The Observer and Daily Mail both got sucked in by a survey with some dubious credentials.

Date: Mon, 14 May 2001 16:32:42 -0000
From: “Martin Adamson” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Drug abuse, the ‘Daily Mail’ and the former punk with an alien on his website

The Independent

Drug abuse, the ‘Daily Mail’ and the former punk with an alien on his website

Firm claims it talked to 20,000 teenagers for a headline-grabbing survey. But trading standards and a university are not so sure

By Chris Blackhurst 14 May 2001

It was a typically apocalyptic Daily Mail front page. “School Drug Abuse Shock,” screamed the paper’s headline on 1 May this year, “400,000 children under 16

are regular users, warns survey." Inside, the comment page carried a pulpit-thumping piece: "Why daren't we tell our children the truth about drugs?" by Mary Brett, head of health education at Dr Challoner's Grammar School in Buckinghamshire.

"The drug culture continues to tighten its grip on our young people, dragging ever more teenagers under its malign influence," warned Ms Brett.

She went on: "An authoritative survey just published confirms that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of 13 and 14-year-olds starting to take drugs, with many becoming regular users. According to the report by the Adolescent Assessment Services group (AAS), by age 16 almost 9 per cent of boys and 7 per cent of girls are taking drugs at least once a week."

The Daily Mail was not alone in highlighting the study. Under the headline "Shock rise in hard drug use among pupils", The Observer reported how the survey findings, "based on questionnaires filled in by 20,000 children in 67 secondary schools last year, contradict recent government claims that juvenile drug use is falling". The Observer quoted Jeremy Gluck, head of the Adolescent Assessment Services: "The results were very striking, drug use is much more extensive than we thought. The sheer numbers involved are very worrying. Some totals were so high that we genuinely didn't want to believe them." Mr Gluck's study was also covered by BBC2's Newsnight and by the Press Association.

A full copy of his report is available for £25 from the offices of the AAS in Swansea and he is also selling places at a conference on drugs and school-children for £95 each.

The questionnaire contains a code, which, says the AAS blurb, "allows us to follow individuals over a number of years without anyone ever knowing who they are. In this way we could survey a class of Year 6 primary school children at age 10 and follow them through secondary school every year until they leave at age 16." The questionnaire does not concentrate solely on drugs. "If an LEA or health authority wanted to know about the level of awareness to HIV and Aids in 12-year-old girls we can arrange for their inclusion and analyse the data accordingly." This year, the AAS claims to be surveying 100,000 young people.

Odd then, given the scale of such an operation, that the AAS is not in the phonebook and its offices are Mr Gluck's home in suburban Swansea. The firm is not known to any of the local bodies with a keen interest in drug problems: the Welsh Assembly, Swansea Council or South Wales health trusts. Odder still that Mr Gluck seems to have no qualifications for pronouncing on the nation's health. He is a Canadian, a former punk rocker with a band called the Barracudas, who, when he is not selling reports on drug abuse, runs his own website where he claims to be in touch with a higher being called Aona that keeps him posted about the destiny of the human race. He also once ran for a council by-election, for the "Independent Party of Wales", attracting nine votes. As well as the AAS, Mr Gluck runs another organisation, Spiritech UK, which he bills on the internet as "an online initiative dedicated to exploring the spirituality-technological interface and how we are evolving in cyberspace".

As for Mr Gluck, he describes himself as "an artist and writer by vocation, a visionary and dreamer by nature, and a meta-modernist by intent ..."

He maintains an internet dialogue with Aona, which tells him we are not alone: "The human race is not unique. There are many human-type races throughout the universe, so much so that it would be quite useless trying to quantify this fact." Earthlings are hampered at present by our DNA, which, Aona tells Mr Gluck, is not fully developed. But do not worry: "This is a restriction for earth-born human beings, yet it is also a source of their future or impending strength ­ restriction always brings out the best in a being, because it forces that being to master its nature through endurance."

Unfortunately for Mr Gluck, more down-to-earth bodies are taking a keen interest in his affairs. Swansea Trading Standards are looking into Mr Gluck's organisation. John Spence, director of Trading Standards for Swansea, said: "We've had certain information given to us among which there are issues which need to be clarified in relation to the activities in which Mr Gluck is engaged."

Alan Williams, the Labour MP for Swansea West, has asked the decidedly less than ethereal figure of Jack Straw to investigate. "I've referred the survey to the Home Office," said Mr Williams. "I wish the people who used this report had investigated its bona fides properly first." Particularly worrying is the suggestion that this could involve the surveying of large numbers of children and secret monitoring of them over a number of years.

Mr Gluck has also incurred the wrath of Swansea University. In its blurb accompanying the report, the AAS claims to be "a spin-off company from the University of Wales". Mr Gluck does work for the university. He is a part-time lecturer in IT in its adult education department. A spokeswoman for the university said: "His claim that Adolescent Assessment Services is linked to the university is not true and we have told him to remove the reference."

Mr Gluck maintained that he surveyed the children on behalf of 10 local education authorities. As well as not naming the schools the report provides no clues as to the identity of the authorities. "I can't name them because of confidentiality ­ the children must be protected," Mr Gluck said. "The whole procedure is designed to protect the anonymity of the children."

The Independent wanted to have a long chat with Mr Gluck but he was remarkably unforthcoming on detail. He acknowledged the AAS was not in the phonebook but assured us it did exist. He did not say how many people worked for an organisation that claims to survey 100,000 children. He would not say how many copies of his drugs report he has sold or how many people had paid for the conference, except that the response has been "overwhelming". The discussion, such as it was, became truncated when he was asked whether he was concerned about the referral to the Home Office.

"Before I speak any further I shall have to speak to my colleagues," he said. "The actual report is sound," he emphasised, before repeating he would have to consult his unnamed colleagues. He said he would call back. He never did.

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