Historical Revision…

So I always thought that history was simply what happened. And if it was history that happened to me or near me or around me then my version of history was going to be accurate…‘I know because I was there’.

If that belief is true, then I would say that it is most accurate at that very moment. When I was there and when I was describing what was happening…then that moment would be my pinnacle of accuracy.

At time after that moment when I or anyone else describes or remembers what happened – or even more so if anyone not there at that moment seeks to interpret what was happening or why. Then that is a revision of my original history.

I thought about history last week, when I managed to conjure a few days when I was with my wife and both my children visiting towns with particular and varied history. My wife’s first degree was history. My daughter continued to read history through her first year at University and my son is studying for a degree in American History.

I am a scientist, but I have learned a lot about history from the three of them. And of course revisionist history is a well-known phenomenon. Everyone interprets history in their own way – often to support a view or opinion that we have or want to believe. I know I do.

Sometimes this revision is very positive – I often revise my own history based on new evidence I see or improved understanding of motivations and decisions – whether they be my own or those of other participants.

Sometimes not so much. Probably more so when I adopt revisionist history over events in which I played no part. By definition all of my ‘history’ is second hand – I wasn’t there so I don’t know. And therefore any revision is almost certain to be flawed at best or biased at worst.

But that is OK. We all do this all the time. The key is to accept this as being the case. To accept that any interpretation or opinion is at best revisionist and at worst is just a theory that turns out not to be right. We run into problems if we assume we are always right and worse still if we then act based on those false assumptions.

So apart from loving being with my family, and being incredibly impressed by all of them and their education, why was I even thinking of this?  Because revisionist history matters to science and industry and business. Every time we carry out an experiment or run a study we generate data. Our report – complete with the metadata – is our account of that history.

Same applies to all our other data – sales data, people data, efficacy, revenue, toleration, profit, exposure…our history. And the more complete and accurate those data are the better and more helpful the history will be.

Sure we know that others will interpret and even re-interpret what we do, what we say and the conclusion we draw. But the facts of what happened – or didn’t – are still facts. Conclusions and interpretations are good and are high value.

Better yet, revisionist conclusions and interpretations can be better. Much better. Different or better insights frequently help me work out what happened or didn’t happen dispute my best efforts.

Better understanding and better learning should always lead to better outcomes next time. In history or in science.

We can’t change what we did or what happened…last time. But we can and should revise and learn – by ourselves and with others – to make sure that the outcome is always better….

…next time.




About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 10 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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3 Responses to Historical Revision…

  1. Steve, As always, I enjoyed your post. It prompted a question. Why is your son majoring in AMERICAN History? What are his career plans? Thanks. – John

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Steve Street says:

      John – many thanks and great to hear from you. My son is undecided on career…other than to be clear to me that he wont be a chemist! He has at times been interested in journalism, teaching, music, radio…as well as American History! We’ll see I guess – he has one more year in the UK before he graduates after this academic year completes. Cheers Steve

  2. jeff tryba says:

    this is true regarding employees in a business. often management reduces HC and in the process loses valuable, productive employees. of course, these actions often skew toward the older more experienced employees. but people do what they feel is right i guess.

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