In medical research, “impact” usually refers to the number of times that an article or a journal is cited by others going forward. If your findings only ever find their way into, say, three sets of footnotes in other people’s papers, you can be pretty sure your impact is minimal.
In journalism, however, when you’re, say, applying for a Pulitzer prize, you need to show “impact” in the sense that your stories have led to significant change: The corrupt sheriff was ousted, or the systemic injustice corrected.
Dr. Pieter Cohen, a general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance who researches dietary supplements, has just crossed the line from the academic sort of impact to the journalistic: On Monday, he and colleagues published a paper warning that they had analyzed the popular pre-workout supplement Craze and found that it contained a little-studied methamphetamine-like substance. Now, USA Today reports: “Driven Sports, maker of the pre-workout supplement Craze, announced Tuesday that it has suspended all production and sales of the product in the wake of tests finding amphetamine-like ingredients.”
In fact, Driven Sports writes on its Website that it stopped production “several months ago while it investigated the reports in the media regarding the safety of Craze” — though it also maintains that Craze is safe and its own testing has found no amphetamine or other controlled substances.
But would we have known that Craze production had been suspended if Dr. Cohen’s study in the journal Drug Testing And Analysis had not appeared? We asked him for his main messages from the Craze tale, and he replied:
• Supplements are all assumed safe until proven otherwise by the FDA. But the FDA has no effective system to detect hazardous supplements.
• In this setting it’s concerning to find that more and more supplements, like Craze, that contain new, untested compounds. This can lead to serious health effects: The FDA is currently investigating whether a new ingredient in a weight loss supplement, aegeline, was responsible for one death and dozens of cases of severe hepatitis in Hawaii. Continue reading