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.
26 thoughts on “Twitter Makes Us Stupid, Twitter Makes Neil deGrasse Tyson Look Stupid, Twitter Allows Neil deGrasse Tyson To Make His Fans Stupid”
The things you think about in the middle of the night! (There are so many responses to this post, I have to go tie a knot at the end of my mind.)
Jack. It’s interesting this post follows the previous one about DeNiro. It wouldn’t be difficult to flip the posts and argue that DeNiro is an irresponsible Cultural Icon verging on a PCSP as far as movie goers are concerned who shouldn’t show the anti vaccination movie and then argue that Tyson is entitled to his opinions in his tweets because of the importance of free speech and shutting him down would be heading onto a slippery slope.
Am I missing something?
I was going to ask you the same thing. One involves opinion, the other involves facts. Seldom would the over-used quote, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts” be more apt.
As an icon concerned with artistic opinion, I expect De Niro to support the freedom to express artistic opinion. But as an icon who is supposed to be an authority on science, Tyson has an OBLIGATION to not popularize false facts.
Tyson and Wakefield are the matches here, not Tyson and De Niro.
1. I’m not saying that Tyson shouldn’t be allowed to make an ass of himself on Twitter, and
2. When tweets are analogous to movies, we’re doomed, and
3. JFK was a pack of lies, but that should not, and didn’t, justify it getting kicked out of film festivals. And because it demonized LBJ and the Warren Commission, it was safe.
But how are “documentaries” ” artistic?” Doesn’t the term imply a factuality that is obviously not a requirement in non-documentary films? LIke the difference between the fiction and and non-fiction best sellers lists. Or areas in a library. One’s made up and the other is supposed to be based on fact.
Does being in the movie business absolve DeNiro of being a responsible human being interested in clarity rather than misdirection or outright fabrication?
I think an argument could be made that saying vaccinations cause autism is the same as saying bats are blind. Both are plain and simply wrong. Why is one artistic freedom and the other idiocy?
Does anyone consider anything Oliver Stone does a documentary?
If a documentarian scientist is entitled to the protections of artistic freedom, maybe a scientific twitterer is entitled to indulge in poetic license?
So which picture of a kid being terrorized by the Easter Bunny features a young Master Marshall?
I have been wondering that, too.
If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the one with the two boys with hats on.
Jack doesn’t have a brother. But the expressions are good and that bunny is terrifying.
Tyson plays himself in the current movie “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”. Perhaps he now considers himself an expert on superheroes?
Actually that’s kind of funny.
I throw myself on the mercy of the court.
Jack is still right – Tyson is no Steven Wright.
Now, if Tyson had tweeted something about blind bats being creatures of people adding thoughts to powdered bullshit, I would respect him more.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it a million times. Loudly. From rooftops. NDT is an astrophysicist, he has no background in biology, meteorology, engineering or any scientific field other than astrophysics. In fact, he`s been out of the lab for so long, it’s possible that he isn’t even up to date on the latest from his field. He has an interesting relationship with the truth, and enjoys the work of other people so much he repeats it verbatim. NDT is a cancer on the ass of legitimate science.
But that’s the central fraud, which the media and Tyson himself promote. Just as Einstein reveled in cute quotes that went beyond his expertise that everyone swoons over, even now, because he was a PCSP, Tyson is allowed to go far afield of his expertise because the average member of the public makes no distinction between astrophysicists and parapychologists.
The difference between Einstein and NDT is that I doubt that Einstein actually said half of those cute quotes attributed to him. But touche in general.
As bad a Tyson seems to be, he’s no Noam Chomsky who has retired the trophy for malignant PCSP.
No, only liberals and America-haters thought he was a PCSP. He is the political equivalent of Linus Pauling peddling vitamin C as a cure for the common cold.
Liberals and America-haters are a large, large group.
Still, anyone with a modicum of science education — whether or not his “specialty” is biology or animal physiology — should have known that bats are not blind. It makes me wonder if he was “trying” to make a joke about the colloquialism “blind as a bat” which people still use even though we know it to be a false analogy. Still, stupid.
I don’t really have a problem with smart people making seemingly quotable statements about things which do not comprise their official purview. One hopes that general intelligence creates an intellectual environment where an individual can indeed speak of things intelligently outside of their particular expertise. If Einstein actually stated something about human nature, for instance, I would expect it to have some level of gravitas to it. Specialization in an area of knowledge does not preclude the generalized intellect to have worthy things to say about other areas. On the other hand, just because you have an advanced degree in something, there is no reason to necessarily conclude or assume that there is generalized intellect present. The problem is that we humans DO tend to make that assumption and conclusion. And many other humans are happy to spout quotable nonsense because SOMEone is bound to think it’s interesting and, most horrifying, true.
I think you’re giving NDT an enormous benefit of the doubt. Being book smart doesn’t often track with being street smart, in fact I’d argue the opposite. I’d bet money that NDT would actually be a horrible conversation partner, and that he doesn’t know much outside his expertise or what his handlers tell him. I’d take Hank Green over NDT any day, and the Greens love them their politics even more than NDT.
Not the first time his tweeting has incinerated his pants, but my previous favorite flop of his was when Star Wars was released and he tweeted that “a real spherical metal ball droid would simply slip on the sand and not move anywhere”. (or something to that effect.)
His assumption was that BB-8 in the movie was somehow a CG creation, or CG aided, when in fact it was 100% real and did move across the sand. The movie is actual visual proof that his tweet was false.
I didn’t know that, I’d assumed it would have been easier to CGI that. The more you know!
If Neil fell into a well, would he believe that the bats could lift him out of it?