News / Slider / May 10, 2016

The lessons from Boaty McBoatFace

The Science and Technology Select Committee, led by Nicola, is undertaking an inquiry in to Science Communication, in order to better understand public perceptions of how scientists work, concerns about how well science is regulated, and explore a low level of trust in mainstream science journalism.

The Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) Name our Ship competition saw hundreds of thousands of votes cast to name a new polar research vessel, and although the most popular name voted for was RRS Boaty McBoatface, Science Minister Jo Johnson MP has announced the boat is to be named after Sir David Attenborough. ‘Boaty’ will live on as the name of one of the ship’s remotely operated submarines.

The Committee has been exploring the Name Our Ship competition and NERC’s broader public engagement strategy in this context, and recently took evidence from NERC representatives about the science that this £200m ship will support. NERC was clear that the success of the competition has boosted public engagement with the work of NERC, and the Research Council will now look at launching a new public engagement strategy this year as well as working with BIS on the polar exploration programme.

It is clear that NERC is working to ensure the public are aware of the science that underway, as well as engaging them in discussion and debate on contemporary issues and also in dialogue about the decisions and funding routes taken.

This is an example to the science community in how to capture an extraordinary level of awareness and how to leverage it.

Nicola says: Hundreds of thousands of people took part in NERC’s competition to name a new polar research vessel.  My Committee wants to explore this as an example of science communication. Was it a triumph of public engagement or a PR disaster? We are also examining how NERC intends to build on the mass coverage they’ve attracted and engage people with the vital polar science.


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