On Sunday (August 4), the scientist tweeted some rather unhelpful statistics, pointing out some forms of death that are more common than mass shootings. For some reason, he thought it would be appropriate to point out, "Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data."
In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) August 4, 2019
On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose…
500 to Medical errors
300 to the Flu
250 to Suicide
200 to Car Accidents
40 to Homicide via Handgun
Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.
Predictably, many people responded with anger. Many pointed out that, while the U.S. is taking measures to address other forms of preventable death, no such measures are being taken with guns. Others questioned the validity of some of the statistics, while Smash Mouth responded with a simple "FUCK OFF!!!! There's your data!!!!" Songwriter Phoebe Bridgers chimed in, "10 out of 10 scientists agree I wouldn't be sad if you died."
FUCK OFF!!!! There's your data!!!!— Smash Mouth (@smashmouth) August 4, 2019
10 out of 10 scientists agree I wouldn't be sad if you died. https://t.co/ECvY6h97uW— millennial falcon (@phoebe_bridgers) August 5, 2019
Now, Tyson has issued an apology of sorts. In a Facebook post titled "TweetStorm," he wrote that he had hoped to "shape conversations and reactions to preventable ways we die" in an effort to save future lives. He has now acknowledged that the tweet was unhelpful to those in shock or grieving. Read the message below.
Yesterday, a Tweet I posted in reaction to the horrific mass shootings in America over the previous 48 hours, killing 34 people, spawned mixed and highly critical responses.
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.
Neil deGrasse Tyson