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Derek Ogilvie: The Baby Mind Reader.

The Skeptic Express © Jun 2006.

Following on from Derek’s recent promotional appearance on GMTV’s LK Today, the first in his new series ‘The Baby Mind Reader’ aired this week on Channel Five. The show has been widely tipped to project Ogilvie into the higher echelons of psychic fame and fortune transforming this relatively unknown Scottish psychic into a household name throughout the UK. For skeptics, the series looks certain of notching up yet another level on the British public’s credulity meter.

Part 1: Emma and Teegan
Part 2: Nichola, Andrew and Madison
Part 3: Gemma and Lily
Part 4: Nicky, Stephen and Jacob. (Coming Soon)

A Redback/Mentorn Production

Executive Producer: Vivian McGrath
Series Producer: Dan Goldsack

Series Aim

Programme makers, Redback Films, inform us that Derek will visit:

“Parents who are at the end of their tether with problem children and who have tried all other conventional cures to no avail”.

Communicating telepathically with the children he finds out the underlying reasons behind the tantrums, sleepless nights and feeding problems.

The Baby Mind-Reader is able to offer amazing insights into the child’s behaviour as well as detailed facts about their homes and lives which often leave the parents open mouthed.”

What is Baby Mind Reading?

Derek has stated in the past that he believes that we are all born psychic and children can read our minds and communicate telepathically up to the age of about two-and-a-half, “When your ego starts developing”. Derek says that he ‘reads babies thoughts,’ claiming success in all but 20%* of cases.
“When I connect with a child I get the exact representation of what that child is feeling and thinking. And the pictures I get in my mind are from the child’s perspective”.
Indeed Derek has been reported in the past as going as far to say that:
“I believe that a baby transmits waves of energy in much the same way as a spirit…. When I become attuned to these energy waves I receive information – like a radio picking up sounds sent out by the transmitter at a radio station.”

Factors to Consider

The Skeptic Express will follow the series throughout reviewing each episode in detail. However, before exploring individual programmes there are a number of considerations that should be born in mind with any TV production of this genre. These are detailed below. Specific comments relating to each individual programme follow.

  • Pro Psychic Bias: At no point is the existence of Derek’s claimed abilities seriously challenged or questioned. Never forget that the show is a vehicle to showcase the psychic’s claimed abilities not to establish or question their very existence.
  • Telepathy or Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) has not been proven to exist and is the source of much controversy.

“There is no firm evidence for the existence of telepathy, ESP or whatever we want to call it.”  James Randi

  • The series is purposely manufactured for success.

‘The Baby Mind Reader’ is designed for commercial success just as Britain’s Psychic Challenge was – there would be no point otherwise. In doing so, Redback Films must maintain a delicate balance between psychic success and mild set back in sufficient proportions to keep the viewer intrigued, on side and the show’s perceived credibility intact. To achieve this selective editing is employed to achieve a favourable end result ensuring that programme’s message is delivered safely to the viewing public. At no point do we see a full unedited reading only edited highlights that reinforce the message home. Inevitable mistakes and misses end up on the cutting room floor – that’s television. It makes no business sense to make a programme where little or nothing occurs.

Part of that success is derived from upon the portrayal of positive outcomes for the participants as a direct result of Derek’s intervention – however temporary they may eventually turn out to be.  Due to the lack of systematic follow up we will never know if Derek’s interventions really worked.

  • That the show is designated as ‘factual entertainment. This is an important point. The prime aim is to entertain not necessarily to accurately inform. Consequently a large proportion of information offered is usually unsubstantiated and/or anecdotal rather than evidential.
  • The selection of participants is far more likely to be skewed towards those offering the greatest chance of success for the main protagonist. Selection Bias will ensure that suitable subjects are chosen above others by virtue of:

– The degree of viewer sympathy/empathy likely to be generated by their plight in which case the worse the better. This has the effect of making any improvement however small or temporary seem like a major achievement by contrast;

– Their naivety, malleability or ability to respond in such a way that best highlights the message that the programme makers wish to convey.

  • Issues surrounding the integrity of readings: The programme making process will necessitate and generate a certain information flow within the production team regarding the subject’s background, problems, family and friends etc. There is always a danger that tiny snippets of telling information may inadvertently transfer to the psychic from the production team during day to day interaction compromising the integrity of the readings shown on screen. This was reported to have occurred behind the scenes of Derek’s GMTV appearance – despite best intentions otherwise. Rigorously controlled testing in a suitable environment is the only way to rule out such a possibility from occurring.
  • TV shows dealing with parenting issues are a major new trend in British TV. ‘The Baby Mind Reader’ is yet another in a blossoming genre of popular programming primarily aimed at young parents which has already brought us ‘Supernanny’, ‘Wife Swap’, ‘The House of Tiny Tearaways’, ‘Little Angels’, ‘Not Under My Roof’ and ‘Who Rules the Roost?’ All of which begs the question whether ‘The Baby Mind Reader’ is little more than a neat contemporary twist on a popular theme designed to take advantage of a burgeoning market.

Channel Five’s Policy & Strategy Document states that the programme is squarely aimed at ‘new [read inexperienced] mothers’. The question is raised that with so much expert parenting advice available on our screens and elsewhere isn’t it irresponsible to detract from that advice by encouraging new parents to seek the services of a self professed ‘psychic’ – especially one unqualified in such matters.

  • Commonest parenting concerns for the 18 – 36 month child are unruly behaviour, discipline issues, sleep patterns, eating problems/allergies, speech development. NSPCC
  • The psychology involved: There are many factors at play when attempting to unravel the mechanics of a psychic reading of any sort, eg. The effects of a charismatic Cold, and Warm reader; various elements of Selective Thinking by the sitter all have an important role in any successful ‘psychic’ reading as we shall see.

However there is also one other important psychological factor to weigh – that of the ‘Someone Cares Upstairs’ feeling more properly known as the Hawthorne Effect ie, that attention lavished on an individual will yield positive short term benefits. In view of this it is not unreasonable to suggest that participants in ‘The Baby Mind Reader will report increased benefits and motivation for a time at least just by virtue of having media attention focused upon them.

  • Derek’s Team: Redback Films website states that; 

A team of experts is on hand to interpret his insights and make the changes to improve the babies’ behaviour. Two weeks later the team revisits the family to see whether taking The Baby Mind-Reader’s advice has really made a difference to all their lives.

An interesting statement suggesting that Derek may well have the results of his cold readings transformed into real practical solutions by the interpretations of an expert team on hand.  This belies various statements made during the shows which tell us that ‘Derek has written a plan’, that a subject has made certain changes ‘as Derek advised’ and so on. If true then this clearly begs the question why Derek is necessary at all as he is not providing the solutions – the team are.

Now that we have our general pointers why not come along with ‘The Skeptic Express’ throughout the series as we try to understand a little more about Derek Ogilvie’s claimed ability to read babies’ minds.

Update

The dubious content of Part 1: Emma and Teegan sparked a flurry of complaints to the programme makers Redback Films. Curiously whatever the specific points raised this standard reply appears to have been received by all.

Thank you for your recent enquiry regarding The Baby Mind Reader.

We were sorry to read your comments regarding this programme.

The programme pointed out that Derek “claimed” to be able to read the child’s mind; it did not say that he could do so, and the advice which Derek gave was based an a set of facts which he ascertained were true from the parents before he gave it, indeed the parents felt that they benefited from Derek’s input.

Our regulator’s Broadcasting Code permits demonstrations of the paranormal (including mind-reading) which purports to be real after the watershed provided it is treated with due objectivity and does not contain life-changing advice about health, finance, employment, or relationships.

We have logged your comments in the Viewer Enquiries Report, which is circulated throughout the company. Also, your complaint will be noted in the quarterly report to our regulator. Commercial television is regulated in the UK by Ofcom (the Office of Communications).

If there is anything further we can help you with, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thank you for your interest in Five.

Yours sincerely

So it would appear that Redback are performing an extraordinary slight of hand trick for the viewing public. Constrained by Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, the programme only draws attention to Derek’s claim that he can read babies minds. Of course subtle presentation, implied meanings and the label ‘documentary’ against the show listing on the Channel Five web site all helps to give us the clear impression that we are seeing a genuine factual account – just as it is intended to to.

Further Reading

Part 1: Emma and Teegan

Part 2: Nichola, Andrew and Madison

Part 3: Gemma and Lily