Depth record called into question

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Depth record called into question

September 07, 2020 - 18:36
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The Guinness world record deepest scuba dive to 332m which was conducted by Egyptian technical diver Ahmed Gabr in the Red Sea in 2014 has been called into question by an anonymous group posting a series of emails analyzing and questioning the data and documentation forming the basis of Gabr's claim to the record.

Are dangerous and meaningless records being spurred on by recognition by Guinness Book of Records?

In September 2014, Egyptian national and technical diver Ahmed Gabr performed a deep dive off Dahab in the Egyptian Red Sea under the auspices and observation of adjudicators from The Guinness Book of Records. After the dive, Gabr was acknowledged for having reached the record depth of 332m, surpassing South African Nuno Gomes who made it to 318m in 2005, also off Dahab.

Or did he?

Let me rewind the tape a bit. On 12 Aug 2020, I received an email from an unknown source entitled "The Truth”. I initially surmised it to be yet another spam email of the kind promoting dubious herbal remedies against hair loss, male dysfunction or a gadget that could save me 90% off my electricity bill. For an instant, my index finger hovered above the 'junk' button, but noticing it was about diving, I hesitated and set it aside.

Over the course of about two weeks, I received six additional emails detailing and questioning the documentation forming the basis for Mr. Gabr's claim to the record. The analysis, or rather dissection, went into much detail and seemed quite comprehensive, being spread out over six lengthy emails. I won’t go into any details here, as they can now be found elsewhere on the web.

Initially, I chose not to publish the assertations or mention these emails on the grounds that I find accusations of wrongdoings posted in anonymity problematic. I therefore responded to the anonymous sender or senders as follows:

While I to some extent can appreciate why you are not keen on being subjected to a possible toxic backlash—which sadly is a behaviour I have witnessed before in the tech community, I grant you that—and want to protect yourself from it, I find it principally problematic that accusations of wrongdoings are published anonymously in public.

And as far as our various media are concerned, we cannot propagate anonymous allegations both for press ethical and legal reasons which is hopefully obvious. Sources can be protected in some cases, but the identities need to be known by the media—and I would say it is mostly warranted in case of serious crime and whistleblower activity.

One of the tenets of a fair trial is the confrontation clause, which stipulates that the accused (in criminal cases) has the right to have face-to-face confrontations with witnesses. I find the principle applies, or should apply, also to trials conducted in media or public debate.

You may be right that something is indeed amiss with this record dive and it should be called out.

Even so, I am not in favour of making cases clandestinely but as a proper and public procedure and wish this had been handled differently, however challenging such confrontations may be. That the matter stands where it does, that you have felt the need not to come forward, is rather sad testament to how unhealthy and occasionally toxic the discourse and culture in the tech community has become in places.

 

I did not get a reply.   I might just have gone into the story at that point had the sender or senders made their identities known to me.  I would, if so requested, have protected their identities as it is one of the prerogatives of the press.  But I am obliged to know who the senders are.

The horse is now out of the barn

So, why do I now feel compelled to comment after all? As this matter has now been posted across most relevant forums and become such a discussion topic, the horse is out of the barn anyways and I want to make our stance clear.

I don't know if Ahmed Gabr is indeed a cheat as alleged, or something less sinister is amiss. The collected evidence presented in the emails looks compelling. As far as I am aware, Mr. Gabr has yet to issue any public comment, let alone a refutation of these claims which calls his integrity and reputation into serious question. If true, this is a scandal of epic proportions and we have all been duped. If not, then Mr. Gabr has been subjected to libel.

As we speak, the jury should still be out, but vox populi and the trial in media which can be excoriating is already in full swing.

Secondly, as indicated in my response to this group, I am quite troubled by the notion of anonymous accusations, however well-based. Proceeding in such a manner will always to some degree be associated with witch hunts, which leads me to my third point:

What compels this group to stay hiding in the shadows and not come forward?
I have discussed this matter with other members of the tech community who are usually well connected and in the know and several hints has been aired. One is the fear of reprisals in the community, trolling, hate mail or even loss of employment. And certainly, coming forward with such allegations is rarely a pleasant affair. It puts one in the firing line and into a lengthy and draining debate which could quite easily turn nasty. I therefore also understand and somewhat sympathize with such concerns, and preferring to live and carry on with your business in peace. But that doesn't make it right.

Perhaps the real issue at hand is the sometimes toxic competitiveness and discourse in the tech community which I have sadly witnessed first-hand, but thankfully not personally subjected to. Had the discussion climate been sound and healthy, the arbitration of this matter could possibly have been conducted and hopefully resolved out in the open, in public.

A final point

I don't care about records for records sake. In fact, I find this one, valid or not, plainly stupid, and very dangerous. It is just another sort of Russian roulette where success only entails making it there and coming back alive or without lasting damage. Unlike research conducted under controlled circumstance and with far more extensive support as part of hyperbaric research, advanced commercial diving or by military, it is indeed pointless. No information is gathered, nothing is measured or observed. Hence, nothing useful is learned.

I would therefore take this opportunity to call on The Guinness Book of Records to cease acknowledging such records, which in itself, provides an incentive to try and break the record one more time because that is how human nature works. If not, this crazy stunt could very well continue in the pursuit of the record until the day somebody dies in the attempt.

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