What America’s Favorite Astrophysicist Can Teach You About Bad Timing and EQ

As a huge fan of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s, I was really taken aback by his viral tweet about the recent tragedies in El Paso and Dayton. The controversial tweet even made the Daily Show, where Trevor Noah skewered Tyson for his Spock-like response to the mass shootings.


How could a brilliant person like Tyson make such a misstep? How could his timing, analysis, and wording be so terribly off? Is it IQ versus EQ? Was this news-jacking gone terribly wrong?

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one asking these questions. My LinkedIn post about Dr. Tyson’s tweet has been viewed more than 10,000 times and is still attracting comments. I admit it – I was shocked at the level of engagement my post generated. I think it’s important to understand the factors that made the post so relevant:


As soon as I read Tyson’s tone-deaf post, I knew the Internet would be engaged and enraged. Tyson’s timing – posting right after two horrific mass murders – was abysmal. If he really wanted to make his point about saving lives, the tweet would have been less controversial if he had sent it a few weeks later. Timing is as critical for a brand or a business as it is for an individual.

The cultural zeitgeist.

Three mass shootings in a week, two inspired by white supremacist ideology: It’s all the media, and the public, were talking about. Therefore, I immediately took to social media, posted questions, and started a discussion on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Channel selection.

While my Facebook interaction was excellent, LinkedIn’s interaction was stronger and the arguments, more intellectual. Conversely, in his misguided attempt to start a nuanced discussion about data, causes of death, and gun control, Dr. Tyson picked the worst possible channel. Twitter doesn’t work well for nuance.

Celebrity trolling.

In my original post, I asked a question that no one answered. I wanted to know how people felt about the kind of reaction Dr. Tyson was getting. I was stunned by the downright viciousness of some of the responses. Some tweeted a simple f*ck you. Fellow celebrities bashed him. Angry people vowed to boycott his documentaries and cut all ties with America’s favorite astrophysicist. Tyson’s notoriety made him an instant, easy target on which the Internet could focus its grief and rage.

The trifecta.

Tyson’s tweet represents the trifecta of the type of incident and commentary that get us talking on the Internet:

–         Two opposing sides

–         An emotionally charged issue

–         Celebrity involvement, whether as the topic or the person commenting

In conclusion, I think Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s wrongly timed tweet gave people a chance to debate a contentious topic that leaves many of us feeling helpless.

Perhaps this is a reason to be grateful for his misstep. What do you think?