Dave Morrison Wins Education Prize

By Seth Shostak, Senior Astonomer and Director of the Center for SETI Research

david morrisonWhen members of the public want to know whether there’s danger from a passing asteroid or if some sort of “cosmic convergence” is about to spark the end of the world, they turn to a trustworthy space authority.  That expert is frequently Dave Morrison, NASA senior scientist and, until recently, Director of the SETI Institute’s Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe.

Now Morrison has received institutional recognition for his abilities to explain astronomy and the occasional dangers the heavens may pose to those unschooled in the science of the sky. The American Astronomical Society has awarded him its coveted Education Prize for “a lifetime of outstanding contributions to the understanding of astronomy by college students and the public, and to the debunking of astronomical pseudoscience through his textbooks, popular books, slide sets, web sites, articles, public talks, and work with the media.”

One of Morrison’s most notable efforts was during 2012, when a prediction was made that doomsday would arrive on the winter solstice.  These forecasts were based on dubious interpretations of the Maya calendar, but received extensive publicity and promoted widespread anxiety.  Morrison produced a “Doomsday 2012 Fact Sheet” which was posted on a NASA web site, and which debunked the prediction with solid science.  He said that these efforts to educate the public were especially gratifying because of the many letters he received – especially from scared individuals who were either panicked or thought about hurting themselves (or even their pets or offspring).

Sometimes known as “Dr. Doom” because of his campaign to increase our knowledge of potentially dangerous asteroids, Dave Morrison has been one of those rare astronomers who has the talent and interest to bridge the gap between academia and the public.  This award recognizes both that fact and its extensive, beneficial consequences.

View the list of all the AAS Prize recipients at http://aas.org/media/press-releases/aas-announces-2015-award-recipients