Television review

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The Independent Culture
Shortly before Predictions (ITV) began on Saturday night, I wrote down the following premonitions on a sheet of paper, sealed it in a heavy manilla envelope and deposited it with a local solicitor. Now that the programme is over I can reveal the stunning 89 per cent accuracy of my prophecy. This is what I wrote: "1. There will be unearthly music, redolent of strange powers beyond our ken (I failed to predict that it would simply be lifted from The X-Files); 2. An overweight woman wearing bright clothes (I see puce or cerise perhaps?) will make a statement of numbing obviousness and then pass it off as mystically knowing; 3. A young man with bright eyes and a vacant smile will pronounce himself "staggered" and "stunned" yet display no outward signs of mental confusion; 4. A strong odour of putrefaction will make itself increasingly apparent during the transmission." Not bad going, I think you'll have to admit, and yet I can now reveal that the uncanny accuracy of these predictions owes nothing to astrology or entrail gazing (no chickens were harmed in the writing of this review). They were simply common sense extrapolations from previous experience, a method apparently also much favoured by the "leading psychics, astrologers and clairvoyants" who appeared with Philip Schofield for what was described, more than once, as "a unique experiment". In fact, the only word that had any claim to accuracy in that phrase was the indefinite article: this sort of thing has been done before, alas, and to use the word "experiment" - with its connotations of method, rigour and fraud-detection - was nothing less than snake-oil salesmanship.

The notion was that a variety pack of fortune-tellers would go head to head with less other-worldly experts and see who did best. Unfortunately, the programme didn't offer you the results of this competition, at least not in any way that would have allowed you to make any sensible judgement. Instead they simply strung together a selection of the right and wrong predictions in a way that was heavily prejudiced towards credulity. It didn't seem to matter that some of the prophecies were decidedly underwhelming in their percipience - "I think she'll be very attracted to somebody during this year," said one woman solemnly about Princess Diana, "but I think she will actually keep this very much under wraps." Another "psychic" told her client that "somebody's going to be giving birth to a baby girl", while yet another gravely informed us that "Liz Taylor's got a new relationship coming into her life". Oh yes, and a very bright object will rise in the sky tomorrow morning ... perhaps. Like most clairvoyants this crew usually built an escape hatch into their prognostications, just in case the entirely predictable failed to take place: "We see the map ahead when we do predictions but at the end of the day everybody can choose their path," said one stargazer, while others cannily date-stamped their prophecies for "this year", so that they can claim vindication is yet to come.

There was one moment of light relief for the rational, when a dowser who had claimed to be able to predict the sex of unborn babies scored the same success rate as a chimpanzee (most of the audience would probably have taken this as evidence that the ape was psychic too. Some may even now be trying to book consultations with the hairy soothsayer). But for the most part this was a depressing piece of broadcasting, with nobody on hand to point out how pure chance alone would deliver enough lucky guesses to fill out the hour and - most telling of all - no final analysis of how mystic nonsense had fared in the battle with common sense. While the regulatory bodies and standards police fret about sex and bad language, it seems this sort of pernicious trash can pass completely unchallenged. To my mind, exercises like this are among the most corrupting and discreditable programmes currently in the schedules - a cynical exploitation of low education standards for the purposes of profit. And if that isn't obscene, I don't know what is.

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