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Neil deGrasse Tyson blasted for 'heartless' mass killings tweet, saying hundreds more die in same time frame due to flu, car accidents

'Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data'

Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage

Astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson is being lambasted for tweeting that while 34 people were "horrifically lost" in the Texas and Ohio mass killings, hundreds more die during the same time frame due to the flu, car accidents, suicide, and medical errors.

"Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data," he added after listing statistics.

While some defended Tyson's words, there was a noticeable degree of outrage over them.

"Wow, just wow," one commenter replied. "That makes the shootings OK then. Their innocent dead bodies arriving at the morgues are just statistics. Everything explained then. You're so smart. F*** YOU soulless a**hole. This is the most heartless tweet in history of social media."

Others shared the latter sentiment:

  • "This is a bad take; it's tone deaf, and cold."
  • "One less person willing to follow you because of your inability to understand the difference between murder, for the sake of inspiring terror, and a car accident."
  • "Undeniable proof that knowledge and wisdom do not always co-exist."
  • "I genuinely love you Neil, but I have to ask how someone so smart can say something this dumb."
  • "Last night someone's family was murdered. I told them not to react to spectacle and showed them data on car accidents & flu, then told them not to get carried away. Strangely, they didn't appreciate my advice. Thanks, Neil."

Tyson responds

On Monday morning Tyson posted a TweetStorm in regard to the "highly critical responses" his initial tweet generated, and he concluded that "I got this one wrong":

If you missed it, I offered a short list of largely preventable causes of death, along with their average two-day death toll in the United States. They significantly exceeded the death toll from the two days of mass shootings, including the number of people (40) who on average die from handgun homicides every two days.

I then noted that we tend to react emotionally to spectacular incidences of death, with the implication that more common causes of death trigger milder responses within us.

My intent was to offer objectively true information that might help shape conversations and reactions to preventable ways we die. Where I miscalculated was that I genuinely believed the Tweet would be helpful to anyone trying to save lives in America. What I learned from the range of reactions is that for many people, some information — my Tweet in particular — can be true but unhelpful, especially at a time when many people are either still in shock, or trying to heal — or both.

So if you are one of those people, I apologize for not knowing in advance what effect my Tweet could have on you. I am therefore thankful for the candor and depth of critical reactions shared in my Twitter feed. As an educator, I personally value knowing with precision and accuracy what reaction anything that I say (or write) will instill in my audience, and I got this one wrong.

More reaction

Again, some folks were sympathetic to Tyson:

  • "You don't need to apologize. It was good data. People taking it emotionally is on them not you."
  • "Don't apologize to over emotional fools. Even more so when you're correct because it validates their incorrect opinions."

However, it appeared many more weren't buying Tyson's subsequent post:

  • "This is not an apology."
  • "I've been a longtime fan, Dr. Tyson, but you are SO tone deaf it's not even funny. Sometimes you really do need to stay in your lane and sometimes it is really ok to say *nothing*."
  • "The depth of your reflection in this note is offensively shallow."
  • "Not good enough. You must acknowledge that your tweet, the tweet of a man of science, has been weaponized by the gun loving right, the same idiots who deny the science of climate change."

Anything else?

CNN noted that Tyson's take on the mass killing happened just days after his return to television following accusations of inappropriate behavior.

Tyson denied the claims, CNN reported, adding that Fox and Nat Geo announced in a statement that they concluded their investigation into sexual misconduct allegations first published by Patheos, a religion and spirituality website, in November. CNN added that the networks released no details of the investigation.

One last thing…
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