It’s not easy getting the general public enthused about polar oceanic research, so Boaty McBoatface - juvenile as it is - would have been a fun way of making the Natural Environment Research Council’s state-of-the-art new vessel less of a scientific abstraction for people like myself who can’t even remember all the necessary components of photosynthesis.
The government got wind of the fact the people were enjoying themselves this week, however, and are reportedly seeking to quash the poll-winning name.
Science minister Jo Johnson, who launched the competition to find the boat a name, told the Daily Telegraph: “You won't be surprised to know that we want something that fits the mission and captures the spirit of scientific endeavour.”
That utterly humourless ministers aren’t willing to have some fun isn’t at all surprising, but it is infuriating.
Chances are, the vessel is going to instead end up with a trite name like ‘Explorer’ or ‘Pathfinder’ or some nonsense, and I’d argue that the simple absurdity of ‘Boaty McBoatface’ actually much better captures the spirit of scientific endeavour - the idea that we are simply creatures bumbling their way around the mass of rock we have found ourselves on, trying to better understand it.
America knows this - Nasa sending an acoustic guitar to the ISS just so astronaut Chris Hadfield could goof around with a David Bowie cover. In fairness, the ESA kitted Tim Peak out with one of those horrendous tuxedo t-shirts, but I’m certain this was pitched by a different member state - the UK rep would have insisted he wear sensible slacks and a V-neck jumper at all times.
Imagine if a major scientific discovery had been made by a Boaty McBoatface. Imagine the merchandising opportunities for the NERC. Imagine the live-action movie that could have been - Colin Firth voicing Boaty.
There’s still time, Mr Johnson. Please don’t exile Boaty to prosaically-named, science quarterly magazine obscurity.
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