On the Arrogance of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

So, here's a chance to expain one of the reasons I so dislike Neil deGrasse Tyson: you've probably seen his Tweet this weekend reminding people( and let me preface this by saying he is absolutely correct about the facts, a.f.a.I k.) that “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.” which sounds similar to something I say: that feelings are important, but they aren't facts and cannot change or supplant facts the way other facts can.*

The problem here is that if 34 of those fatal medical errors or vehicular fatalities were the direct result of actions by just 2 people in just 1 weekend, it would be appropriate, not just emotionally but rationally and compassionately, for us to take special notice, and to respond by demanding to know how they were allowed that much power without proper evaluation, and that it be prevented from recurring!

Dr. Tyson is completely right about each of those facts, including his final statement, but completely wrong about their significance in this instance( unless he's deliberately formatted a non-sequitur to look like a conclusion, which I doubt even more), and this is exactly the kind of mistake in reasoning that I have always expected his particular brand of arrogance† to engender.


*Because emotions do not represent facts, but rather represent ideas which may or may not be factual, only the fact of someone feeling something and reacting to that should be considered in decision-making, NOT the idea the feeling represents.

For example, when children express a fear of huge vicious/venomous creatures or murderers under their bed, we recognize that the fear is real, but the monsters typically aren't; and that even if something threatening IS lurking under the bed, at that size/in that position, it's probably not worth fleeing the house over without checking it out yourself.

†which is to say, true self-assured and self-important arrogance from a person who has otherwise earned the right to be more-than-normally self-confident