An apology to astrophysicist Katie Mack

by Joey deVilla on April 3, 2015

Headline: @AstroKatie (Katie Mack) / Photo: Katie Mack standing against a starry night sky, with her Twitter joke.

The original joke and its creator, Katie Mack. Click the image to see her site.

Diagram: Lunar eclipse (earth between moon and sun), solar eclipse (moon between earth and sun), and apocalypse (sun between earth and moon)Last week, I found the image pictured to the right on Enno Park’s Google+ feed and thought it was amusing, so I decided to post it here on the Accordion Guy blog. I ran a few image searches to see if I could trace it back to its origin, but couldn’t find anything conclusive, so I gave credit to Enno Park.

This week, the pop science Facebook page I Fucking Love Science featured the image (they found it via another Facebook pop science page, ASAPScience) and pointed to this site — but not the article — so I re-posted the image in a new article that you’d see when you hit the page. Once again, credit went to Enno Park.

(Please don’t bring internet pitchforks and torches to Enno’s feed; I get the feeling he didn’t know about the image’s provenance either.)

In tweets linking to my post, I suggested that you imagine the joke being told in astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s voice. What I didn’t know is who its true author was, and that she herself is an astrophysicist. She’s Katie Mack, @AstroKatie on Twitter.

Here’s her short bio, as featured on her site (go check it out, she’s got lots of great stuff there, for both hard-core science fiends and laypeople who are curious about space):

Dr Katherine (Katie) Mack is a theoretical astrophysicist. Her work focuses on finding new ways to learn about the early universe and fundamental physics using astronomical observations, probing the building blocks of nature by examining the cosmos on the largest scales. Throughout her career as a researcher at Caltech, Princeton, Cambridge, and now Melbourne University, she has studied dark matter, black holes, cosmic strings, and the formation of the first galaxies in the Universe. Katie is also an active online science communicator and is passionate about science outreach. As a science writer, she has been published by Slate, Sky & Telescope, Time.com, the Economist tech blog “Babbage”, and other popular publications.

…and here’s her original joke, made on Twitter months ago:

katie macks eclipse tweet

She told the joke quickly and simply, using emojis, and eagle-eyed readers noticed that she even took care to make sure that the bright side of the moon was always facing the sun. That bit of cleverness didn’t get brought into the image based on her tweet.

While I slept last night (I’m in the GMT-4 time zone, known as “Eastern Daylight Time” to people in North America), a number of people pointed out my unintentional plagiarism on Twitter and in this blog’s comments. I’d like to thank those people for the heads-up, and would like to point out that my failure to reply immediately was largely because I was asleep at the time. Thanks for the heads-up, folks!

The creator of the image I used didn’t credit Katie, and as a result, neither did I. I’d like to borrow from the best scientific tradition and do what scientists do when they make mistakes: point out the mistake clearly and as widely as possible. I formally apologize to Katie Mack for not crediting her for an excellent astronomy gag, and hope this post goes toward making things right.

Note: My earlier posts featuring the image now start with a big banner pointing to this article.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

crawlkill April 7, 2015 at 8:13 pm

this seems a little overwrought for just not knowing the provenance of a shared joke, but I guess in a world of attribution slash-and-burn it’s nice to see someone going in entirely the opposite direction.

Sid April 11, 2015 at 4:00 pm

It’s a nice sentiment by joeydevilla but so disappointing that it was necessary, after Katie Mack and her cronies get their knickers in a twist once again over such triviality and making decent people apologise for basically doing nothing wrong. Seems to be a pattern here…

Katie Mack September 20, 2015 at 1:35 am

Hi Sid. I’ll pass your regards on to my cronies — I didn’t even know I had any! No one’s been harmed by this correction and I’m sure all undergarments are in order. It’s nice when credit is given! All the best.

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