BBC Radio 5 "The E Generation"
The media manufacture anti-E propaganda for themselves!
BackgroundOn May 27th I was interviewed for Radio 5 by Gareth Mitchell from Radio 1. Towards the end, he asked me to comment on new research carried out for BBC Radio 5 which confirmed that long term ecstasy users suffered from a number of severe problems. When I told him I could not comment without examining the evidence, he said there was not much doubt about it: long term users were interviewed about both positive and negative changes they had experienced, and had reported overwhelmingly negative ones. I could only comment that several studies in large medical research establishments in the USA costing millions of dollars had failed to find such damage. I would have to see the report.
I asked for a copy of the report. He could not let me have his, but told me that it would be sent. When the report did not arrive I rang and was told that it would be in the post next day. A few days later I rang again and was told that they could not let me have a copy as they were Radio 1 and the report was copyright of Radio 5.
A few weeks later, Radio 5 asked to interview me about the report complete with questionnaire and methodology, and again I asked for a copy. The day before the interview the conclusions arrived without the questionnaire. After more phone calls these were faxed to me shortly before the interview.
The researchThe survey consisted of asking long term ecstasy users a series of questions. The results showed that a large number reported negative effects. That was the basis of the evidence.
One question was: "I have a list here of some of the long term effects from the regular use of E which other people have given. Are any of these relevant to you?"
The list of answers available was:
I need to take more Es to get the same outcomes
I feel more open towards other people
I feel very good about myself/confident
I have greater self awareness
I have trouble sleeping
I have less appetite
I get constipated
My relationships with friends/family have suffered
My work/study has suffered
I feel worn out
My concentration is less good/get confused
I get depressed
I feel persecuted/paranoid/anxious
I have headaches
My skin is irritated/mouth ulcers
My back/kidneys are sore
Three of the above are positive and 13 negative.
Someone who had observed as many good long term effects as bad ones would be more than 4 times as likely to find a suitable negative answer to agree with, and if all respondents had equally good and bad observations to report the survey result would be: "81% of long term ecstasy users report negative effects".
Many of the more obvious benefits, such as 'Better social life' or 'Enjoy dancing more' were missing. Other questions could only be answered in the negative: if your relationships had suffered, this was counted... but not of they had benefited.
The survey concluded that "72% of long-term regular users felt they were suffering from negative long-term effects." - a lower score than random answers would produce. Such a result could even be construed to mean that the long term effects of ecstasy were positive, since answers were less negative than would be given by chance.
The underlying problem is suggestion and lack of controlsEcstasy users had been primed for the previous year with propaganda about the terrible long term consequences of ecstasy use. They are then asked what such damage they have noticed. In this situation it is not surprising that they report it.
As an example, some years back when there was concern over the effect of electricity transmission lines on people's health. A survey was carried out among householders living under or very close to overhead wires, and sure enough they found widespread reports of depression and ill health.
However, one of the lines was unused, yet the people living near it reported just as many negative effects. Such a 'control' mechanism is essential if any sense is to be made of such surveys, and that is lacking in the BBC survey.
An example of the opposite is my own research on herbal ecstasy. I gave out 50 samples with questionnaires and people reported various responses including "The best ecstasy experience I have ever had". But I also gave out 50 herbal vitamin pills with the same questionnaire and got similar responses. Respondents were asked to say how much they would have paid, and the average amount was higher for vitamin pills.
The Accident and Emergency surveyAnother part of the "evidence" (that I was not asked to comment on) was taken from people working in hospitals. The problem with this is again lack of control such as comparison with problems caused by alchohol, which are of course enormously higher.
The BBC side of the storyA few hours after first posting a critique here, the BBC site manager asked me:
"Could you add a link to the BBC 5 Live website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio5, where there's a section dedicated to the research project. I've read the critique but it would be good if you could direct people to the site so they can make up their own minds."
I have asked him to add a link to this page also.
©Nicholas Saunders 1997
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