Disclaimer: The following post may not be factually accurrate
Ben Fogle’s attempt to swim the Atlantic, in a wetsuit that will capture information about various aspects of the ocean, has reportedly given the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) an idea for their next round of budget cuts. In a world exclusive, head of NERC, Barry Bureaucracy, revealed to Words in mOcean that the new plans would see “oceanographers given the opportunity to form themselves into ‘one-man swimming research vessels’, freeing up millions of pounds for the Tory government to put directly into bankers’ pockets”. Under this proposal, NERC’s current fleet of research ships (RRS Discovery, James Cook, and James-Clark Ross) would be converted into luxury yachts and sold, at knock-down prices, to hedge-fund managers and Russian billionaires.
We asked NERC’s head of strategic management, Terry Corporate-Speak, for his opinion on the matter; he told us that “going forward, this is definitely the way forward.” We put it to him that these measures would make oceanography a science exclusively for Olympic-standard swimmers; he disagreed: “From what I understand, marine biologists spend their days swimming with dolphins; going forward we are just asking for all oceanographers to do the same – but without the dolphins.” Mr Corporate-Speak is not concerned by potential health and safety issues either, stating that if a fatality did occur then “going forward, best practice would be to attach depth-activated floats to our ‘one-man research vessels’, allowing the delivery of our core-competencies in the form of non-static data collection terminals.” He then paused for thought, and whilst gazing out of his office window, sincerely added that “going forward, the deceased would of course posthumously appear on any publications resulting from data-collection projects they had been actionable in spearheading.” It was clear, whilst talking with Terry, that nothing he says really makes any sense, but it was hard not to be impressed (even hypnotised) by his command of meaningless jargon.
One issue yet to be resolved is how heavy, cumbersome lab-equipment will be operated at sea under the new plans. One rumoured possibility is that undergraduates and masters students may be bundled together to form ‘floating rafts’. Barry Bureaucracy refused to rule this out, saying that “undergrads and masters students always relish the opportunity to go to sea, even if they only have a supporting role.”
Whatever the outcome, it seems that many scientists are welcoming the idea. Billy Breakdown, a PhD student at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, told us that the plans would drastically reduce his workload on upcoming cruises, saying “If (like Ben Fogle) we only have to do 12 hours of swimming a day, I think it is a great idea. On my last cruise I worked, on average, 62 hours per day; these plans would result in a substantial reduction of my workload, and would technically take my hourly wage out of the ‘slave-labour’ category.” Bill Bitter, a recent casualty of NERC’s recent ‘restructuring exercise’, is also a fan of the idea: “I want my bloody job back and I don’t care how it happens or how many people beneath me in the academic pyramid have to die needlessly at sea; I thought being ‘restructured’ sounded quite appealing, but it is by far the worst thing that has ever happened to me!” Alan Long-Beard, a Professor of physical oceanography at Newcastle University, isn’t so keen however: “Most of my research takes place in the Arctic Circle. My hypothermia-induced turnover rate of PhD students will be enormous. I will be forever interviewing new candidates; I don’t have that sort of time!”