Jumping the gun on scuba diving records
The Internet has become a treasure trove of misinformation, propaganda and “alternative facts” where anyone with a computer or mobile device can add to the ever-expanding sea of hoopla with no concern for accountability… and the diving community is no exception. The power and pitfalls of social media are rarely more apparent than during political campaigns, or when announcing miracle weight loss breakthroughs, new discoveries and world records.
For better or for worse, Facebook offers unlimited access to a world audience so that no event, no matter how big or small, goes unnoticed. This previously unattainable visibility has been a boon for the niche sport of scuba diving, which until recently lacked the clout to reach so many people from all walks of life. As a point in case, a world record announcement for the deepest dive ever conducted under ice started to spread like wildfire all over social media on March 6, 2016. Even mainstream news networks such as CNN and the BBC, as well as specialised diving publications – that should have scrutinised the claim – spontaneously trumpeted the unprecedented feat by a team of divers from the Russian Geographical Society. And yet they were all mistaken.
If CNN, the BBC and big-name dive publications impulsively piggyback such news announcements without fact checking, who can you trust?
IMAGE: One of dozens of incorrect record announcements by the mainstream media in March 2016.
Fake news or honest mistake?
Although the dive to 102 m (335 ft) in the Barents Sea was indeed an impressive and newsworthy accomplishment, it was not an absolute depth record under ice, nor was it the deepest dive ever conducted above the Arctic Circle. The actual record (111 m / 364 ft) in March 2016 for the deepest known dive under ice was established by a French duo (Ghislain Bardout and Martin Mellet) off Greenland during the Under the Pole II expedition in April 2015. Under the Pole II also set the record for the deepest known dive in the Arctic at 112 m (367 ft) in August 2014. No momentous record announcements were made by the French team whose mission objectives were to explore, discover and share new knowledge on the Arctic environment. Their record-setting dives thus largely went unnoticed outside of France until another group of people claimed to have gone deeper. As of December 2017, and despite our record keeper’s attempts to inform the concerned parties, neither the Russian Geographical Society nor any of the news outlets that inadvertently disseminated the erroneous information have acknowledged the mistake. With no apparent retraction forthcoming, the bogus record claim will likely contaminate the Internet for years to come. Alas, this is far from being the only record announcement to come short on supporting evidence since we first published the Diving Almanac in 2007. So who is to blame for jumping the gun, and what can be done to prevent this from happening again, well, at least in the diving community?
IMAGES: Photos and video from the actual record for deepest dive under ice, set by the Under the Pole expedition in April 2015.
Who can you trust?
If CNN and the BBC, let alone big-name dive publications, impulsively piggyback such news announcements without fact checking, who can you trust? Just because you can’t find a record during a Google search doesn’t mean it hasn’t already been done. In fact, lots of people would be surprised to know how many records set half a century ago aren’t available online… except in the Diving Almanac! Try to look up even the most obvious of records such as the deepest scuba dive and you will obtain several conflicting answers that are usually out of date. Making sure a record attempt is novel should unquestionably be established before one solicits sponsors and makes the announcement. When in doubt, consult the Diving Almanac or contact us and we will gladly establish the validity of a record to the best of our knowledge or suggest variations to ensure it is indeed record-setting.
Don’t you think it is time for the diving community to refer to a central body of information such as the Diving Almanac to celebrate its many outstanding accomplishments and personalities? There simply isn’t a better source of impartial and independent information on diving records and notable divers anywhere else.
Don’t you think it is time for the diving community to refer to a central body of information such as the Diving Almanac to celebrate its many outstanding accomplishments and personalities?
The Diving Almanac celebrates the achievements of a unique group of people that share a passion for underwater adventure and discovery. The book is a stage and tribune for all divers, regardless of nationality or association, to share their sporting, scientific and technological endeavours, and to marvel at the incomparable feats of our sea-dwelling animal brethren that we so love to emulate. Whether you are a sport diver, a diving professional, or if you need to partake in occasional name-dropping, this is the website for you!
Jeffrey Gallant is the Editor-in-Chief and Records Keeper of the Diving Almanac. He is also a contributing editor of DIVER Magazine, and the scientific director of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG). Jeffrey started diving in 1982.