The Sinking of Boaty McBoatface — And Why It's a Big Problem

The arctic research ship that captured the heart of the internet will NOT be named Boaty McBoatface. And the public is not happy about it.

The Sinking of Boaty McBoatface — And Why It's a Big Problem


It looks like Boaty McBoatface won’t set sail after all. The arctic research ship that captured the heart of the internet will be officially named the RRS Sir David Attenborough. It’s a dignified named worthy of research ship... but it’s no Boaty McBoatface.

We’ve covered how Boaty McBoatface became a thing, but ICYMI: the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) asked the internet to name its new boat. Boaty McBoatface was offered by a BBC commentator as a joke and won the contest in a landslide, despite no one really knowing how the name caught on. Parliament was offended by the name’s silliness, but Culture Minister Ed Vaizey defended it as the will of the people. The two opposing parliamentary parties bickered over the political importance of the name Boaty McBoatface, arguing whether or not it would encourage the public to trust politicians. NERC even defended it, saying that they were thrilled with the public’s involvement and creativity. The amount of fuss over such a silly little name was unprecedented with science projects.

But even with all that fuss, Boaty tanked.

official attenborough announcement.jpg

Now, to be fair to the winning name, the RRS Sir David Attenborough is a good name for a research ship. The name RRS Sir David Attenborough was the 4th highest-voted suggestion in the NERC poll.  Attenborough is famous as the creator and narrator of the BBC Life series. Generations of Brits grew up hearing him narrate footage of ocean creatures, plants, and desert animals, similar to how US kids grew up watching Jacques Cousteau talk about squids. Attenborough is an advocate for planet Earth, making him a national treasure in the UK. Plus, he just turned 90, so naming a ship bound for climate research for him makes sense. He was honored by the decision, too:

I am truly honoured by this naming decision and hope that everyone who suggested a name will feel just as inspired to follow the ship’s progress as it explores our polar regions. I have been privileged to explore the world’s deepest oceans alongside amazing teams of researchers, and with this new polar research ship they will be able to go further and discover more than ever before.

The RRS David Attenborough is due to set sail in 2019. It will be operated by the British Antarctic Survey in both the Arctic and the Antarctic oceans and will spend up to 60 days in and around sea ice. It will be the first UK polar research ship with a helipad and a number of on-board laboratories. It will also have remotely operated underwater vehicles -- one of which will be named Boaty McBoatface, as a concession to the poll. It will look like this:

Credit: NERC

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson released a statement about the decision, saying: “The public provided some truly inspirational and creative names, and while it was a difficult decision I’m delighted that our state-of-the-art polar research ship will be named after one of the nation’s most cherished broadcasters and natural scientists."

All that said, naming the ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough is a disappointment. The NERC poll was the best example of public engagement with scientific research in recent memory. After all of that involvement, NERC earned an immense amount of public trust. By not naming the ship after the public’s choice, NERC is essentially disqualifying the public from any future involvement in the project -- and the public is not happy about it:  

sad merry.jpg

Lord of the Rings’ Merry is crushed.

what's the point of a public poll tweet.jpg

The public is not happy. They are petitioning for the name to be changed, and even for Attenborough to legally change his name to Boaty McBoatface. As the parliament ministers worried, public trust in the government has been eroded by this decision. One supporter for the petition literally says as much:“We cannot let the voices of the British public be over-ruled by the political elite once more!”

They have every right to be angry. By welcoming public input into the Boaty McBoatface research ship project project, the public became part of the project. Cutting them out of the project by going against their most beloved choice is an act of distrust. It’s also a step backwards for communicating science to the public, especially since Parliament is investigating NERC for allowing Boaty to top the list in the first place.

Lastly, naming a remote-operated submarine Boaty McBoatface misses the point a bit. A submarine is not a boat. It’s a submarine. That looks like a torpedo. It should be called Subby McSubmarineface or Torpedo McGlugGlug -- or, if that’s still too silly for NERC, Yellow Submarine. Like this one:


Oh well. Naming this ship after a popular public choice is still a step forward for public involvement in science. We just wish it had been the bigger one they’d promised.

All Tweet images courtesy of Twitter. Feature image courtesy of The Daily Dot.

‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Jupiter's moon Europa has a huge ocean beneath its sheets of ice.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Keep reading Show less

Lair of giant predator worms from 20 million years ago found

Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.

Bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).

Credit: Jenny – Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
  • The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
  • The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
Keep reading Show less

FOSTA-SESTA: Have controversial sex trafficking acts done more harm than good?

The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.

Has FOSTA-SESTA really lived up to it's promise of protecting sex trafficking victims - or has it made them easier to target?

Credit: troyanphoto on Adobe Stock
Politics & Current Affairs
  • SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) started as two separate bills that were both created with a singular goal: curb online sex trafficking. They were signed into law by former President Trump in 2018.
  • The implementation of this law in America has left an international impact, as websites attempt to protect themselves from liability by closing down the sections of their sites that sex workers use to arrange safe meetings with clientele.
  • While supporters of this bill have framed FOSTA-SESTA as a vital tool that could prevent sex trafficking and allow sex trafficking survivors to sue those websites for facilitating their victimization, many other people are strictly against the bill and hope it will be reversed.
Keep reading Show less
Videos

What is the ‘self’? The 3 layers of your identity.

Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast