Neil deGrasse Tyson has created a firestorm online after he tweeted a list of statistics of lives lost to things like auto accidents, medical errors and the flu compared to those claimed by mass shootings.
“In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings,” the astrophysicist’s Sunday tweet began. “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.”
The “StarTalk Radio” host tweeted August 4 in response to the widespread media coverage of two back-to-back mass shootings that occurred in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend.
In Texas, gunman Patrick Crusius killed 22 people using an assault-style weapon at a Walmart. During the incident, which federal authorities are treating as a case of domestic terrorism, according to CNN, some two dozen people were injured.
Then, less than 24 hours later, another shooting erupted in Ohio where 9 people were killed by Connor Betts, who the Washington Post reported wielded an AR-15-like assault weapon and opened fire at Ned Peppers bar. The incident left 27 people injured.
Many online took major issues with Tyson’s tweet.
“Undeniable proof that knowledge and wisdom do not always co-exist.”
“Wow, just wow. 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–K YOU soulless asshole. This is the most heartless tweet in history of social media. Congratulations heartless1”
“Imagine getting murdered only to have this f–king guy go up to your friends and family and tell them ‘you know, statistically around 50 people died of heart disease during this funeral alone!’”
“For me, the spectacle of a once-respected scientist now yields data. 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.”
“I’m in college for engineering right now, and this is exactly the mentality many of the people had. For those students to be so smart, they are also so ignorant.”
The backlash prompted an apologetic statement from Tyson by Monday morning.
“My intent was to offer objectively true information that might help shape conversations and reactions to preventable ways we die,” he said after explaining what he meant by the tweet. “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,” he continued in conclusion. “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.”
Still, the apology did little to smooth things over with Twitter users.
“Yeah we get it, bad timing on your part. It was insensitive after such tragic heartbreaking attacks. Dying from illnesses & accidents are not the same emotionally for those who are hunted down & murdered in cold blood. Especially with children involved.”
“‘if you are one of those people, I apologize for not knowing in advance what effect my Tweet could have on you’ 🙄”
“It was a very insensitive response to tragedy, as a great science communicator you have a responsibility to be more thoughtful, I am very disappointed.”