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Doom and gloom

08 January 2016

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THE one thing that I was prepared to predict at the start of 2016 was that the crop of prediction shows scheduled for early in the New Year were going to be gloomy. There is, after all, a fortune-teller’s protocol. If you are in a tent, telling it to an individual who has crossed your palm with silver, then give the punters something they can look forward to: a tall, dark stranger driving a Ferrari, for instance.

But, if you are in a BBC studio telling it to the nation, then what the punters want to take away is that warm glow of melancholy brought on by predictions of war, environmental catastrophe, and plummeting house prices. Correspondents Look Ahead (Radio 4, New Year’s Day) thus fulfilled all the criteria for good futurology.

To their credit, Bridget Kendall and Lyse Doucet both correctly predicted last time around that 2015 would bring terrorist atrocities and greater military involvement in the Middle East. The predictions for the coming year are . . . more terrorist atrocities, and more fighting. But, if you think that that is about as helpful as an astrologer’s telling you to expect something unexpected, then consider that Doucet’s “person to watch in 2015” was none other than God.

It is hard to say whether God had a more or less prolific year in 2015 than any other; although I guess the year of Creation must be up there.

For someone who makes a living out of futurology, the “business astrologer” Christeen Skinner was refreshingly modest about her abilities — at least when talking to Manuela Saragosa on Business Daily (World Service, New Year’s Day).

Businesspeople use all sorts of methodologies for predicting the market, all equally flawed; so why not dabble in a little star-gazing? The great American financier J. P. Morgan said that millionaires did not have astrologers, but billionaires did. And, Skinner says, not only do people have star signs, but so do organisations. The BBC’s star sign is Sagittarius; and one has to ask whether licence-fee-payers’ money is being spent employing somebody to study the passage of the hunter across the sky in advance of charter renewal this year.

Alternatively, you might do worse than seek out the services of the England bowler-turned-commentator Graeme Swann, who, on Monday of last week, with freakish precision, managed to predict the exact manner by which the South African batsman Jean-Paul Duminy was to be dismissed (a nick to slip off the bowling of Moeen Ali, since you ask).

Test Match Special (Radio Five Live Extra) is known as a trusted companion during the dark days of winter, but its presenters have perhaps never received appropriate credit for their mystical powers.

And if that’s not enough to lighten the prospects for 2016, then perhaps you need a “happyologist”. Susanna Halonen is one such — in fact, the only such, since the term happyologist should be accompanied by a trademark sign. You will not be surprised to learn, as listeners did on Sunday (Radio 4, Sunday), that she made up the term to describe her own take on the “science of positive psychology”. She was there to talk about New Year resolutions, but served only to determine mine: never again to tune in to prediction shows.

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