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“Big Suppla” is now evidence-based debunking

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Photograph of a plain white bottle with the word “hope” on it, representing false hope and/or placebo.
One of the oddest things about supplements and herbal remedies is that so many people are so trusting of them, so accepting of the idea that these products are the virtuous natural “alternative” to the artificial output of Big Pharma.

In fact, the supplements business is also a huge industry, and a virtually unregulated one to boot, caught red-handed doing all kinds of even shadier crap than Big Pharma can get away with, like adulteration and contamination.

The term “Big Suppla” is intended to be a witty delivery mechanism for this debunking truth bomb. It’s quite clever. If Suppla is just as Big as Pharma… well, the whole point is that the implication is so clear that no further explanation is even required.

But does that reach people? Is it an effective debunking strategy? Someone actually tested this, and the results were positive, huzzah! Minds were changed! This is a great relief for me to hear, because I started deploying “Big Suppla” in about 2006.

Mijatović et al. tested the effect of this terminology by giving about 250 people three different kinds of information about the supplements industry:

  • Neutral information was just the origins of the words “supplements” and “alternative.”
  • Big Suppla information framed the industry as “powerful, profit-oriented, and unregulated.” Which it actually is.
  • Baby Suppla information portrayed the supplements industry as a virtue-motivated underdog. Which it definitely is not.

The test results were better than science communicators could have hoped for. Not only did the “Big Suppla” framing change minds, it even worked on some of the hardest targets: subjects who were prone to conspiratorial thinking. Those people were more likely to be keen on supplements to begin with, but they were still persuaded by “Big Suppla.” Perhaps it’s because this debunking method exploits the “follow the money” trope that practically defines conspiratorial thinking.

The truth is the real underdog

Skeptics and debunkers do a lot of joking about how we’re in the wrong line of work, because it would obviously be so much easier to get rich if only we were willing to just lie, tell people whatever they want to hear, and sell easy solutions to hard problems. Which is exactly what the bad guys do. For instance, Alex Jones' Infowars Store — dominated by supplements and survival gear — Made $165 Million Over 3 Years ( But Alex Jones constantly told his followers things like, “As much begging as I do, we can barely pay the bills.”

That would be a lie even if he’d only made one million dollars, instead of one hundred sixty-five million.

Defy that lie! Tell the truth: false hope and fear are highly profitable, while truth and realism are the actual underdogs.

Which is, of course, exactly why you should buy a PainSci membership… 😉 The world needs more of this, and a lot less from Alex Jones.

PainSci Member Login » Submit your email to unlock member content. If you can’t remember/access your registration email, please contact me. ~ Paul Ingraham, PainSci Publisher