* Posts by CellDoc

4 posts • joined 30 Dec 2011

US boffins get Nobel for work on cell receptors


Normal Words Optional

Does any other newspaper in the world use the quasi-word "boffin"? Whenever I see it in a news aggregator headline I know it's gotta be The Register. Charmingly parochial.


Boffins drill into human language by terrifying chimps with vipers


vast majority of climate change research is peer-reviewed

Figgus my friend, yes "doubt and review" is absolutely part of science. However your direct implication that most climate change literature is not objective nor peer reviewed is simply completely false.

It is actually the great majority of climate change-denial literature is not really peer reviewed, but primarily put out by industrial groups masquerading as 'policy think tanks' or some other such falsehood. It's the same ruse as was used with cigarettes - pathetic if not so shameful.


Boffin a term of respect?? More like damning with faint praise!

A term of endearment and respect... really? I would've been surprised to not get a wad of responses calling me a stiff boffin... You toughs really know how to hurt a guy, huh?- ) sniff...

Here's part of the definition given in World Wide Words, which covers "International English from a British Perspective" - because I admit I'm a Yank, and wondered if I was missing a Brit-speak application. It seems the author there for the most part agrees with me - or would believe the writer/editor to be of an older generation:

"The headline in the Sydney Morning Herald last week caught my eye: “Bin Boffin, Says Scientists”, and not only because of the knee-jerk sub-editorial alliterations and the grammatical error.

"American readers may be flummoxed by it, since they hardly know the verb to bin in the sense of throwing something away (as into a rubbish bin), let alone boffin, which dictionaries gloss as meaning a person engaged in scientific or technical research. They do know the word boff, however, from an old word meaning to strike a blow, as a slang reference to an act of sex, which makes the headline peculiar, not to say risible.

"The article quoted Professor Chris Fell, who is President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, a body that represents 60,000 scientists and technologists in that country. His argument was that boffin is in common usage a jaded word that borders on the offensive; the word “conjures up images of weird old men in flapping lab coats, pouring strange chemicals into test tubes”, an image that — understandably — his Federation is not keen to see perpetuated.

"When it first appeared, in Britain during World War Two, boffin was a common colloquial reference to the technical experts, the backroom boys, who were helping to win the war. It was an affectionate term, though tinged with the practical fighting man’s scorn for the academic brain worker. It is claimed that the term arose among researchers who were developing radar, but there’s anecdotal evidence that it was around in the Royal Air Force just before the War as a general term for experts on aviation. However, we also know that — confusingly — it is first recorded, in the Royal Navy, for an “elderly” naval officer (one in his thirties or forties).

"I’d argue that — in Britain at least — boffin has never quite taken on the highly negative associations that Professor Fell ascribes to it, though it is now more the preserve of older writers and headline writers than a word in common use. But for many young people in Britain, it is indeed derogatory, but for a different reason. When it came into fashion among them some 20 years ago, it took on much the same sense that my generation gave to swot, as a disparaging description of someone good at school work — a person acknowledged to be brainy, but inoffensive and definitely not respected."

Mr. Quinion goes on to remind the good professor Fell that "language goes where it will", and this is certainly true - but that doesn't mean it cannot be commented on and even - woe to the thin-skinned! - be criticized. I'll say it again: Words matter... They carry not only meaning but attitude.


What's with the use of "Boffins"?

As a research scientist myself, I hate the Register's recurring use of the word 'boffins' to refer to scientists. It sounds pejorative, making researchers out to be ‘eggheads’ or otherwise somehow strange. It's weak writing that reaches for such worn out stereotypes. Maybe the Reg can also bring back the delightful use of "wogs" when referring to non-whites?

This wouldn’t matter if it weren’t part of a trend – whether intended by the Register or not – to delegitimize science and scientists, which is part of a larger anti-intellectual push by political conservatives. You don’t like the bad news of shrinking ice caps and global climate change, massive species die-offs, etc, etc?? Well, just don’t believe any of it! “It’s just the work of a bunch of boffins anyway!” As if facts and opinions were of equal weight - total intellectual slight-of-hand.

Maybe the Register is just trying to sound folksy, but I’m sure the staff would bristle if academics started routinely referring to journalists as hacks and the darker ones as wogs. WORDS MATTER.



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