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University of Miami student John Walker Challenges Nicholas Bennett

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August 28, 2006

Dear Dr. Bennett,

Your name was given me by Christine Maggiore. (I am an incoming graduate student in the U of M School of Music.) I am writing to ask if you might be interested (or know someone else who might) in a public conversation with Ms. Maggiore, sponsored by the Concord School of Philosophy and Literature in Concord, Massachusetts. This is the school founded by Bronson Alcott with the help of his dear friend Emerson in 1879. I am on a planning group that, beginning last year, is working on a renewal of the School through a series of "Convocations" in Concord. Last year one of our speakers was Robert MacAfee, former head of the AMA.
The spirit of the School is one that led its original participants to speak of it as involving the cultivation of a discipline of "conversational philosophy." Thus this is not an invitation to consider engaging in a debate with Ms. Maggiore, only an opportunity to see if two individuals interested (presumably) in the truth of a situation affecting humanity can’t work to grasp one another’s perspectives in a mood that is collegial rather than embattled. The participation of audience members in the conversation after the speakers’ presentations is part of the idea of the Convocation.
The Convocation this year is being held, as last year, at the building Alcott built for the School of Philosophy on the grounds of Orchard House, the Alcott family home where his daughter Louisa May wrote "Little Women." The dates are Friday evening, October 6 through Monday noon, October 9 (Columbus Day weekend.) The speakers speak in the evenings on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and at noon on Monday. Friday night a Danish philosopher will speak, Saturday night speakers on education in the arts and in character development will present, and Monday noon’s final talk will be on economics and justice (Dennis Kucinich may be our final speaker.) The medical presentation is slated for Sunday evening.
If you have interest in this, we in the planning group (four individuals) would invite you to a conference call to discuss the Convocation’s nature and your possible role in it this year.

Best regards,

John S. Walker

August 28

Dear Mr Walker,

Thanks for your email. I have to say that I was a bit surprised, as I'm hardly an expert of HIV/AIDS, I'm just one of the more vocal orthodox scientists/clinicians involved in the HIV/AIDS dissident debates.
My initial reaction, to be honest, is one of trepidation. I know from what Ms Maggiore has said in interviews and written online that she and I have wholly opposing views. I have already spent several years of my life trying to understand why some people believe the things that she does, and from what I can gather most of the reason (not necessarily with her specifically) seems to be that they are accepting certain mis-truths as fact and are not willing to be educated in what the science is, or how it works. People like myself who do try to educate the AIDS dissidents are accused of simply pandering to some kind of "party line" or, worse, being in the pocket of the pharmaceutical companies. Oftentimes, whenever attempts are made to directly address dissident views on HIV/AIDS they are turned about in our face.
I do appreciate that you are not trying to set up a debate, but my intuition tells me that this is precisely what is going to happen. I will state that X is true, she will state it is not, and we will inevitably end up arguing, with victory going to whomever can remember the most references. Without taking part in this event I am willing to bet that she and I have opposing views because we do not share certain fundamental "truths" about how the world works. I understand that HIV is a cytopathic retrovirus that induces immune dysfunction to the point that opportunistic infections overwhelm the host. She understands that HIV is harmless. There is no reconciliation as we are both exposed to the same scientific facts and observations but are interpreting them differently.
The complicating factor is that I wrote a report discrediting the analysis prepared by one of Ms Maggiore's supporters, Dr Al-Bayati, concerning the tragic death of her own daughter. As such I am perhaps one of the worst possible choices to ask for such an encounter, as even the most generous person could not help but wonder if there would be a conflict-of-interest or self-serving agenda in my appearing with Ms Maggiore, even if that weren't the case. To give any kind of credence to the orthodox side it should ideally be someone uninvolved in that story - although I am encouraged by the fact that she herself gave you my name, as I am pretty sure she is aware of my report.
The final problem, as if all that weren't enough, is simply time. I will
be in the pediatric intensive care unit for that month and will be unable to attend because of that. With sufficient warning I can sometimes tweak my vacation time to attend things like this, but not this time. Regardless, there were bigger issues at stake that I felt you should be aware of.
I hope you and Ms Maggiore can understand that I can't attend, and even if
I could I would feel very uncomfortable about doing so, on both a personal
and political front. I do think that the concept is not without merit though, and the fact that such a prominent personality as Ms Maggiore is able to help you out might encourage other orthodox speakers. I cannot speak for whether anyone in particular would be interested, however I might be able to contact a few good candidates, if that's alright with you.
Please feel free to share my feelings with Ms Maggiore, as I don't want her to think that my refusal of her recommendation is in any way a reflection
of any personal views I might have about her. I wish you all the best with your efforts, and please feel free to contact me again in the future if a similar discussion is planned. I have no problem with taking part in a public discussion/debate given sufficient warning, and assuming that my
mere presence isn't going to spark skepticism ;-)

Cheers

Bennett

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