Friday, May 6, 2016


In a victory for the grown-ups, the National Enviromental Research Council in England has decided to name its new research vessel the R.S.S. David Attenborough. This is noteworthy because the NERC initially put the name up to an internet vote, inviting people to suggest and then support their favorite names.

Among the suggestions was "Boaty McBoatface," which in fact zipped to the top of the poll. Since the NERC had said even when starting the contest that they would select from among the suggested names rather than binding themselves to the top vote-getter, the chances of the ship's name actually being "Boaty McBoatface" were slim from the get-go.

There has been some hand-wringing and whining among the people who liked the idea of applying a silly name to a ship they would stop thinking about ten minutes after they voted and probably never remember again during their lives. Writing at Big Think, Laurie Vazquez suggested that the name choice was "a big problem," and that people who supported the silly name "have every right to be angry" that the NERC chose a serious name to honor an explorer instead of bowing to the almighty ADHD whim of the internet. Of course they don't. You might make a decent case that they're not out of line to be a little perturbed, but people actually angry about the choice are either angry at way too many things -- if something this minor ticks them off -- or way too few things -- if they consider this something that's worth anger.

I've got no problem with whimsical, and I think science folks who have some fun with their work are great. But "Boaty McBoatface" isn't whimsical or even clever. The person who suggested it apologized and said it was supposed to be a joke. It's just the application of a new here-today-gone-tomorrow phraseology onto something as an attempt to be ironic or hip. I am certain that "angry" people will get over their issue, the boat will be built and scientists will crew it, and not five percent of the people who voted for "Boaty McBoatface" will remember this matter when the ship launches in 2019.
Natural Environment Research Council
Natural Environment Research Council
Natural Environment Research Council
Natural Environment Research Council


Todd Bergman said...

You really disappointed me in this post. I thought for sure you would make the clear connection between Boaty McBoatface's selection and the motivation by which the elections are playing out.

Friar said...

Haha! Unfortunately the two parties have no NERC to tell them, "Um, no, we're not going to do that because it's dumb."