About benchmarking with records

CERN gets new Guinness World Records titlesymmetry:

The typical Guinness World Record has to be measurable and breakable. However, the organization also awards significant milestones for different subjects. The first proof of the existence of the Higgs boson, initially announced in 2012, made major news both within the particle physics community and beyond, prompting two Guinness World Records consultants to suggest including the discovery. “I think anything we can do to encourage people into science is a good thing,” says Craig Glenday, editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records. “We’re largely a book that celebrates great achievements, so it’s a good way of saying science is great and should be celebrated.”

Then, two paragraphs later…

“It sort of depresses me that people think Guinness World Records is only fat people and bearded women,” Glenday says. “That’s why it’s really important that we have records like this, because it shows we are prepared to look at the whole scope of what’s happening in the world.”

Just what I was thinking. The Higgs boson discovery announcement received a staggering amount of press coverage (and my first science byline). Whether or not people understood what it was really about, a lot of them were talking about it. Even today, five years down the line, its name remains synonymous in a surprisingly faithful way with high-energy physics, the LHC, elementary particles, etc. So particle physicists aren’t depressed about what the Higgs boson has become because it hasn’t acquired a reputation that needs fixing (I’m obviously ignoring the idiots who thought it had something to do with divinity). By associating themselves with it, it’s the Guinness World Records that stands to gain (or gain more, if you prefer). That “science is great and should be celebrated” is… a wonderful excuse? 🙂

Aside: For a second, the headline made me wonder if CERN was celebrating the boson’s inclusion in the Guinness books the same way many achievements are benchmarked in India. For example, it’s heartening when a 25-year-old pulls a car with his thumbs, gets himself his 15 minutes and then uses that time to make a statement that improves his life in some way – but when a state-sponsored, state-organised event guns for a place in the record books just to be able to make the news, it feels misguided – though not wrong. You could still argue that such a goal could be used to galvanise its participants. What is properly wrong is using patents to claim a form of medical treatment is valid. And you’d think nobody would gain from such an association, but hey.