In a loss for democracy—and for science, and for defenders of justice and creativity everywhere—the UK has flatly rejected the will of its own people.
The government will likely not accept the runaway winner of a public contest to name a new polar research vessel. The $300 million ship will still take to the waters, but it will not do so under the name Boaty McBoatface.
Boaty McBoatface emerged last month as one of 7,000 entries in the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council’s public contest to name the vessel. By the time the contest closed last week it was the overwhelming favorite, with more than 124,000 votes.
But speaking to the BBC this week, the minister of universities and science, Jo Johnson, appeared to back away from the people’s decision.
“There is a process now for us to review all of the public’s choices. Many of them were imaginative, some were more suitable than others,” Johnson told BBC Radio 5 Live. “You want a name that fits the gravity and the importance of the subjects that this boat is going to be doing science into.”
Boaty McBoatface, according to some people’s standards, does not.
The catchy moniker was put forth by UK communications manager James Hand. Hand—who himself voted to name the vessel after beloved nature presenter David Attenborough, and who seems kind-of horrified by the attention his joke suggestion got—reacted to the situation with magnanimity and grace.
The rest of us have not.
Renaming the ship would “ride roughshod over democracy,” BBC host Nicky Campbell said on air. “Tyrants have crushed the people’s will,” a Guardian column announced. McBoatface supporters issued unprintable tweets of condemnation.
The final decision lies with NERC chief Duncan Wingham. Sadly, the likelihood that RSS Boaty McBoatface will join a fleet of vessels named for prominent explorers and scientists seems low.