What the NERC Poll Says About Scientific Research

The Internet has spoken. A poll run by the National Environmental Research Council invited the public to name their latest $300 million state-of-the-art research vessel. After collecting over 7000 naming suggestions and opening these candidates up to public voting, a clear winner has been decided on the closing day of the poll. And the winner says a lot about the future of scientific research communication. So what name won?

Boaty McBoatface

RRS Boaty McBoatface.

This stand out winner achieved a massive 124,109 votes which dwarfed the second place name of RRS Poppy Mai, named in honour of a young girl with cancer which scored 34,371. Coming in third was RRS Henry Worsley, a famous British explorer, followed by RRS It’s Bloody Cold In Here and RRS David Attenborough.

But while this competition may seem to be a bit of a joke, it has actually unveiled the future of scientific communication.

While they may not have ended up with the ideal name for a boat, the National Environmental Research Council managed to engage hundreds of thousands of people with online voting after this front-running name started to achieve notoriety. Plus, they have achieved incredible awareness of their latest acquisition and the future of marine scientific research through an incredible amount of publicity.

When the average run-of-the-mill scientific announcement doesn’t get any media coverage, this managed to reach a worldwide audience . . . because it was fun. It was hilarious, unexpected and didn’t bore the audience with facts and figures. (They just slipped them in subliminally when no one was expecting them).

Audiences consume news in a completely different way nowadays. We get to pick and choose which pieces we look at, where we pay attention and what information we remember. And the majority of the time our attention will go directly to the funny, engaging and light-hearted stories, which is exactly what the National Environmental Research Council managed to do.

This organisation is now faced with a difficult decision. Do they follow the advice of the more conservative, non-internet-savvy, bah humbugs of society who believe that the boat should be given a much more dignified name because they have understood the research that this organisation has been doing for many years?

Or do they stick with the advice of a huge number of first-time engagers who have just started to pay attention to this organisation due to this hilariously ridiculous name for a boat and who will pay attention every time they hear a newsreader say ‘Boaty McBoatface’ in the future?

One will lead to a prosperous future of scientific awareness in new demographics which previously had no interest. The other will lead to the condemnation of science as forever out-of-touch and out-of-mind. I’ll let you work out which is which.

(P.S. The right decision is to name the boat ‘Boaty McBoatface’)