The Science of Guinness World Records exhibition is at the Montréal Science Centre until september 5. Have you ever thought about setting your own world record? But wait…! For it to count, it has to be measurable, reproducible, verifiable, and of course, beatable. Let’s look at this more closely and explore what some the zaniest world records can teach us about science and scientific methodology.
On August 25, 2014, Montréal-based inventor and engineer Catalin Alexandru Duru flew across a 275.9-metre distance over the water using his propeller-based hoverboard. It was like a Guinness record straight out of Back to the Future Part II!
Yet, without proof —be it a video, impartial witnesses, or a Guinness official— this amazing feat never would have made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. But getting a world record verified is not necessarily the hardest part of making it into the book. Figuring out precisely what can be measured, reproduced, verified, and achieved is often the real puzzler. That means you can forget about going for the record for cutest cat! What makes for a cute cat is much too subjective to be verifiable!
What’s the Difference Between a Guinness Record and a Scientific Experiment?
First of all, here’s what they have in common: both need to follow very specific steps, called a methodology.
Just like a science experiment, you have to be able to reproduce a Guinness record, meaning that someone else in the world must be able to try it to see if they can beat it. In science experiments, making it reproducible allows others to validate the results, that is, see if the experiment produces the same results each time.
So, how does one go about making a Guinness record (or a scientific experiment) reproducible? Methodology! That is, specific and standardized instructions. These instructions have to specify everything, from materials and metrics to specific units of measure. This makes it possible for those taking a crack at the record to compare their results with the current record-holder. In science, this helps those attempting to reproduce the experiment to do it exactly the same way. It’s by being measurable that world records and science experiments can be comparable.
In fact, a Guinness record must be based on a single measurable factor (known as the dependent variable). In the case of the record for longest distance travelled by a hoverboard, the dependant variable to beat is the distance travelled. Of course, there are always other variables at play, like weather conditions, which can influence results. These are known as independent variables. The difference between Guinness records and science experiments is that scientists control all those independent variables —that’s what makes scientific methodology so rigorous!
The essential step in verifying a Guinness world record is proof. This can involve a video or impartial witnesses. For scientific experiments, scientists use things like databases, raw results, and statistical analyses. These all help verify (or validate) the results.
Highly Precise Tools and Units of Measure!
Every Guinness record involves a specific measure (like distance, weight, number, surface, temperature) so precision is an integral part of the game! Many Guinness world records involve professionals who officially take measures (like land surveyors, veterinarians, sports pros, etc.) or at the very least expert witnesses that are present when the record is broken, as the Guinness World Record website explains.
Here's a good example. In 2020, amateur gardener Damien Allard from the Gaspé won the Guinness world record for harvesting the heaviest turnip ever. It weighed 29 kg! Agriculturist Germain Babin was one of the two witnesses to verify this officially. He and the other expert witness not only confirmed the authenticity of the turnip by tasting it but also ensured that nothing had been sneaked into it to make it heavier. They also verified that the scale used to weigh the winning turnip was legitimate, as shown in this news story that was shared around the world.
So, what Guinness world record could you go for?
Come and try over 70 interactive activities at the feature exhibition with your family!
Official Guinness world record sources:
World record for the greatest distance travelled by hoverboard: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2015/5/video-watch-incredible-footage-of-farthest-flight-by-a-hoverboard-record-set-by-379420
World record for the heaviest turnip: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/heaviest-turnip#