Neil deGrasse Tyson just wanted to debunk the rumors. You know, the ones about how life as we know it will come to an end later this month. But the beloved astrophysicist's tweets about Mayans ruffled some feathers. And now he's very sorry that so many people misunderstood him. For the most part, anyway.
Tyson's quips about Mayan predictions have become reliable science meme standbys, and he drove his point home with two more putdowns of the pre-Columbian civilization this past Sunday:
Hard to take science cues from the Maya, who never discovered the wheel, and who sacrificed animals to satisfy gods.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) December 2, 2012
Hard to take seriously predictions about the end of the world from the Maya, a culture that could not predict its own demise— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) December 2, 2012
Then Tumblr exploded. One widely circulated post (sporting just over 3,000 notes as of this writing) accused Tyson of perpetuating "imperialist myths about the Americas." Another told the scientist to quit dabbling in ancient history. Tyson read these critiques, and took to his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon to apologize for his offending tweets—sort of:
Apparently there are quite a few Maya fans out there, all presuming that I was attacking the Maya when the real target was those who reference the Maya as a source of insight to modern astrophysical statements about the world. These are the people perpetrating the end-of-world hoax. Apparently, the tone and sprit and the tweets offended some. If you are a 2012 Doomsday person, the offense was intended. Otherwise, sorry for failing to communicate this distinction.
Basically, Tyson meant no disrespect to the actual ancient Mayans, just those who think they said we're all going to die on Dec. 21st. Only on Twitter could someone get into a flame war with a civilization that declined hundreds of years ago.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.