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Neil deGrasse Tyson Tries to Put Mass Shootings in Perspective

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the celebrity astrophysicist, and media personality tried to offer some statistics on Twitter to put the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton in perspective. He tweeted:

In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings.

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.

To say that Tyson’s statistics were not received well would be an understatement. Indeed, it could be safely said that more people became angry with him than at any time since he declared Pluto, not a planet.

One person calling himself or herself “#Berinie2020” summed up the feeling of the overwhelming number of people who responded to Tyson. “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— YOU soulless asshole. This is the most heartless tweet in the history of social media.”

Sometime later, Tyson offered a mea culpa of sorts on his Facebook page. It read, in part:

“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.”

Much of the reaction to the Facebook apology could be summoned up as “apology not accepted!”

As most people who have been following the news, Saturday a deranged man opened up on the parking lot of a Walmart and then entered the store to kill more people. He managed to murder 20 people and injure 26 before being apprehended. The shooter was described in the media as a white nationalist who had a particular beef against Hispanics. However, the so-called manifesto that was attributed to him also contained a rant about harm to the environment.

The Dayton shooter, who killed nine people, including his sister, near a local bar was described as a Satanist, an Antifa sympathizer, and a supporter of both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren/ He fired using a high capacity magazine for just 30 seconds before being killed by local police.

The Dayton shooter was expelled from his high school for drawing up a list of boys he would like to murder and girls he would like to rape. However, he was readmitted when he agreed to write letters to each of the people on his lists to apologize, a measure that many commentators found to be excessively mild in retrospect.

Reaction to the two mass murders that took place within the space of 12 hours was predictable and was divided along party lines. Democrats, including the presidential candidates, demanded that Congress immediately pass “common-sense gun laws.” They also blamed President Trump for the shootings, the theory is that his rhetoric, which many of his enemies have deemed to be “racist,” must have inspired these two deranged young men to shoot as many people as they could. Some Republicans blamed the shootings on violent video games, the idea being that the shooters must have been desensitized by killing virtual people on a video screen and therefore graduated to killing actual people with ease.

Tyson’s take on the incidents was unique, to say the least. Many of the people reacting to it found it to be excessively cold-blooded. Some were moved to point out the fact that Dr. Tyson had been accused of multiple cases of sexual harassment. He was “cleared” of the accusations and has been allowed to return to his position as the curator of the Haydon Planetarium and his jobs hosting Star Talk and the new version of Cosmos.

Tyson has been something of an intellectual troll on Twitter. Once he offered a tweet celebrating the birth of a famous person on December 25, that person being Sir Isaac Newton. He recently noted that the mission patch for the voyage of Apollo 11 did not contain an American flag, thus, in his view, an acknowledgment that the first moon landing was not solely an American accomplishment. Many pointed out that the patch does contain the American eagle.

However, considering the number and the vehemence to the shootings tweet, it can be safely said, as Tyson himself acknowledged, that he went too far this time.

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