Tomasz Witkowski
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Letter in defence of reason

In its official Classification of Occupations and Specializations The Polish Ministry of Labour and Social Policy included, among others, the professions of fortune-teller, astrologer and dowser. Polish scientists from all over the world have protested against this absurdity. The article provides an account of this dispute.


Many of my friends know that I am interested in pseudoscience and other related absurdities and that is why they keep sending me interesting information concerning such issues. In late February 2009 someone wrote to me that the official governmental classification of occupations included such entries as fortune-teller, astrologer or dowser, etc. I took a closer look at these entries – they were strikingly preposterous. I decided to comment on this in my blog in the following manner:

Proofs of the existence of supernatural phenomena found!
Who has performed this achievement? The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. In the official document Classification of occupations and specialisations drawn up by the Ministry one will find the profession of fortune-teller fully described, with its professional tasks, including but not limited to the following: “use the talent of clairvoyance and clairaudience; support the fortune-telling by mediumistic phenomena; use telepathy and teleportation; draw on information available in morphogenetic fields”. Ergo, these phenomena do exist and can be proved, otherwise I find it hard even to imagine the Ministry making fools of citizens by informing them that a representative of some profession does something that does not exist! But this is not the whole story...
Proofs of the influence of celestial bodies on our fate and the possibility to foresee are available in the description of the profession of astrologer. What’s interesting, in Guide to occupations issued by the Ministry, in the column provided for the names of astrologer-related occupations, in addition to bio-energy therapist, dowser, homoeopathist and fortune-teller, ... psychologist has also been included.
The description of the occupation of bio-energy therapist comprises, implicitly, assertions stating the existence of bio-fields and similar phenomena. The professional tasks of the bio-massage therapist provide an equally worthwhile reading experience.
The aforementioned Guide elaborates on these descriptions – each fills a number of pages. Reading it one will discover that labour offices have registered unemployed astrologers, fortune-tellers, bio-energy therapists and bio-massage therapists, disbursing unemployment benefits to them.
And silly me, I have remained for years in erroneously believing that science has been striving in vain to find any proof of these phenomena to this day! Maybe, instead of struggling to find relevant evidence, scientists should rather make a call to our Ministry?

I sent out by mail a similar note along with a link to my web site to those friends and acquaintances, who share this type of interest with me. Some of them reacted with a smile, disbelief or pity. However, there were those, who burst with indignation, with Professor Łukasz Turski from the Center for Theoretical Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences among them. He suggested writing an open letter to the Minister of Labour and Social Policy to protest against such absurdities. We were joined by Tomasz Sowiński from the Center for Theoretical Physics as well, and together we wrote the letter, publishing it on a web site, which enabled Internet users to sign the protest. Below is the full text of the letter:

Open letter to Jolanta Fedak, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy
Dear Madam Minister,
Labour Offices, being public institutions subordinate to the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, have published on the website (www.praca.gov.pl) a document entitled: Classification of occupations and specialisations. This document (...) sanctions the exercise of occupations listed in the Classification in Poland, as well as, in an exceptionally precise manner, defines what the essence of performing the occupations in question is.
    We, the undersigned, deem it scandalous to add to the list a number of occupations not having anything in common with the civilisations of the 21st century, and by no means with the official mission declared by the government of the Republic of Poland to create a society based on knowledge and reason. Such entries include the “professions” of astrologer, fortune-teller, bio-energy therapist, reflexology therapist, dowser, etc. Below please find two examples quoted in full:

Astrologer

Synthesis:
explores the influence of individual planets of the solar system and solid stars on the terrestrial environment; specifies and analyses both the physical and psychical spheres of phenomena induced by the influence of specific planetary and stellar configurations with a view to obtaining information concerning people – their health, psyche and fate, as well as data useful in other areas, such as meteorology or plant cultivation.
Professional tasks:

  • prepare birth horoscope, constituting the mental and physical portrait of a person for the purpose of self-awareness; determine fields of potential and orientation in life;
  • prepare a prognosis with respect to selected issues, problems, predispositions and events concerning an individual or a group, a given moment, year or century;
  • counsel with reference to specific issues, such as: state of health, choice of partner in life and marriage or business, favourable moment for transaction, use of talents or professional opportunities.
Additional professional tasks:   
  • provide recommendations for personal inner development;
  • conduct scientific research and statistical computations by means of modern equipment, methodology and scientific terminology.
Fortune-teller

Synthesis:
intentionally uses inborn talents to act in the area of supernatural phenomena, gains insight into past and future events with the application of various forms of foretelling shaped by tradition, such as: cards (tarot in particular), fortune-telling, I-ching (based on the Ancient Chinese “Book of Changes”), chiromancy (palm reading), catoptromancy and crystalomancy (foretelling by means of a mirror or crystal), etc.
Professional tasks:

  • foretell, or, occasionally, reveal past – depending on the adopted method and level of the fortune-teller’s knowledge – related with specific counselling or psychotherapy;
  • counsel with respect to missing persons or belongings;
  • explain the origin and settings of phenomena defined as extraordinary.

Additional professional tasks:

  • use the skill of clairvoyance, clairaudience, support the foretelling with mediumistic phenomena, use telepathy, teleportation, as well as draw on information in morphogenetic fields;
  • apply methods characteristic of astrology, numerology, psycho-graphology or other bio-tronic areas.

    We firmly state that the texts of the above entries are completely senseless and full of fundamental scientific errors. They also spread superstitions as well as a para-scientific approach to the surrounding reality. They also allow persons, who conduct healing activities to invoke the aforementioned document in case of revelation of such their activities which breach the law, e.g. conducting a kind of “healing” practices (compare Professional tasks of astrologer).
    We would like to emphasise the fact that the definition of dowsing validated in the directive as one of types of crafts, was the basis for the Supreme Court to allow opinions of dowsers on equal grounds with opinions issued by other experts witnesses (...).
    We indicate that the publication of the document  “Classification of occupations and specialisations – descriptions of groups and occupations” on the website of an institution subordinate to the Minister ridicules your office of Minister and thus jeopardises the dignity of the Republic of Poland.
    We believe that wasting public funds or funds provided by the European Union for the preparation of this kind of absurd documents should be subject to punishment. That is why we demand that the perpetrators of this scandal be identified. Owing to economic turbulence on the world markets Poland is in a very difficult situation, which will be not easy to escape. In this challenging task we will find no support from fortune-tellers or shamans, but from engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors and other hard-working people from different walks of life. We consider placing them on the same list as astrologers and reflexology therapists, allowed by the constitutional authorities of Poland, as an unqualified insult. On behalf of all those people we demand an apology and that the “occupations” in question be removed from the Classification.
Professor Łukasz A. Turski, PhD
Tomasz Witkowski, PhD
Tomasz Sowiński, PhD

Soon after our letter had been published and the relevant website tested, we sent out by mail information on our protest. The response proved to be unexpectedly rapid. The letter was made available for signing for five days and was signed by as many as 4982 persons. Initially it was signed primarily by scientists. In addition to representatives of the majority of Polish universities, among the signatories were also employees of such scientific institutions as:
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
Los Alamos National Laboratory
University of Bristol
University of Helsinki
University of Dundee
University of Texas at Austin
Florida State University
University of Liverpool
University of Zurich
Bournemouth University
University of Basel
Aston University
University of Worcester
University of Dublin, Trinity College
University of Chicago
and many more.
The scientists were joined by representatives of various occupations, university and high school students, unemployed and retired. The signatories came from very different parts of the world, even from Africa. The media quickly spotted the announcement of the protest and for a few days information about our campaign had the status of hot news. It was given wide coverage in TV news and daily press, as well as in the Internet portals. Below are just a few among from many titles of programmes and publications:
- Labour minister troubled by fortune-teller.
- “In defence of reason” – scientists ask Ministry of Labour about astrologers, fortune-tellers and bio-energy therapists.
- Minister of Labour thinks fortune-teller and astrologers are occupations.
- Fortune-teller on the list of occupations. I am a fortune-teller and I can prove it.
- Ministry: don’t let fortune-tellers go underground! In defence of reason – are astrologer and fortune-teller occupations?
- Ministry of Labour in response to scientists: fortune-telling is also an occupation.
- Protest against the occupation of fortune-teller.
    Numerous journalists asked us for statements concerning this matter and we participated in some programmes personally. The Ministry was also requested by journalists to take a stance on the letter. The statement quoted below is most likely the only stance provided with respect to fortune-tellers:

„We will not exclude fortune-tellers from the list of occupations; there is an occupation of scientist, there is also a fortune-teller” – Bożena Diaba, the press officer of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, said to PAP (Polish Press Agency) with reference to the letter of scientists protesting against such occupations as astrologer, fortune-teller or bio-energy therapist being placed on the list (http://finanse.wp.pl/kat,104762,title,MPiPS-w-odpowiedzi-naukowcom-wrozka-to-tez-zawod,wid,10890320,wiadomosc.html?ticaid=17934).

Apparently, the press officer had not bothered to look through the list. There is neither occupation of scientist (though scientific research is detailed within the individual occupations) nor, for instance, ... a poet. From the statement provided by the Ministry press officer we had also an opportunity to find out what the procedure of entering a given occupation onto the list looked like:

As explained, it is, among others, trade associations, offices or even a private person, who may apply to enter a given occupation on the list. Such application is verified by the Department of the Labour Market and, in most cases, it is examined positively (http://finanse.wp.pl/kat,104762,title,MPiPS-w-odpowiedzi-naukowcom-wrozka-to-tez-zawod,wid,10890320,wiadomosc.html?ticaid=17934).
   
Similar statements were extremely accurately summed up by a participant of one of numerous Internet discussions, which developed following the press publications:

And returning to the list of occupations. I strongly feel like dressing up in white and visiting the Ministry with an application to register a new occupation (it is not on the list and even an individual citizen may apply).
Occupation performed:

God

Synthesis:
takes care of the whole mankind with special attention paid to nations chosen by himself. Looks after moral development of clients, supports them throughout their lives influencing the fate of both individuals and whole communities. Undertakes actions aimed at improving the physical and mental well being of specific individuals. Provides support and enables attainment of salvation following the completion of life cycle of an individual.
Professional tasks:

  • hear the prayers of the faithful/clients,
  • fulfil any and all wishes,
  • exercise content-related supervision over individual fates of clients as well as over social and civilisation processes.

Additional tasks:

  • perform miracles,
  • promote philosophical ideas and systems of values profitable for the general population,
  • create new universes,
  • control the weather.

What do you say? I would like to mention that I am convinced to possess all skills necessary for practising this profession. I have been acting as God for many years now and I would like to have an opportunity to conduct my activity on legal basis within the territory of Poland.
   
We closed the list of signatures on 2nd March 2009 and submitted it, along with the open letter to the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Ms Jolanta Fedak. A copy of those documents was also submitted to, the Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland. We sent the following information to the signatories of the letter:

Dear Signatories
of the Open Letter in Defence of Reason,
Today at 12:00 we closed the list of signatures. During the five days of our campaign we managed to collect nearly 5000 signatures. Throughout the following week the letter and your signatures will be available for Internet users to look through. Then they will be archived and the website will be closed. We are submitting the letter along with a copy of your signatures to the addressee, i.e. Ms Jolanta Fedak, Minister of Labour and Social Policy, as well as to Chief of the Advisors of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland.
We made copies of covering letters available on the web page of our campaign (www.cft.edu.pl/protest).
We would like to thank you all most sincerely for signing our letter. These five thousand signatures prove that the society of reason does exist in Poland since it is all of you, who create it, regardless of your personal views and beliefs. Do not be discouraged by the lack of response on the part of the government to your voice. In Poland it has been so for years. You have shown that you do not want to remain silent when confronted with para-scientific nonsense being promoted as public legal rules. You must continue to believe that this voice of reason will someday crush the fetters of ignorance also among the authorities.
Thank you once again
Professor Łukasz A. Turski, PhD
Tomasz Witkowski, PhD
Tomasz Sowiński, PhD

We received an official reply from the Ministry on the 13th of March presented on about five pages. More than two were filled by a historical outline of attempts to classify occupations, starting from the Second World War. The following one and a half pages described the present status of classification and actions planned in that area. Finally, the last half page was devoted directly to the problem. It is worth quoting this part in full:

III. Fortune-teller in the Classification of occupations and specialisations
The Classification of occupations and specialisations for the needs of the labour market, called often for short an economic classification, comprises those occupations and specialisations, which in fact are found on the labour market. Hence such classification should objectively reflect the fact of existence of a set of occupations performed by persons active economically, and the types of activities conducted by them. They also include activities, which are deemed unconventional, e.g. paramedical, astrological, spiritualistic, etc. It is of no significance what their ontological status and the essence of performed ascribed tasks are. The classification does not provide for any obligation to use services of entities/persons performing individual occupations, either. The official recognition of a given occupation, which is preceded by inclusion in the Classification is understood exclusively as a possibility to keep it in records, primarily for statistical purposes. Fortune-tellers, astrologers and bio-nergy therapists will provide their services irrespective of whether names of their occupations will be allowed or deleted in the Classification. The advantages of such deletion seem doubtful, since it would lead to an incomplete or limited image of the structure of occupations found in the labour market.
The fact of including an occupation in the classification indicates only that this occupation functions in the labour market, regardless of the fact whether it is legally sanctioned or not. The Classification of occupations should not be mistaken for so-called list of regulated professions, the exercise of which is subject to regulations of law.
Assuming that each working person should find their professional affiliation in the classification of occupations, it should be understood that this also relates to those persons, who perform such controversial – in your view – occupations as fortune-teller, reflexology therapist, dowser, astrologer or bio-energy therapist.
As mentioned earlier, the Classification of occupations and specialisations is primarily applied to conduct statistical research and prepare analyses of the labour market. If it lacks any of occupations/specialisations actually found in the labour market, it may significantly distort the image of reality.
MINISTER
Jolanta Fedak

One may try to rewrite or reread this text several times, replacing the mentioned occupations of fortune-teller, dowser, astrologer and others with such professions as matrimonial racketeer, pickpocket, prostitute, drug dealer, contract thug. The logic of arguments will be equally coherent in these cases. These are actually performed occupations, functioning on the labour market, and nobody forces anybody to use services of the service providers. These people will also provide their services regardless of whether their jobs will be included in the Classification or not. The lack of these occupations in the Classification does lead to an incomplete or limited image of reality.
The Minister has not however taken a stance toward the legal consequences resulting from individual occupations being included in the Classification. What I have in mind is mainly the consequences related with the decision of the Polish Supreme Court to allow a possibility to establish expert witnesses in the area of fortune-telling, astrology, bio-energy therapy and similar specialisation on the on the same grounds as other expert witnesses. It is only the matter of time now when a clever lawyer makes use of this provision and forces a decree of divorce with the help of a clairvoyant. After all, their opinion is of the same weight as of, take, a criminological opinion. I even fear to think about any other possible consequences resulting from taking advantage of such decisions.
There are also some more legal consequences of this situation, which we were not aware of when writing our letter and which were made clear to us during the protest campaign. They refer to education since the inclusion on the occupation creates a legal opportunity to formulate professional pragmatics of the occupation of fortune-teller by a minister competent for this specialisation. In response to an application of, for instance, the Harry Potter Society of Fortune-Tellers addressed to a competent minister, the latter should prepare a catalogue of skills necessary for performing tasks of fortune-teller, based on which the education minister, in turn, works out core curricula for schools and standards of examinations. The only thing left is to hope that nobody in court will have to face an opinion issued by an expert witness fortune-teller, and no wizard societies will submit any petitions to any ministers in large numbers. But this is only a hope. Such situations are allowed by law.
I do not know whether as a result of the controversy, which we stirred up or any previous plans and ideas, yet soon after we had closed our protest, the Ministry of National Education announced that it intended to introduce to curricula, among others, astrology, dowsing, bio-energy therapy and similar issues. The official aim – to combat pseudoscience. This idea will surely contribute to increase in interest in these occupations. Today Polish schools are unable to formulate curricula free of pseudoscientific contents. Students at the Wrocław Medical University are taught homeopathy and a majority of state universities offering psychology teaches pseudoscience. Some private schools saturate most of their courses with pseudoscience. In terms of curricula and funds, the Polish Ministry of National Education along with the European Union has for years been supporting charlatans known as originators of educational kinesiology.

Łukasz Turski summed up the idea of the Ministry of National Education in a few, accurate sentences:

You do not write an incorrect formula on the board to say: remember children not to ever write such nonsense - because the chances are many would remember it well. Para-science discussed in schools constitutes promotion of ignorance. We may well say farewell to our dream of Poland catching up with the rest of the world in terms of civilisation (http://www.rp.pl/artykul/19,271282.html).




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