The scourge of retrospective nonsense

“Exit polls are usually [quite reliable], but of course in 1992 they were wrong – the exit polls said a Labour victory, it was actually a Conservative victory” – so said elections expert Anthony Foley at the start of the BBC’s 2005 General Election coverage. The problem is he was utterly wrong. The exit polls in 1992 actually suggested a hung parliament, with the Conservatives as the largest party – they were out (as the Conservatives actually had an overall majority), but nothing like as far out as retrospective “expert analysis” often claims. Indeed, no polls at all in 1992 pointed definitely to a Labour overall majority.

ESPN, in its coverage on English top-flight football’s “last day dramas”, started in 1968 with Manchester United needing to beat Sunderland to secure the title, but crumbling to a narrow defeat and thus handing it to City. This certainly counts as drama – but, upon checking, it’s not actually true. Even if United had won, City would still have taken the title on goal average.

There is, of course, a natural tendency to dramatise and exaggerate. However it does, when taken to this extent, give us often a significantly erroneous view of the past, and of the motivations of people acting in that past. In this age of instant information – both given and taken – it pays to be a little more careful.

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One thought on “The scourge of retrospective nonsense

  1. […] Source: The scourge of retrospective nonsense […]

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