Over the weekend, Neil DeGrasse Tyson bizarrely fired off a tone-deaf tweet that crunched the “data” on certain causes of death in any given 48 hours. As you’re probably aware by now, this was his reaction to news of twin mass shootings in the U.S. that killed dozens of Americans. Tyson’s response pointed out that a lesser number of people died by “Homicide via Handgun” as opposed to, say, car accidents and the flu, and he added, “Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.” It remains unclear why Tyson believed this statement would be useful to help halt these tragedies, and it seemed mildly critical toward the outpouring of emotion following mass shootings.
Following a massive roasting on Twitter, Tyson may have gotten the point. At the very least, he accepts that his tweet was “miscalculated” and perhaps “true but unhelpful.” The astrophysicist and science communicator has now issued a apology on Facebook. Here’s the essence of his explanation:
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.
Tyson appears to now comprehend that there’s a time and place for such a response, and he missed out on both factors this weekend. He goes on to apologize for not anticipating the effect that his tweet would have, and he expresses thankfulness for a lesson learned on reactions to his sentiments while concluding, “I got this one wrong.” Indeed, and maybe the next time the urge to spread “data” on an unavoidably emotional subject arises, he could stick to criticizing Frozen 2 instead? That would prompt a different kind of backlash but a preferable one.