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Casey Cohen asks Nicholas Bennett, MD to Debate

Casey Cohen asks Nicholas Bennett, a New York State MD 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.



Oct. 29

Dear Dr Bennett,

I understand you are not available for the New York debate but hope you will take the time to respond to a new report on Maggiore’s daughter by the same “pathologist” you so thoroughly put into place the last time he dared to claim authority on the topic.

I am giving you a PDF of the report in anticipation of its publication in November so you/we will be ready to show how and why “Dr.” Albayati is wrong once again, and why there is no question the little girl died of AIDS.

I also need your help with what I’m sure are simple questions for you to answer. I’ve been debating someone who says that Elisa Jane’s “lymphocyte count” proves she did not have AIDS. I know that’s not true, but I’m not sure how to fight back on that point. Can you give me a quick response that puts that claim in the garbage where it belongs? And if you pardon my ignorance, is a lymphocyte count the same as a CD4 Tcell count?

Thank you for your help with my questions.

I look forward to your masterful reply to another pathetic claim from the Maggiore camp!



P.S. Are you ever available for lunch? I may be up your way next month and would love to take you out for a bite.

Oct. 30

Dear Casey,

I appreciate the heads-up on Al-Bayati’s latest addition to the fray. Frankly I’m vaguely surprised at his findings - on both cases. He rather neatly selects two normal views of EJ’s lungs while failing to explain where the excess weight came from, and doesn’t explain why the coroner reported seeing foamy alveolar casts (inflammatory exudates diagnostic for PCP). Al-Bayati submits a bare-faced lie when he says that the coroner did not see FAC’s in EJ’s lungs.

I’m also amused that he had access to 11 year old autopsy material that he alleges the coroner didn’t originally prepare. I’m very skeptical on the truth of these slides he’s claiming belong to these two kids.

EJ’s total lymphocyte count was apparently (i.e. according to Al-Bayati) more or less normal, but that isn’t helpful because we don’t have subset studies to show whether or not her CD4 count is selectively low. CD8 and B cells are other lymphocytes which would contribute to a total lymphocyte count and are less affected by HIV infection.

I may or may not have the time to formulate another response, if one is warranted. I’m afraid I shan’t be drawn into the debate further as I know you have direct access to Ms Maggiore and various legal implications may arise.

As regards your invitation to dinner, I must decline as aside from the very real risk of finding myself (mis)quoted somewhere, I am running the inpatient pediatric unit as senior resident for the month of December.



Nov. 5

Dr Bennett:

When might we see your dissection and refutation of the latest report on Maggiore's daughter? The Al-Bayati report is up at the site. A response from our side is needed ASAP. Re your comments:

  • “Failing to explain where the excess weight came from”.

    From my layperson's understanding, Al-Bayati explains excess weight in lungs and other organs is from circulatory fluid. Is this wrong? How do you explain the excess weight of the organs?

  • “doesn't explain why the coroner reported seeing foamy alveolar casts (inflammatory exudates diagnostic for PCP)”

    Can we trust what the coroner reported seeing? Do you see the foamy alveolar casts? Is it possible this coroner guy really did screw up? That would really suck now, wouldn't it?

  • “I'm also amused that he had access to 11 year old autopsy material that he alleges the coroner didn't originally prepare.”

    Let's assume these slides are legit. How do you respond? The ones of the other kid look seriously messed up, even to me. We need to go beyond being amused and come up with some retorts here.

  • “EJ’s total lymphocyte count was apparently (i.e. according to Al-Bayati) more or less normal, but that isn't helpful because we don’t have subset studies to show whether or not her CD4 count is selectively low.”

    I know you were shooting from the hip in this first take on the report, but even I know that the lymphocyte count came from the hospital, not Al-Bayati, and that it was ABOVE normal, not more of less normal. It was really high. Plus, are you sure we need to have subset studies? My friend (quickly becoming an enemy) I debate about this stuff with gave me this study in reply to your comment which appears to use total LC's in AIDS:

    HIV Paediatric Prognostic Markers Collaborative Study. Use of total lymphocyte count for informing when to start antiretroviral therapy in HIV-infected children: a meta-analysis of longitudinal data. Lancet. Nov 26;366(9500):1868-74, 2005
  • “I may or may not have the time to formulate another response, if one is warranted. I’m afraid I shan’t be drawn into the debate further as I know you have direct access to Ms. Maggiore and various legal implications may arise.”

    What exactly are you saying here? Of course a response is warranted. You responded to the first report and complained Al-Bayati didn’t look at the slides. Now that he’s posting photos of the slides, how can you not respond? What does a new response to a new report have to do with legal implications? This was not a concern when you responded to the first report.

    Anybody with a computer or a phone has direct access to Maggiore. What does that have to do with anything?

If you pull out now from this debate, it will not look at all good.




Nov 6

Dr Bennett:

I don’t understand from your message if you will respond to this new report on Elisa Jane or not.

I think avoiding a debate is probably wise, and I respect your decision to not confront Maggiore in public. Not all of us come off well in front of an audience and we do more good working behind the scenes.

But the new report on Elisa Jane needs a reply by the authority who proved Elisa Jane did have AIDS.That is you. Every blog, every web site, every expert anywhere in the world that says Elisa Jane did have AIDS uses your critique of the pathology report that says she didn’t. Everyone references Dr Nicholas J Bennett and your debunking of Al-Bayati.

You’re a medical doctor, a pediatrician and AIDS expert. Who is going to respond if not you? Orac is great for spreading the word, but it’s your word he’s spreading. He’s not even in a position to reply with authority on his own. I mean, who is he? He’s got a name like a magician and his web site looks like the opening scene from Star Wars!

Please don’t tell me you don’t have time. Weren’t you just as busy when Al-Bayati’s first report came out? Yet, because it was important to the cause, you found the time to reply.

Since this new report includes photos of the slides you (and Orac and everyone else) slammed Al-Bayati for not looking at, now that photos of the slides are brought into the debate, it seems very important (as in essential) that you, the primary critic of Al-Bayati’s original work on this case, slam the slides. At the very least, you can do that!

Why let Maggiore et al have the last word now, and with photos of the slides you complained they weren’t looking at? The photos of those slides creates problems that need to be addressed. What is all that stuff in the other kid’s lungs and why isn’t there anything like that in Elisa’s lungs? If the slides are false or misleading, if Al-Bayati is engaging in trickery of some sort, call them on that!

I can understand the no show policy with regard to the debates, but "I don’t have time to respond" as a response now that a response is urgently needed completely sucks. It’s like you lead us half way into battle and then abandon us when the enemy starts to fire back.

Sometime during that 80 hour work week you must take time to eat. Let me take you to lunch or dinner or just out for a tea if you’re really that pressed. We could go over the new report and I could start to put together a reply using your first reply as a model, and then you could fill in the details.

The points (off the top of my head) I think we need to address are:


  1. Are they real, and even they were, what would they prove?
  2. Does bacterial pneumonia (other kid’s slides) look like PCP pneumonia (Elisa’s slides)? Are they comparing apples to oranges?
  3. Can you get some lung slides from kids with PCP and show how Elisa’s lung slides look just like theirs?
  4. Why compare the two cases anyway? The other kid did not have AIDS, she just had the same coroner.
  5. What if you look at the slides and write your own paper on them? I could contact Al-Bayati and ask him for photos of all the slides. If he gives them to us, you can analyze them, and if he doesn’t, that will look bad.


  1. Does a normal lymphocyte count really mean someone has normal immunity?
  2. Find studies that show people can have a high lymphocyte count and low T cells.


How come no one is talking about that?! What was Elisa’s viral load?


  1. The evidence of AIDS is clear (PCP, p24) making the technicality of a positive HIV test a non-issue.
  2. Find studies that say it’s OK to diagnose AIDS with no HIV test.


Find studies, evidence, etc to support the coroner’s position (no pun intended) that the other kid was sexually abused and murdered. This is important since your/our side relies to a certain extent on the veracity of this coroner’s conclusions in both cases. If he’s wrong about the sexual abuse and shaken baby this looks bad for all of us.


  1. You’re an expert in pediatrics, he’s not even a real pathologist, right? (Was it you or Orac that said Al-Bayati was a veterinarian? Or that his PhD in pathology was fake or something?)
  2. You work with children, Albayati works with papers and slides.
  3. You’re a doctor (right? when’s your residency done?), he’s not.

We can go over other points by email and then discuss in person. Let me know what day or evening would be good, how to find you on campus or where we could meet that’s close and convenient for you.

Did you know you are not listed at the SUNY web site or in their email or phone directory? Also, I couldn’t find you using google or yahoo or through any pediatric medical associations. As the leading authority on this issue, you might want to make yourself more accessible. Plus, as you surely know, Maggiore filed a law suit against the coroner. Once that gets to court, the media will probaly be hitting on this topic again and referrring to your refutation/s of Albayati’s reports. Has the coroner’s office contacted you to testify?

Maggiore forwarded you that first email about the debate because I didn’t realize your email address was on the first page of your report on Elisa Jane. Turning to Maggiore for help with that does not put me in her camp and you really ought to make it easier for people to find you.



Nov. 8

Hey Bennett:

I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for your rebuttal. It’s clear you have no answers of substance and we’re down to the inevitable name-calling.

Your charge of “denialism” looks a lot like a sad and desperate attempt to maintain some sense of self-righteousness.

It’s foolish to think my questions make me a “denialist” or that my offers to help make me an ally. I want answers, and I don’t care what “side”’ they come from as long as they make sense.

You have no idea how many friends I’ve lost, how angry and frustrated I am, how much I want to know what’s true about HIV and AIDS. But unlike you, I’m not afraid of being wrong, of saying “I don’t know” or of meeting someone for lunch.

You’re a disgrace, Bennett, to any side.

Cheers to you as well,


Nov. 6


This latest report doesn’t really add much to the original and I seriously doubt its accuracy, even more so than the original which was demonstrably flawed and full of lies and misrepresentations - as was evident by comparing it to the true coroner’s report which was posted on the ABC news website.

I’m not pulling out of anything. I will continue to comment and correct the lies and misrepresentations of the AIDS dissidents in general, and various individuals and groups in particular, including Al-Bayati - as I have done for the past 8 years.

I do however have another life, which includes working up to 80 hours a week looking after sick kids with some teaching, research and writing on the side. From time to time I put my anti-dissident work on the back burner.

You have rather more direct access to Maggiore than most. It’s well known among various other non-dissidents that you once wrote to me from an email account once used by Ms Maggiore.

The irony of you suggesting that we’re somehow on the same side is amusing whenever you contact me.

Feel free to continue to forward further pre-release dissident material.



Nov. 7

One very real reason why I'm refusing to do lunch with you, one of the "People who question the theory that HIV causes AIDS causes Death". I gave no permission for these emails to become public, although frankly I'm not surprised at how low you have stooped, and expected as much sadly enough.



Nov. 7


I may respond, but in my own time, and on my own terms :o)

The phone directory at SUNY is for faculty and admin staff - residents are neither. I do however have (half) an office and telephone (unlike nearly all other residents) because of my role in research there.

If you search for “Nick Bennett” at the hospital website ( I am in the first link provided, where it discusses my award from and induction into the Gold Humanism Honors Society for my patient care and teaching skills.

If you Google ãNick Bennett AIDSä I am found or mentioned at the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth links.....need I go on?

In addition, if you were to search for ‘Nick Bennett AAP’ (the AAP is the American Academy of Pediatrics, the leading pediatric medical association in the United States) I am, once again, in the first two links. For obvious reasons the membership numbers of the AAP are not publicly accessible.

Being as I’m in most of the highest ranking links on the major search engines, you perhaps didn’t search very hard :o)

Sadly I am only “the leading authority” (if I truly am) because I am the most vocal - most practicing clinicians and active researchers do not have the time or inclination to put the effort into this. I have only dipped my toes into HIV research compared to the vast majority of HIV researchers. I just have the advantage of a fair swathe of prior articles and debates to draw upon (nothing the dissidents say anymore is new, after all, just rehashed straw men from the 1980s and early 1990s). There are other voices out there with more experience, credentials and reputation than me ö they just didn’t spent most of med school online in AIDS discussion.

Yes, I do have time for other things. I do data analysis, write online articles, I’m designing a new curriculum for the pediatric students and residents and I still find time to be with my wife. Eating however is oftentimes done in the elevator between the cafeteria and the ward. Debates with dissidents has long become a back-burner issue, as I am now firmly of the opinion that point-by-point rebuttals does far less than blanket education of core concepts.

Al-Bayati’s report was in many respects a one-off. I have never done anything like it before, and I was the only person who did it then. The only reason I did so was that his blatant lies and misrepresentations did EJ such a huge disservice.

Christine has written to me in the past, that is true, but she did so to a different email account to the one you wrote to me on, so it seems to me that if she had been simply forwarding the request on she would have used the last one she had written to me at.

Anyhow, that’s all I’m prepared to say right now. As for public debate ö I actually have a knack for public speaking and presentation, that isn’t the issue. Far more relevant is the notion of even giving the public the impression that this is a legitimate point for debate, and an off-the-cuff remark poorly put might backfire when used maliciously.

I question whether a response truly is “urgently needed” except, perhaps, to provide guidance to the legal team of Maggiore in their case against the coroner?

For this reason as well as the time constraints I am leery of meeting up with you. I have already perhaps given you more time than is deserved.



Nov. 7

Dr Bennett:

You spent the majority of your precious time responding to a non-issue, the aside at the end of my message about how hard it was to find you. Just so you know, I searched for your email address using your proper name “Nicholas J Bennett” (also “Dr Nicholas J Bennett”) and nothing came up. It didn’t occur to me to try your apparent nom de internet, “Nick Bennett AIDS.”

It seems from this reply you are not interested in or perhaps even capable of taking on this new report by Al-Bayati. Instead of answering any of my questions with information that might actually help me, and others who want to know why the report you say is wrong is wrong, you toot your horn and tout your credentials. Thanks loads. Nothing about Eliza Jane’s lymphocyte counts, no reply about taking a look at her lung tissue slides, not one word about the visual difference between PCP vs bacterial pneumonia, no comment as to why it appears there’s nothing of consequence in Eliza Jane’s lungs while the other child’s are so obviously abnormal, no remark on the challenge to the coroner’s conclusion of Shaken Baby and sexual abuse in the other child’s case–a coroner whose word you evidently rely on for all your conclusions since you won’t even try to have a look at the slides yourself.

You said, “Sadly I am only the leading authority.” I couldn’t agree more. You lead everyone into battle and then retreat when the other side fires back. You’re too busy, it’s not worth your time, you might say something someone can misquote, you’re leery of meeting for lunch, you only take meals in elevators, you feel sorry for Maggiore, she’s too “dangerous” to meet in public, you might hurt her feelings. Sad excuses, indeed.

Let me know if you ever find the time or the nerve to actually do something that involves stepping out from behind your computer screen and up to the challenges you instigate and then cower from.

Not holding my breath,


Nov. 7


I “spent the majority of precious time responding to a non-issue” mostly because I wasn’t going to respond to the rest of the message.

It’s ludicrous - on the Primetime live program with Ms Maggiore they showed the slides that Al-Bayati is claiming to have possession of, and they looked nothing like the slides he is claiming come from EJ. He is simply a brazen deluded fool for trying to convince anyone otherwise.

Fortunately 8 years of debating with AIDS dissidents has made me rather thick skinned, and verbal abuse is no more likely to make me respond with information that might help Ms Maggiore than compliments.

And of course it was Al-Bayati who instigated this whole thing by misrepresenting the coroners report in the first place...

As Ms Maggiore is indeed pursuing legal action against the coroners’ office, I rather think it prudent to see how that all pans out, don’t you?



Nov. 7

Dr Bennett:

So why don’t you find out which is correct, Primetime or the slides? (Hint: The slides are physical evidence from the coroner’s office, Primetime is a TV show)

Name-calling doesn’t refute the report. It just makes you look ridiculous. Respond to the report, not TV shows and not me.

If you really were thick skinned (and not thick headed), you would understand my message is not verbal abuse but a wake up call.


Nov. 7


Denialism to the end.

I think we’re done. Please do not contact me further. You may continue to look out for my rebuttal, if I decide to do one, but don’t expect it to provide many ideas to the dissident fold about how such arguments would be formally dealt with.



Nov. 7

Hey Bennett:

I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for your rebuttal. It’s clear you have no answers of substance and we’re down to the inevitable name-calling.

Your charge of “denialism” looks a lot like a sad and desperate attempt to maintain some sense of self-righteousness.

It’s foolish to think my questions make me a ãdenialistä or that my offers to help make me an ally. I want answers, and I don’t care what “side”’ they come from as long as they make sense.

You have no idea how many friends I’ve lost, how angry and frustrated I am, how much I want to know what’s true about HIV and AIDS. But unlike you, I’m not afraid of being wrong, of saying “I don’t know” or of meeting someone for lunch.

You’re a disgrace, Bennett, to any side.

Cheers to you as well,



No further communications have been received from Dr. Bennett.

© Copyright November 21, 2006 by Rethinking AIDS.