Neil deGrasse Tyson found himself in a sudden and amusing feud with Neal Larson, a conservative radio host and columnist from Idaho. Larson had several bones to pick with the famous cosmologist and science communicator.
As he summarized it in his op-ed, provocatively titled “Neil deGrasse Tyson is a horse’s astrophysicist”, the first problem for Larson was how Tyson looked at the Olympic medial count. In a series of tweets, the notoriously Twitter-friendly Tyson made the point that USA has many more gold medals than Hungary, but if you adjust for the population size, the much smaller country is actually doing very well, even better than us.
The USA has 3x as many Olympic golds as Hungary, but 30x the population. Adjusting for this, Hungary is kicking our ass.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) August 12, 2016
This did not sit well with Larson, who saw the remark as anti-American, offering that:
“Surely he must be a hit at parties. I don’t know how he does it, but Tyson manages to simultaneously be both an astrophysicist ... and a jackass. What, precisely, is he attempting to do other than spew out a drive-by pot shot at America, with a fourth-grade math observation mixed in? If this is the arithmetic of an astrophysicist, I’ll tell my 10-year-old to just be snarky and anti-American as well, and she too could be the next overpaid, unscrutinized, and overestimated academic fawned over by the media and the left.”
Not stopping there, Larson goes on to attack Tyson as an atheist, who thinks believers are “idiots”. He also sees Tyson as an attention-seeking “celebrity-scientist hybrid”, but most of all is upset about how Tyson supposedly crushed the dreams of a 12-year-old girl who wanted to live on Jupiter.
What Larson was referring to there was a Twitter beatdown that Tyson reportedly gave a young girl who was naively unaware how tough it would be to live on Jupiter. The only problem with this story is that it didn’t happen. The radio host was referring to an article from the satirical website ClickHole (owned by the fake news juggernaut The Onion).
Here are the fake tweets that made Larson decide to stand up for the little girl:
Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Tyson to respond to such an assault in his own op-ed. He humorously addresses the charges leveled against him by the Idaho media personality and reveals some noteworthy facts about himself.
Tyson doubles down on his Olympic medal analysis, saying he was being “playful” in his initial tweet, but suggesting that it would be even better analysis to see how much countries spend on athletics versus their Olympic successes.
He also says he’s an “agnostic,” disavowing the "atheist label". As far as his politics, Tyson doesn’t accept the “liberal” designation, saying he doesn’t have “an active public political position”. He actually bolsters his conservative cred by mentioning that he was appointed by President George W. Bush three times to various space-related commissions. In fact, he believes there are people on both sides of the aisle with anti-science ideas, whether it be climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers or people fighting GMO foods.
And, of course, he points out how the story of abusing a young girl on account of Jupiter was a hoax.
It remains to be seen if Larson will go on another round of attacks on the astrophysicist.