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Casey Cohen asks Nicholas Bennett, MD to Debate

Casey Cohen asks Nicholas Bennett, a resident in pediatrics at SUNY university in New York State, who has been a vocal critic of AIDS dissidents, to debate Christine Maggiore and Charles Geshekter. Why does he refuse? If he's not the right man for the job, who is?

August 31, 2006

Dear Dr. Bennett,
I am helping to organize a debate on the issue of AIDS denialism to take place in January of 2007 in Manhattan. If all goes as planned, the event will go from 7 to 10 PM, will take place before a live audience (we estimate about 200 people) and will air in segments on WBAI radio and possibly other Pacifica stations. There will be two representatives from each side (AIDS and AIDS denier) and we would like to have you as one (on the AIDS side of course). We would also like you to suggest a partner you would like to join you for the event.
If all goes as planned, the other side would be represented by Christine Maggiore and Dr Charles Geshekter (UC Chico).
The date is yet to be firmly established so please let me know if you would be available in principle. We can work out the exact day, most likely a Saturday evening, sometime in the next few weeks.
Looking forward to an affirmative reply,
Casey Cohen

Sept. 1 @ 9am

Thanks for your email. I’m sorry I took so long to reply but yesterday was a bit hectic.
While it is possible that I could attend this debate, as I’ve mentioned to others who have asked me about a similar event, I’m not likely to be considered a particularly fair or unbiased person to talk with Christine. Much of the credibility of what I would say would, unfairly, be colored by the fact that I wrote an article about the death of Ms Maggiore’s daughter. Regardless of the fact that I would be stating scientific facts, many would reject that out of hand because of the spin certain people might put upon it. Also, I simply don’t want to end up in a situation where I might been seen as “confronting” Ms Maggiore, as that isn’t my intention at all.
Also, in this instance, I don’t think that it’s a particularly suitable idea. It lends undue credence to a fringe element with, in my opinion and experience, seriously misguided views. There is no basis for debate in this issue, because many if not all of the fundamentals underlying the dissident side of the argument are misguided, misunderstood, or simply incorrect!
I apologise if this appears to be simply disregarding the dissident views - but the reality is far from it. I consider them a real danger to public health and to the lives of specific individuals. I must decline to participate not because I think the dissidents don’t need to be corrected (they do) and not because the public needs to be educated (they do too) but, sadly, because if I partake in this debate I would be validating the dissidents’ cause.
I have spent a considerable amount of my time over the last 9 years involved in the dissident debate, and now am directing my efforts towards public education and busting the dissident myths without the messy angry rants that inevitably have colored the “debates” I have participated in in the past.
I know I am not alone in choosing not to validate the dissidents by debating with them. I do still accept personal correspondence from time to time, providing it is kept polite, and like I said I now prefer a mass-audience format with my website
I wish you all the best, and apologise for not being more helpful.

Sept. 1 @ 11am

Dear Dr Bennett,

Please understand that we contacted you because you are biased and have strong views on the topic of the debate and the death of Maggiore’s daughter. We don’t want or expect you to be fair or unbiased. We want you to put the discussion to rest once and for all. We want you to confront Maggiore with the facts in public and leave us with a record of the confrontation we can share with millions of people around the world.

I think you underestimate the intelligence of our audience. They want to hear the scientific facts, and they are *not sympathetic* to Maggiore or her views. There is no problem with anything spinning in Maggiore’s favor.

Maggiore has already agreed to come to New York for this event. We are delivering her to your door in order to put an end to her discussions, not lend them credence. As you say, her arguments are misguided and incorrect and you’ve devoted 9 years to proving them wrong. But they persist and even gain power. They persuade and confuse people. Why not put them and her to rest in one 3 hour event? We can even cut it to 2 hours so you don’t waste more time than necessary.

The audience will be primarily gay men who have lived with this plague for the past 25 years. We’re pretty sure POZ magazine will be a sponsor. And Bob Lederer of POZ is on the board of WBAI (the radio station that will broadcast the event). And we have support from Pacifica stations around the country including Los Angeles where Maggiore lives.

You can help us design the debate format and pick a moderator of your choice. We can probably get one of the original ACTUP New York members, maybe even Larry Kramer.

Please help us end what you so rightly call “a real danger to public health and to the lives of specific individuals.” How could your participation possibly “validate” the dissident points?! It will annihilate them!!

The odds are stacked in your favor! And you have the truth on your side!

Please let us know if we count on your help and expertise, Dr Bennett!



Sept. 1 @ 1pm

Dear Casey,
I have no intention of “annihilating” anyone, because that’s not my way. The debate is resolved in far less than 3 hours by simply reading through websites like my own and Christine has I’m sure had all this put to her over the years and choses not to believe it. My experience tells me I cannot change that.
I think you in fact underestimate the intelligence and deviousness of some of the dissidents. Groups like Dissident Action Group, who have in the past waged digital war on AIDS support groups and information services, and AIDS Myth Exposed, along with the Alberta Re-Appraising AIDS society and others, have a track record of twisting any kind of media event to their own ends. The mere fact that I attend it would I am sure be labelled as “Desperate Bennett tries to take on Maggiore”. With a track record of selective quoting, fabrication and spin I fear that I would open the door to more problems than I could possible solve. Even today the myth persists that HIV was labeled as the cause of AIDS because of a press conference, and not any kind of proper scientific research. The case for HIV causing AIDS has been decided in the scientific literature, in the clinics and laboratories of the world, not in an armchair discussion on the radio.
Would I ever hope to change Ms Maggiore’s mind? Hardly. We would just end up at loggerheads which, like I said, is not my preferred style. I fail to see how such a “confrontation” (your words, not mine) cannot but involve a discussion of the death of her daughter, and I do not feel it appropriate at all to discuss that event with a grieving, caring mother. I am a pediatrician, and immediately after the care of my patients is the consideration for the emotional and physical wel-lbeing of their parents. I may have the academic upper hand (”truth on my side”, so to speak), but in terms of support and sympathy Ms Maggiore, quite rightly, grabs at hearts. As we all know, the truth doesn’t matter so much when you’re trying to win people over.
I’m sorry, but I must decline.

Nicholas Bennett MA(Cantab), PhD, MB/BChir
Clinical Research Associate
Department of Pediatrics
SUNY Upstate Medical University

Sept. 2

Dear Dr Bennett,
It’s not Maggiore you need to convince. Clearly, if the death of her own child hasn’t managed to get her to recant, you won’t either. Your job is to show the audience she’s wrong.
Why give so much power to the hollow arguments of the denialists? How can they possibly twist anything in the light of facts, in the presence of truth? It’s not you who would come off as desperate, but Maggiore.
The position that we shouldn’t give Maggiore and her ilk credence by answering their questions is starting to seem suspicious to some people. I’m not saying I’m one of those people, I totally understand the logic of not giving the denialists opportunities to speak and publish–it’s just more questions we have to answer. But people are starting to wonder: if they are so wrong and we are so right, why don’t we just prove it once and for all? If all it takes is a two hour talk, why not just do it?
Science may not decide the case for HIV this way, but AIDS has nothing to do with science. AIDS is a social issue. Young gay men won’t sit around reading JAMA and Lancet, but they will show up see the ultimate AIDS debate.
I don’t see how Maggiore can be winning hearts and all that if she’s wrong, and proven wrong. She’ll be lucky to get out of the building alive by the end of the discussion.
Truth does matter, it’s all that matters, and we need you to confront Maggiore’s lies with the truth. It’s as simple as HIV causes AIDS. It’s the virus, stupid.
If they say HIV was decided at a press conference, just show up with the studies that prove it was discovered in a lab. How can anyone spin that? They say there’s no HIV test that actually tests for HIV? You show up with the HIV tests and read the part where it says they do.
Why spend the next 9 years toiling away at a web site when we can end it all in one dynamic event?
Please rethink your position (no pun intended) and get back to me ASAP. It’s already looking bad that Maggiore’s ready to go and we can’t seem to get anyone from our side to face off with her.

© Copyright May 18, 2009 by Rethinking AIDS.