Quoting out of context

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When quoting another source, it is important to quote enough of the passage or speech to convey the true meaning. Quoting out of context, conversely, is a technique that uses isolated statements pulled from their original context in order to distort and usually contradict the intended meaning.

This technique can be used in several different ways:

  • to discredit the author of the quote
  • to discredit the idea itself
  • to gain credibility for an idea that is not supported by the full context

An example of the latter is evident in George W. Bush's attempt to justify his failure to take any decisive action to prevent or reduce global warming by using a report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), June 2001, to make claims that contradict its primary assertions. The report blamed human activities for global warming while noting that natural variables might be a contributing factor, yet the Bush administration conveniently focused exclusively on the "natural variability" factor to make the claim that the report was inconclusive as to whether global warming was caused by humans. This assertion was clearly contradicted by a more extensive reading of the report:

Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes are also a reflection of natural variability. Human-induced warming and associated sea level rises are expected to continue through the 21st century…The committee generally agrees with the assessment of human-caused climate change presented in the IPCC… report." Quoted in The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, David Corn

A slight variation of this technique is selective reasoning--choosing the facts that fit and discarding the rest.

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