11 May 2016

Boaty McBoatface controversy 'good for science'

10:32 am on 11 May 2016

The controversy over the naming of a new polar research vessel was an "astoundingly good outcome" for public interest in science, British MPs have heard.

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The Sir David Attenborough just missed out on being named Boaty McBoatface Photo: Natural Environment Research Council

The National Environment Research Council defended its decision to hold a public poll to suggest names, in which Boaty McBoatface got the most support.

Professor Duncan Wingham said the row had "put a smile" on people's faces.

But MPs asked if he would be made to "walk the plank" by ministers, who named it after Sir David Attenborough.

Prof Wingham was giving evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee about the episode, which attracted huge public interest and divided opinion after Boaty McBoatface was passed over.

He said that ministers' decision to name the vessel after the eminent zoologist and broadcaster - the option which came fourth in the poll - while allowing Boaty McBoatface to live on by naming a remotely operated sub-sea vehicle after it was an "eloquent compromise".

Asked by Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood what the episode had done for public engagement in science, the academic said it had attracted "extraordinary attention" which could only be regarded as an "incredible success".

"We could make the claim that we are probably the best-known research council in the world," he said.

"We could make the claim that because of that there are hundreds of thousands of people, not only in the UK but around the world, who know about us and the science that we have done

"In many ways we feel this has been an astonishingly great outcome for us. In addition, it has put a smile on everyone's face."

Prof Wingham said NERC would do the same again in the future, although he said there were no plans for other boats at the moment.


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