Neil deGrasse Tyson is a celebrated astrophysicist, a sought-after intellectual, a Harvard and Columbia grad, and the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium. Yet, despite all of his accolades, he can’t read a room.
Buzzkill Lightyear struck again on Thursday after tweeting about the lunar inaccuracies in the historical drama Chappaquiddick. But since the film focuses on the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28-year-old campaign strategist who drowned when Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off of a bridge in 1969, Tyson’s preoccupation with the phase of the moon is in poor taste.
“Chappaquiddick occurred just 2 days before the first lunar landing. So you’d think the Film producers would get the Moon right for July 18, 1969,” Tyson tweeted. “Kennedy sees it full, but the actual phase was a 4-day old waxing crescent that set long before the midnight tragedy. I’m just saying.”
At best, highlighting the wrongful usage of the full moon is a needless tangent, but Twitter users accused Tyson of glossing over the tragic event to make it about himself and his ability to “well actually” any situation.
Tyson is constantly policing everything from pop culture to the English language. On Earth Day — a day that should be celebrated through awareness building and clean energy resourcefulness — and as a famed scientist, Tyson had a real opportunity to showcase better environmental practices and raise awareness. Instead, he tweeted that “the perennial cry to ‘Save Earth’ is odd,” since, as most people already know, Earth “survives massive asteroid strikes” and all that.
The groan-worthy tweets don’t end there. Earlier that month, Tyson went after Friday the 13th, explaining that the date is insignificant (despite its historic cultural significance) and appearing to suggest we all stop enjoying fun holidays. As one microbiologist aptly pointed out: “Your bio should say, ‘Special skills: Ability to suck the fun out of any room.’”
However, Tyson’s buzzkill tweets might be more damaging than that, and scientists are beginning to express concern with the way in which Tyson contributes to scientific discourse online.
“Neil deGrasse Tyson’s bullshit is worth criticizing because he popularizes a rhetoric which he can promote factually, objectively wrong things from a faulty basis,” data scientist Emily Gorcenski tweeted. “This pattern has been weaponized in online rhetoric.”
Tyson’s “well actually” tweets are more than just condescending; they are sometimes factually inaccurate and harmful. The science community was livid when he tweeted in 2016: “If there were ever a species for whom sex hurt, it surely went extinct long ago.” This massive misunderstanding of sexual selection isn’t doing cats, squid, anglerfish, or nearly one in 10 women any favors.
Scientists are getting sick of the way Tyson’s tweets are pitting science against facts, films, and general fun, which is not the best usage of the discipline. So Tyson, please, for the love of science and its continued use, the next time you want to dismiss the retelling of a historic tragedy just because the moon in the background wasn’t a waning crescent, maybe take Entertainment Editor James Grebey’s advice and just don’t.