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One day in and ‘boffin’ is already on borrowed time

30 March 2023

By Rachel Youngman, IOP Deputy Chief Executive

The IOP’s science media reporting campaign is already toasting its first success.

The IOP’s science media reporting campaign launched yesterday with headlines about the use of the word ‘boffin’ and after only a day the campaign is already toasting its first success.

When we initially planned the launch we decided to target the word ‘boffin’ as a way into talking about the wider issue of the way physics and physicists are portrayed in the media.

We believe the word is outdated and cliched and also representative of a style of journalism that treats science as something that is the preserve of a small elite of eccentric geniuses. It is an approach we think puts people off studying physics at a time when our science has both a diversity and a recruitment problem.

And now, only a day after launching our media guidelines, the editor of the Daily Mirror, Alison Phillips, has confirmed to the UK media’s in-house magazine, Press Gazette, that she will be keeping ‘boffin’ out of the pages of her title.

The word itself has been banned since 1989 at the Mirror, highlighting that we are not the first ones to conclude it is a bit old-hat, but it had crept back into usage at the paper in recent years.

The IOP had spotted a few rogue ‘boffins’ at the Mirror in our media monitoring and that’s why we included them in our initial launch but we are happy to confirm they are now not in the sights of this element of our campaign – but we will, of course, still be keeping our eye on them.

We are also still asking them for a meeting to discuss our media guide to ensure their reporting of physics and physicists is accurate and accessible.

Hopefully now The Sun and the Daily Star, who have so far stuck to their guns on the use of the word, will come around to the Mirror’s way of thinking and consign ‘boffin’ to the dustbin of journalistic history.