  But what he actually wrote makes it clear that that is not what he meant.  (Other sources of taxol have been found since the book was written.) From Earth in the Balance page 119:

Most of the species unique to the rain forests are in imminent danger, partly because there is no one to speak up for them.  In contrast, consider the recent controversy over the yew tree, a temperate forest species, one variety of which now grows only in the Pacific Northwest.  The Pacific yew cab be cut down and processed to produce a potent chemical, taxol, which offers some promise of curing certain forms of lung, breast, and ovarian cancer in patients who would otherwise quickly die.  It seems an easy choice--sacrifice the tree for a human life--until one learns that three trees must be destroyed for each patient treated, that only specimens more than a hundred years old contain the potent chemical, and that there are very few of these yews remaining on earth.  Suddenly we must confront some very tough questions.  How important are the medical needs of future generations?  Are those of us alive today entitled to cut down all of those trees to extend the lives of a few of us, even if it means that this unique form of life will disappear forever, thus making it impossible to save human lives in the future?  News reports about the yew and its special properties have provoked healthy debate, but who will debate the loss of species unique to the rain forest?  Scientists are a long way from identifying all species of plants and animals in the rain forests, much less discovering their possible uses in medicine, agriculture, and the like.  So as we destroy huge tracts of rain forests each year, we are also destroying thousands of species that may have as much value as the endangered yew. 

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Notorious hearsay

One of the most popular "brownlash" quotes has been attributed to Charles Wurster.  Here is the version that Elizabeth Whelan used in both editions of her book Toxic Terror (1985, page 67; 1993 page 100):

Charles Wurster, chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund [now Environmental Defense] responded to a reporter's question by stating that there are too many people and "this is as good a way to get rid of them as any," referring to the banning of DDT.  His comments caused attorney Victor Yanncone, an early opponent of DDT, to resign from the Environmental Defense Fund in disgust.  

Here is another version, from Dixy Lee Ray (Environmental Overkill, pages 76-77):

If we are to believe the statements of some people, including several well-known biologists, that was just the problem with DDT.  It saved human lives For example, in response to a reporter's question about banning DDT, Dr. Charles Wurster, who was then chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, stated that in his opinion there are too many people, and "this was as good a way to get rid of them as any."  Another statement of Dr. Wurster's was brought out in congressional testimony before the House Committee on Agriculture, 92nd Congress, first session 1971:  "It doesn't make a lot of difference because organophosphate (pesticide) acts locally and only kills farm workers, and most of them are Mexicans and Negroes."  There is no record of any media or public reaction to this shocking statement.

The reality is somewhat different.  Yanncone did not quit, he was fired (see Flattau page 211).  According to reporter Mark Moran, speaking on Living on Earth (August 20. 1993):

Victor Yannacone and his wife Carol helped found the Environmental Defense Fund in 1967. It was the dawning of a new era of environmental consciousness. For the first time, ecological activists started taking their cases to court, following the example of the civil rights movement. As EDF’s staff counsel, Yannacone won several major environmental victories, including the first air pollution case brought in an American court. But his victories came at a high price. Yannacone was deemed a poor team player and some saw him as an abrasive egomaniac. He was fired after just one year at the EDF.

If we check Ray's source, the House Hearings on the Federal Pesticide Control Act of 1971 (Serial No 92-A) a strange picture emerges.  John Rarick is questioning Edward Lee Rogers, then chief council for the Environmental Defense Fund.  Rogers was there, among other things, to present an affidavit from Charles Wurster.  (Wurster was identified as a volunteer scientist, not the chief scientist.)  Here is part of the exchange (pages 266-267)

Mr. Rarick.  Well, this would be then the same Dr. Wurster whom Mr. Yannacone, in a speech on May 20, 1970, at the Public Relations Luncheon Group of the Union League Club in New York, described at a press conference as having said this:

A reporter asked the same Dr. Wurster whether or not the use of DDT wouldn't encourage further use of very toxic materials, including nerve gas derivatives, and he said, "probably."

The Reporter then asked him if these organo phosphates did not have a long record of killing people.  And Dr. Wurster said "so what?  People are the cause of all the problems.  We have too many of them.  We need to get rid of some of them and this is as good a way as any."

Is this the same Dr. Wurster that you are later to give us an affidavit from?

Mr. Rogers.  I would say probably not.  In fact, I would say very emphatically that I would doubt very much that it is the same Dr. Wurster.  I think that perhaps it is a figment of someone's imagination somewhere.

Mr. Rarick. Do you know John Yannacone?

Mr. Rogers.  Yes, I do know Mr. Yannacone.

Mr. Rarick. He is one of the founders?

Mr. Rogers.  He is no longer with the Environmental Defense Fund, for very good reasons.

Mr. Rarick.  Would this be the same Dr. Wurster who said when asked the question, "Doctor, how do you square this killing of people with the mere loss of some birds?"  And this very eminent, well-meaning scientist said:

It doesn't really make a lot of difference because the organo phosphate acts locally and only kill (sic) farm workers and most of them are Mexicans and Negroes.

Would this be the same Dr. Wurster whose affidavit you promise to later supply us?

Mr. Rogers.  I think this is a very serious matter, that you are bringing up here, and I do not know what the rules of the committee are, but we are allowing to be read into the record what is notorious hearsay, without the advantage of rebuttal or examination of the people who reportedly made these statements.  If there is any procedure for expurging this in the record, I would ask that it be done.

The committee never questioned Yannacone.  Instead of removing the comments from the record, they put a copy of the speech into their files.  They did allow Wurster to submit a letter that was included in the transcripts (page 268):

I wish to deny all of the statements of Mr, Yannacone.  His remarks about me, attributed to me, and about other trustees of EDF are purely fantasy and bear no resemblance to the truth.  It was in part because Mr. Yannacone lost touch with reality that he was dismissed by EDF, and his remarks of May 1970 indicate that his inability to separate fact from fiction has accelerated.

I respectfully request that my denial of any truth to Mr. Yannacone's remarks be made part of the record of these hearings.

None of the authors who have quoted Wurster's alleged comments have indicated that he denied making the remarks.  No one that I know of has ever produced a transcript or other record of the supposed news conference.  And, as we have seen, Yannacone's termination has been transformed into a resignation in protest.  More examples of the use of these quotes.

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References

Edward Flattau, Tracking the Charlatans:  An Environmental Columnist's Refutational Handbook for the Propaganda Wars Global Horizons, 1998.

Dixy Lee Ray (with Lou Guzzo), Environmental Overkill:  Whatever Happened to common Sense?, HarperPerennial, 1993 

Dixy Lee Ray (with Lou Guzzo), Trashing the Planet: How Science Can Help Us Deal with Acid Rain, Depletion of the Ozone, and Nuclear Waste (Among Other Things), HarperPerennial, 1990.

Al Gore, Earth in the Balance:  Ecology and the Human Spirit, Plume, 1992.

R. A. Maduro and R.Schauerhammer, The Holes in the Ozone Scare:  The Scientific Evidence That he Sky Isn't Falling, 21st Century Science Associates, 1992.

Julian L. Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, Princeton University Press, 1996.

Elizabeth M Whelan, Toxic Terror, Jameson Books, 1985.

Elizabeth M Whelan, Toxic Terror:  The Truth Behind the Cancer Scares, Promethius Bokks, 1993

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Longer examples of questionable quotes

Stormy weather

NEW It's not what you quote that counts ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Written by Jim Norton

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