[eDebate] Ledewitz terrorism link to Morrison

Morris, Eric R EricMorris
Fri Sep 8 00:17:59 CDT 2006

Several thoughts on this exchange:


1.	Josh & J.P. are both right that dialogues such as this can improve the quality of argument. I think they are both correct that doing this openly in our most shared forum is superior to other versions of the same practice. I know of several cases where debaters have read cards such as these which were posted on more private websites, and only shared with the community through the case listing process. Even if reading such evidence is suspect, posts like the one Josh made might still be useful. 


2.	Scott is correct that the process of debater-assisted evidence construction has lots of dangers. His examples may seem hyperbolic, but there's little to stop people from using the "everybody does it" argument in less ideal fashions. Lowering the discomfort level with this practice does entail risks beyond the strict parameters that Josh is willing to defend in his posts. Imagine trying to explain to eager debaters why they can't push the margins a bit more when respected coaches are visibly pushing the margins. 


3.	Perhaps the discussions of the practice in ethical terms are premature. Since there are several cases where I know people have read such evidence, I think we could say that at LEAST a small minority of the community considers the practice ethical. We can probably add JP and Josh to that list. My view is that ethics are reflective of both good reasons and something approaching community consensus. We might not have the latter. We have several codified rules relating to evidence ethics on the CEDA side - why they are worded in a manner that makes most evidence questionable (tag lines stronger than cards, etc.), I think they are silent on this issue. 


4.	Further, framing the issue in ethical terms may make it harder for debaters to win arguments in rounds for the inclusion or exclusion of evidence, because ethics imply it is beyond argument. It's probably too strong to call reading the original card "out of context", just as it is probably too strong to say Josh's post is unethical because people could do something unethical using similar reasoning. 


5.	That said, Scott considers such cross publishing of "evidence" a problem, and I think several might agree. A debate world where some debaters are allowed to solicit evidence (because they or their coaches consider it ethical), while others are constrained to the use of peer-reviewed literature seems highly unfair. When ethical expectations are vague, those who push the boundaries get strategic advantage (except when judge by people who disagree, like Scott Elliott). 


6.	The inequity is expanded because not all arguments are likely to be subject to this sort of scrutiny (and, if they start to become so, fewer academics are likely to answer email from debate people). The arguments scrutinized will probably be few, and selected primarily for strategic reasons (such as the difficulty in finding a card that says that commerce clause powers have no internal link to terrorism, or the apparent lack of warrant for the original link card, etc.). 


7.	Scott's argument is in many ways non-unique/utopian. Even without Josh's post, there would be plenty of evidence in debates that is not peer reviewed in any meaningful way. In fact, I would consider the quality of discourse in that particular exchange to be higher than in several cards that pass unchallenged in many rounds. Perhaps the mass exclusion of evidence from newpapers, journals that invite articles without a peer review process, websites of various quality, blogs, would be good, but that's not the SQ. I assume that Ledewitz's original quote survived several rounds of editing, if not peer review, so that process isn't infallible either. 


8.	On the other hand, there are many greater misunderstandings and mischaracterizations deserving of correction than this passage. The introduction of complex critical literature has greatly magnified the problem. Perhaps the remedy, instead of consulting the source, is to give credence to debaters who closely read the article and support their counter-interpretation of the questionable passage with other evidence or in round skills. Interpretation is an important skill, often most complicated than the in/out of context dichotomy. Just as we don't stigmatize debaters (beyond the loss) for losing their interpretation of the topic, there should be no stigma in losing a plausible interpretation of a card to a better interpretation. In this case, I hope judges would be open to hear the argument that the overturn would help fight terrorism (via Ledewitz), discussions about both the acceptability of this kind of evidence, and whether the email exchange really supports the argument that Josh is implicitly suggesting. 


I hope we continue to talk about this process. Some may operate under an assumption that there are unwritten rules about such things, but unwritten rules that aren't widely followed should either be reaffirmed or discarded. Right now, I have discomfort with this variety of evidence (for the reasons in numbers 2, 5 & 6 above), but not strong enough to impose this view on evidence in cases where debaters didn't make arguments about it (which is probably a good test for ethics). I'm open to being persuaded otherwise. 

Dr. Eric Morris
Asst Prof of Communication
Director of Forensics
Craig Hall 363A
Missouri State University
Springfield, MO 65897
(O) 417-836-7636
(H) 417-865-6866
(C) 417-496-7141

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