Dr. David Morrison spends a lot of his time explaining to people that the world is not going to end. No, he’s not a therapist, or even a counselor. Morrison works for NASA. He’s the senior scientist at the Astrobiology Institute in the Ames Research Center. He’s also the man behind the “Ask an Astrobiologist” spot on the NASA website. Apparently the question that everyone wants to ask an astrobiologist is when the world will end.
The Awl spoke with Morrison about his work. He sees it as a public service, and he does a lot of it. The Awl:
He estimated that over the past four years, he’s gotten over 5,000 emails related to doomsday. Lately, the column has been receiving about 50 emails a week, most of them about the apocalypse. Though Morrison’s email outreach could be classified as a hobby—he operates largely on his own, outside the occasional “go get ‘em” pep talks from NASA higher-ups—he truly goes above and beyond to engage and inform the people who write to him. Last year, 17,000 people signed an online petition asking to see all the information that the White House has about extraterrestrial life; the response? “The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet” (the subtext: get a life). By contrast, Dr. Morrison spends about an hour every day on the apocalypse, either through one-on-one correspondence with the fretful—or in exchanges with other experts, such as Mayan historians, for information for his replies.
And, like the people who email him about the apocalypse, Morrison says that he himself has become obsessed. His obsession is the people who are obsessed with the apocalypse. “It’s the depths of their commitment that’s so amazing, that they will go to such mental contortions to try to think of a way to preserve their beliefs in spite of evidence to the contrary,” he told The Awl.
You might think that the people Morrison talks to would all have their own theories about the end of the world. But they don’t, the Awl says. Their theories tend to circle around a few central ideas. They often involve the planet Nibiru, which is scheduled to swing back around in its orbit and smash into the Earth. Other people focus on solar flares which will consume us. And there is the pole-switching tidal wave theory.
Morrison takes them all on. And while you might think that people would appreciate his honesty and attempt to explain the world to them, they often don’t. The Awl writes:
Sometimes he wonders if, by hanging out his rhetorical shingle, his public responses have only fueled a debate that shouldn’t even exist. He’s made YouTube videos that painstakingly explain why the world will not end in 2012 only to see the NASA logo at the beginning of the film chopped off and the footage added to other response videos with titles like “NASA CONFIRMS THE EXISTENCE OF NIBIRU.” And then there are the comments.
But for now, Morrison will continue on. At least until December 23rd – when the end of the world is scheduled.
More from Smithsonian.com: