Sunday 20 March 2016

Going down with All Hands

RRS Boaty McBoatface
Last week NERC launched a competition to name its new £200m research ship, due for completion in 2019.

'Shackleton. Endeavour. Falcon. These are just some of the names suggested for the UK's next world-class polar research ship as part of a campaign launched today for the public to put forward names for the state-of-the-art vessel to be built in the North West of England', trumpeted its press release

But no mention of 'Boaty McBoatface,' which is the current frontrunner. As I write, it has almost ten times as many votes as the next most popular, Henry Worsley (21,867 against 2,746).

Now, if there's anything to be learnt from David Cameron's time in office, it's to not trust the public with any decision that could end badly. NERC should have guessed that the country that prides itself on its sense of humour, that has a healthy disregard for authority and a somewhat confused respect/disrespect for pomp and circumstance, was never going to take such a competition seriously. Remember 'Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead'? 

So what should NERC do? At the moment it's gamely trying to win over hearts and minds. 'Aurora, Titan and Orca are just some of the names that you have suggested already,' it tweeted, somewhat desperately, and 'Tom Crean is doing well. Find out more about him.' You can almost hear the pleading in its voice: 'god, can't you please, please, please just vote for one of those instead?'

Dan Sargent, the Creative Director of the  - ahem - 'ideas agency' tasked with generating interest in the new ship wrote a blog post about the first 24 hours of the campaign. As befits the Creative Director of an ideas agency, he seems to have the awe-struck wonder of a five year old. 'Do you know what is really cool?' he gushed. 'Science. And do you know what else are pretty cool? Big ships.' Aw, bless. Do we have a model of Boaty McBoatface we can give the wee chap? But he goes on. 'Using our Social Suitcase platform [don't ask. It only encourages him], we were able to give NERC complete control over moderating entries before they appeared on the website. Moderating submissions ensures all names are suitable and maintain the integrity of the campaign and the NERC brand.' Ah. I think I see where the problem might be here. Either the message hasn't got through to Polaris House that someone needs to be in charge of the moderation button, or they've made the mistake of giving it to the office joker. If neither of these are the issue, it's somewhat worrying that the Council, which has been given 'complete control' over this, will, in three years time, have 'complete control' over a £200m research ship. Will there be a Costa Concordia-type catastrophe as they try to impress their dates for the night?

Let's hope not. In the meantime, buried in the competition terms and conditions, is the get-out-of-jail free card, 'the final decision on the name of the ship will be taken by the Chief Executive of NERC.' Which, let's be honest, makes the whole competition a little pointless. They are essentially saying that the public can vote for their favourite name as long as it is what NERC were going to name it anyway.

On the plus side, the competition has generated public awareness, interest and engagement with Arctic exploration and the work of NERC. The downside is that that awareness, interest and engagement appears to have made them a laughing stock.

In years to come the mention of NERC to anyone outside of environmental research will not elicit awe and wonder at the necessary and important work they do, but rather a smirk, followed by: 'Oh yeah! I know them! Boaty McBoatface!'

1 comment:

  1. Ah... but don't underestimate their CE.He who personally thought it fit and appropriate to name a NERC advisory committee SPAG.