“Miseducation” in 140 characters or less

Last night I had a lot of fun, quite unexpectedly too. It all started when Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted this:

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Now, I never followed him until last night, so I learned about this tweet because some of my friends. The thing is that his statement will be instantly recognized as wrong by virtually anyone, at any level of education or lack thereof, biologist or not. There are many examples that show how wrong his assertion is, so I will not even go there.

Anyways, we biologists are evil folk. Dr. David Steen, who is the best biologist on twitter, came up with the hashtag #BiologistSpaceFacts, ostensibly to illustrate how ridiculous is to speak off the cuff outside of your area of expertise. What he didn’t anticipate was all the fun to be had with it.

Here’s the tweet that started it all (used with permission):

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And from then on, since last night quite a few people posted hilarious tweets (text and pictures) making up space facts as told by biologists. Here’s a couple of mine:

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I have several more @Baldscientist if you want to see them.

The overall response was brutal, and yes, we had a lot of fun.

More seriously, some people posted more or less quite strong statements about Dr. Tyson’s tweet, and rightfully so, like this one (used with permission):

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And I must say that I agree with Dr. Eisen. There’s more tweets like the one above. Just follow the hashtag, you’ll see.

Do you know what is not funny at all?

The fact that a public figure who is seen by many as the “voice of science” of this generation (some people are easily impressed, that’s for sure), sent an erroneous scientific statement “out there” and it has, as of right now, about 8,000 “likes” or “retweets”.

This means at least 8,000 souls were instantly “miseducated” (and I don’t care if this is a word or not) by Dr. Tyson, in less than 24 hours.

This is scary, this is dangerous, these nearly 8,000 people are a mere example of the lack of critical thinking that is plaguing our society.

Just to give you some sense of perspective, I am a university professor and depending on the year, I see an average of 200-300 undergraduate students, graduate students, and advisees, sometimes more if in that specific year I am teaching large courses. And I make mistakes too in my lectures, that’s for sure, but I usually catch them immediately and correct the situation. I own my mistakes and fix them, there’s no shame in that.

You may think that my opinion on this matter is an overreaction, but just follow the news. See what is happening right now when otherwise decent people blindly follow someone in an uncritical way. I’ll just leave it at that.

Back to topic, Dr. Tyson needs to understand that his status as a “celebrity scientist” comes with a lot of responsibility. This is merely the latest instance of some controversies that he has been associated with. Here’s some examples:

His stance on Philosophy.

The mistakes in the reimagined Cosmos series. Here’s just an example and my take on it.

The fact that some people see him as the current equivalent of none other than Albert Einstein.

Dr. Tyson is no mean-spirited person, not at all. I truly believe that he really loves science. In my view, he is merely overconfident in his own knowledge, ability and accomplishments.

He needs to correct his mistakes and do a little bit of soul searching along the way, as he is in a position that many aspiring and even established science popularizers would love to be in. You see, he is in a position to teach true science to many, and I mean many people who will not even hear about science otherwise. He’ll likely never read my words, but if you know him, tell him to fix this.

My two cents.

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4 Comments

  1. My two cents? It was a joke.
    Calling it the most asinine tweet of the year is an overreaction at the very least, and an insult to actual asinine tweet (for example, a strong contender would be one where one party complained that another party’s Senator isn’t standing up for veterans, whereas this senator is a veteran who lost both legs in Iraq). However, #BiologistsSpaceFacts is an entirely appropriate response.

  2. As I mentioned yesterday, NDT’s tweet, and other statements he’s made in the past prove that even eminent scientists (and I hesitate to call him that) aren’t immune from cognitive biases. His…the Curse of Knowledge. It makes him overconfident in his own experience, and too often causes him to discount or even fail to accept the existence of other people’s experience.

    He’s called our generation’s best science communicator, and that’s a completely inaccurate title in light of his repeated public gaffs on issues outside of his academic purview. Unfortunately, nothing will change this. He won’t admit his failing, nor his mistake, and his worshipers (don’t even pretend that his fans aren’t that) aren’t likely to do those things either.

  3. The tweet is too ridiculous. Yeah I agree, such a celebrity scientist miseducated a lot of people in one tweet – does that make a difference when you use the internet? Lmao.

    Well black science guy is a ‘credible’ man. He’s a scholar, a graduate student; but pretty sure he’s still a normal being. What’s funny here is his comical reasoning: ‘who the hell woud live and reproduce if sex is painful?’ Anyone could relate to that if they compare human behavior with for instance, cats.

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