The government is missing the PR boat with BoatyMcBoatface!

By in Views
On April 18, 2016


The internet has spoken! Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you’ll have heard that the British public has demanded that the British Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) name its new £200 million polar research vessel RRS Boaty McBoatface. With the poll having closed yesterday, you’d be forgiven for assuming that this demand was a victory for the ages! And why not? It’s not as if the yet unnamed polar research vessel will be conducting war exercises off the Syrian coast under the potential guise of Boaty McBoatface. The research vessel in reality will be conducting valuable and interesting scientific research in the Arctic.

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Boaty McBoatface in all of its CGI glory. Photograph: NERC/PA

For me, science has been and will always be fun and exciting. It’s for that very reason I’m personally disappointed that the UK Science Minister Jo Johnson, indicated yesterday that the government would look to activate its get-out clause and instead look to give the vessel a name “that captures the spirit of scientific endeavour”.  We could of course be adults and name the vessel “Endeavour” or “Explorer”…except as I’m sure you’ve noticed, those names aren’t Boaty McBoatface. In all seriousness (excuse the pun) I can’t help but feel the government is potentially missing the boat with this mega PR opportunity. Far from being a crisis, the conundrum facing the NERC is an opportunity they should seize.

As an optimist, I’d like to think we’ve moved on from superstition for the sake of superstition. Yes, BoatyMcBoatface is a silly name but I really fail to see the issue in motoring to the Arctic on such a gloriously named vessel. If I was a scientist and did sciencey stuff and what not, I’d jump at the chance to enlist on Boaty McBoatface. You’d have to be mad not to!

My real point is in looking to bestow upon the vessel such a superb name, the British public has shown a keen interest in scientific endeavour (and naming vessels silly names). If the NERC wishes to spoil everyone’s fun they absolutely can. To do so wouldn’t be a PR disaster. Yet it would harm their credibility when it comes to public engagement. To quote Noel Gallagher, “roll with it”.

I say roll with it, because I have a confession. Before this whole Boatface business I’d never heard of the Natural Environment Research Council. In my mind this entire story has the potential to be a gift that keeps on giving. Two years down the line, imagine an online fund raising campaign designed to raise funds for either RRS Boaty McBoatface or RRS David Attenborough (which came fifth in the online poll). I love the hushed tones of David as much as the next person but I’d imagine that most people would consider donating to RRS Boaty Mcboatface more than they would RRS David  Attenborough. I’m truly sorry David, but it’s true.

It pays to be different in anything you do. Look at good old Donald Trump. He’s done far worse than name a boat Boaty McBoatface and yet plenty of people like him…apparently. Sticking with America for a second, does anyone remember when NASA named one of their space shuttles Enterprise after Star Trek fans staged a write in campaign? Not only was it a brilliant idea when it came to engaging the public but it showed that NASA had a sense of humour. Last time I checked it was 2016, not 1816. I was under the impression that Britain has moved on from the age of a stiff upper lip. Perhaps I was wrong.

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The superbly named Enterprise space shuttle in all of its Star Treky glory

If you happen to still be reading, let me take you on a journey into the future. A future where human beings haven’t just simply stepped on the moon and somehow managed to put miniature sailing boats inside of small glass bottles. This is a future where human kind isn’t scared to name boats Boaty McBoatface. A future in which polar bears and penguins look at the words RRS Boaty Mcboatface emblazoned on a lovely new research vessel, and think “they might be melting our home and destroying the planet, but those Homo sapiens…they know how to have a laugh”.

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