Famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, took to Facebook to issue an apology after tweeting in response to last weekend’s almost back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
The scientist’s original tweet compared the number of deaths in the shootings to other fatal events such as deaths from the flu and suicides:
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.
The tweet received a tsunami of backlash. Some called his statement “soulless” and “heartless.” Others said that Tyson was “tone deaf” and engaging in “false equivalency.”
You’re a scientist, you understand false equivalency, yeah? How many of those things you listed are done with purposeful, malicious intent? Quit being Edgelord, Ph.D on Twitter.— Anthony Carboni (@acarboni) August 5, 2019
For me, the spectacle of a once-respected scientist now yields data.— Annie Gabston-Howell- (@AnnieGabstonH) August 5, 2019
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.
Early Monday morning, Tyson posted the following statement on his Facebook page:
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.Respectfully SubmittedNeil deGrasse Tyson
On Saturday, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius fatally shot 20 people and injured 26 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Crusius has since been identified as an extreme right-wing white nationalist with a vendetta against immigrants.
Approximately 13 hours after that mass shooting, Dayton, Ohio, suffered its own active shooting incident. Connor Betts, a 24-year-old white male, killed nine people and injured 27 outside of a popular bar in Dayton.