[eDebate] Reflections about debate and policymaking

Charles Olney olneyce
Fri Jun 1 03:39:03 CDT 2007

If you didn't read Josh's post, I recommend you do so.  Lots of good
stuff there that I think a lot of people agree with but never seem to
get around to saying.

Even for those who come from very different perspectives and who don't
really have any interest in making debate a better training ground for
policymaking, I think there's one point Josh makes that can unite
pretty much everyone in debate:

We should substantially raise the bar for what is considered a quality argument.

This is the case on several levels.  Most basically, having a piece of
evidence should not be enough, and this should be especially true if
the other team makes a well-reasoned argument in response regardless
of whether they have a card to back it up.  There are factual
questions where the demand for outside evidence makes perfect sense
but many cards read in debate are used entirely to extrapolate ideas
rather than establish premises.

I completely understand the utility of demanding evidence.  While
there are a lot of crazy people saying things out there, it still does
establish a limit on the scope of things you can say, and certainly
makes for more reasonable arguments than if people could simply assert
whatever they want.  Moreover, it's simply part of the game (and a fun
part of the game, I would add).

So I do not think the response should be to disavow evidence.  Rather,
the response should be to encourage (and reward with wins and speaker
points) those debaters who CHALLENGE the reasoning in the evidence.
The ability to defend the argument should be an additional
prerequisite to making an argument.  Just having a card should not be
enough - if you cannot explain WHY what the evidence says is true, in
the face of counter arguments (evidenced or otherwise) I don't see any
reason I should give you credit for it.

There is a second layer here, which I think is an even bigger problem:
the willingness to close our collective eyes and hum quietly when
faced with absurd internal link chains.

A paraphrase of what Ross says in his judging philosophy: I have seen
many 1ACs and 1NCs that presented arguments so incomplete they did not
warrant a response from the other team.

I will say this now as unequivocally as possible: I can easily imagine
assigning zero risk of a DA if the aff made two or three commonsense,
smart analytic arguments which demonstrated that the chain of internal
links was hopelessly disconnected.  I can imagine this even if the neg
read 20 or 30 cards and the aff came back with the same three analytic
arguments.  I'm not saying it's likely, but it's certainly possible.
And I do end up deciding quite a few debates based on the smaller
examples of this principle, where I decide that stupid internal links
to big impacts have much less resonance with me than strong internal
links to realistic impacts.

The problem is that debaters are rarely rewarded for investing the
time on these type of arguments.  Often they will hear "well, if you
had a card for that."  So these skills atrophy and they often hone in
their ability to deploy bad evidence instead of good arguments.

The ideal should be to COMBINE good evidence and good arguments.  And
there is even a place for bad evidence.  But there really shouldn't be
much of a place for bad arguments (though the need for a net-benefit
to your CP on last year's topic did make the atrocities that were the
Court DA unfortunately necessary).

Let me introduce an important caveat here.  People should not be
punished for making bad arguments if their opponent can't explain why
the argument is bad. This should be obvious.  But it should be equally
obvious that if the judging community began rewarding smart and
reasonable arguments by debaters to a greater degree, there would be
more incentive for them to make these arguments.  And the more that
they did, the harder it would be for good teams to skate by on absurd
internal link chains and stupid evidence from unqualified people.

I think this is true in all kinds of debate: K, policy, personal,
theory debates, morality debates, even pirate debaters.  It's a
question of what kind of intellectual evaluation we employ, and that
is relevant to everyone, not just policymakers.


And I just can't help believing
Though believing sees me cursed
--Johnny Boy
"You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve"

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