Twitter is a wonderful medium for people who can only digest simple thoughts, as well as for those whose full powers of observation and analysis can be expressed in 140 characters. For everyone else, the social media device is an invitation to emote with inadequate thought, and to demonstrate undesirable character traits like arrogance, carelessness, recklessness and poor judgment.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, for better or worse, currently fills the niche of Pop Culture Smart Person, or PCSP. This is a role that has genuine cultural value, and has fallen in the past to such figures as Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Bill Nye and Stephen Jay Gould, among others. Smart people accepted by the broader culture can do more to help banish bad ideas, myths and biases than years of formal education, but they must wield their power with care, guard their credibility and appearance of integrity, and most of all, not abuse the trust of their fans.
In these matters, Tyson is a most irresponsible PCSP. He ventures into partisan politics too frequently, is a media attention addict, and worst of all, he is addicted to Twitter, where he regularly tweets factoids barely worthy of a bubble gum wrapper and makes jokes that display his sophomoric sense of humor—for example, “If you removed all arteries, veins and capillaries from your body and laid them end to end, you’d die.” Steven Wright, he isn’t.
Those tweets are just embarrassing. However, it is affirmatively damaging when a man recognized as being educated and wise issues outright false scientific facts, like he did with a recent tweet announcing,
“If Batman wants so badly to be a bat, he might be more intriguing if (like Marvel’s Daredevil) he were also blind, like a Bat.”
The statement is obtuse from a comic book perspective (Batman doesn’t want to be a bat) but also incompetent and false. Bats aren’t blind (see the photo above); that’s just an old saying. Tyson might as well have tweeted that cats have nine lives.
The man has a reputation for being intelligent, a teacher, and trustworthy. How many people did he misinform with his careless tweet, who now think bats are blind and will pass along the myth as fact to their family and friends? Typson irresponsible and abuses his influence and fame because he thinks the world is hungering for his opinions on Batman.
Worst PCSP Ever.