If you don’t know who Tim Bolen is, I apologise in advance for shattering your blissful ignorance. First, watch this video. It’s nice and short. Well, it’s short.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll now be struggling to put into words quite why you feel a strong compulsion to hate this guy.
I’m not sure that hate’s ever a good thing, but it’s certainly an easy thing at times.
Maybe you’re wondering why I’m being quite so snippy and snide about him. Maybe, if you’re not aware of his body of “work”, he doesn’t come across as contemptuous and unbearably smug in that clip, and just looks kinda sleepy. I can’t tell.
Now let’s talk about who Tim Bolen is.
A few weeks ago, science-based medicine advocate and all-round skeptical hero Steven Novella was a guest on The Dr. Oz Show, a TV show in the States hosted by a prominent TV doctor. Here is Steve’s account of how it went.
Looking at them both, there are some striking differences between the approaches taken by these two accounts.
For instance, Tim Bolen’s analysis gets to the seventh paragraph before offering a single critique of Steve’s performance on the show that isn’t about his hair or make-up. He continues to use the phrase “carpet-head” throughout the article, and seems to think that he’s undermining Steve’s credibility, rather than just insulting The Dr. Oz Show‘s team of professional make-up artists, by making a weird Tammy Faye reference.
And when he stops simply being insulting for its own sake, it gets weird.
Novella claims to be a neurology professor at Yale University, and throws the name “Yale” around like he was throwing seed to the morning chickens – but, to me, that is an outright fabrication. Novella, evidence shows, works for a medical center that “rents” the name “Yale” from the University, who then, assuming the monthly payments are up to date, gets to claim that all their staff doctors are, in fact, professors at Yale (insert bad smell here).
Yes, he really said that last bit in parentheses. That’s Tim Bolen’s way of slamming someone with his disapproval. If you are six years old, you can acceptably laugh with him.
The rest of this is entirely empty whining. The Yale Medical Group lists Steven Novella as an Assistant Professor of Neurology. The prestigious history of Yale School Of Medicine at Yale University and the close affiliation between the two establishments is not hard to learn about. Bolen seems to think Yale University is eminently respectable, but whoever Steve works for are irrelevant bandwagon-jumpers using the name dishonestly. This is demonstrably untrue.
Which isn’t surprising, because after this Bolen just starts making stuff up shamelessly.
The reality of Novella, easily found, is that he testifies for insurance companies, and that seems to be the extent of his practice. I get a picture of Novella saying…
No, you can shut up right there. There’s no reason for anyone to care what he can picture Steven Novella saying. Personally, I get a picture of Tim Bolen shitting into his own mouth, but that doesn’t have any bearing on how he might actually spend his weekends.
Anyway, this claim about Steve is entirely false. Steve works as a clinical neurologist, earning a living as a physician at Yale School of Medicine. He has a number of published scientific articles to his name. He’s also a prominent part of the skeptical community, hosting a weekly podcast, and contributing to several scientific blogs. He’s an associate editor of The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. He does plenty of work that it’s impossible not to learn about if you do any research.
And I couldn’t track down a single instance of this “easily found” bollocks about insurance company testimonials. I googled the relevant terms, and the only pertinent links I could find brought me straight back to Bolen’s diatribe. He doesn’t link to any supporting data. As far as I can tell, he’s flat-out lying.
Then it gets weirder:
Knowing what I know about Randi’s sexual proclivities, that Randi/Novella video, and Novella’s obvious relationship with James Randi, has raised red flags with me about the ENTIRE pseudo-skeptic movement.
I genuinely don’t know what this means, but that sentence stands alone as if it were in some way revealing or incriminating. Yes, Steve and James Randi are friends and allies, and have worked closely together before. They’ve appeared together on video before, there’s no denying that. And James Randi is gay. Maybe that’s what meant by “sexual proclivities”? I’ve really no idea.
Steve’s blog post about his discussion with Dr Oz describes the alternative medicine debate at great length, and comprehensively outlines both their positions and how the discussion on the show went. Bolen pretty much just crows about how smart Dr Oz is and how dumb Steve looked, over and over, without actually describing a single thing that happened. (Except that Steve has bad hair. That’s very important for some reason.)
Then he flips back to the only other mode he seems to have, namely that of outright bullshitting:
All over the internet they are calling Oz names, using, of course, their made-up internet names – not their real ones (They are terrified of being personally identified). These people are not known for manliness. Each of the pseudo-skeptics, I estimate, has between fifteen and thirty different made-up internet identities. For them, I guess, if they are losing a factual or intellectual argument to someone in a discussion group they just bring five of their other identities online to back them up, pretending these are really five other people agreeing with them.
You “estimate”? I do not think that means what you think it means. Again, not a shred of supporting evidence for this is provided. Just more unbelievably sour grapes. I did a quick search for what the “pseudo-skeptics” have actually been saying about Steve and Dr Oz, and literally the first post I found was by two people whose full names and résumés are on their site.
Of course, maybe they’re also busy being thirty other people as well, so that might not tell you much. I know I find it hard keeping track of whether I’m supposed to be John Smith, James Norriss, Zingelbert Bembledack, or Santorum Q Lemonparty, depending on what day of the week it is.
Bolen ends on a strange, vicious, and idiotic legal threat, which amounts to nothing more than fantasist ranting about all his enemies one day facing a “video-taped Deposition” for the crime of… um… having their articles appear near the top of search engine listings when you search for them… by dastardly, nefarious means. Yeah. The spite and delusions driving this guy are quite unsettling.
And it’s probably not healthy for me to spend so much time on him. I almost decided to dismiss him as an obvious troll and leave it, but he’s actually got quite a presence online as a source of much genuine grief. He has quite a history with Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch, and there are a number of pages about him on ratbags.com and Canadian Quackery Watch.
If you’re not quite bored of Bolen yet, have a look at an older post of his on Orac the Nipple Ripper, regarding the identity of a popular science-blogger. I think my favourite part of this is where he claims:
There is absolutely no recognized medical specialty known as “surgical oncologist.” It is a made up term.
Okay. I’m done. I haven’t needed a unicorn chaser this badly in quite some time.
Wait, no. Whenever Japanese people are shouting on a YouTube clip I get worried something terrible’s about to happen. I’m sure they wouldn’t do anything bad to the kittens, but I’ve seen people on Japanese game shows do some pretty horrifying things, so I can’t watch this without being a little on edge. I need something else.
Wait, no, that’s not good. That’s the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Jesus.
(Yes, all my unicorn chasers are videos of cats. Problem?)