[eDebate] Totally Tangential Reply To Branson

Michael Antonucci antonucci23
Tue Mar 6 02:00:32 CST 2007

Branson writes:

"B) The judges?

Maybe, but I don't really know if anything can be done
about it. I'm obviously not advocating that judges
start enforcing some absurd evidence quality-control.
I honestly don't know what they can do about it."

I agree with almost every line of your
characteristically insightful post, but I have to take
exception with these few lines.

Judges enforce "evidence quality-control" *all the

It's called reading evidence?

The standards that we apply when reading evidence
aren't neutral, natural valuations.  The community's
evolved a fairly homogenized set of techniques, but
this set isn't logically inevitable.

For example, judges may occasionally intervene to
compare evidence dates on highly time-sensitive issue.
   I've seen judges do this once in a while, and
haven't heard gales of protest, although it's really
no more or less interventionist than an unsolicited
quals comparison.

The decision to value claims over warrants isn't based
on some neutral and logically mandated reading
technique.  We collectively decided, at some point,
that a hyberbolic assertion is "strong" instead of
"totally crazy" - but we didn't have to decide that. 
As you point out, that's contrary to the way that most
other disciplines evaluate "evidence."

There's a whole slew of other community-determined
components of good cards.  They are often unstated,
even subconscious.  Still, we all intuit some of the
ways that stylistic quirks such as simple spatial
metaphors (vertical/horizontal = hot), direct use of
debate jargon ("it says FIAT right in the card!"), and
particularly violent imagery conspire to boost the
rhetorical value of a card.

Judges could apply a radically different set of
standards to evidence, if they so chose.  They could
choose to evaluate warrants more carefully than
claims, for instance.  They could choose to value
qualifications as highly as they might value dates in
a politics debate, just stacking it higher in the
fairly determinate queue of standards they already
unconsciously apply to evidence.  They could choose to
view overly strong conclusionary hyperbole as a
negative instead of a positive.  ("oh, crap! 
Highlight IN the maybe!  Highlight IN the maybe!")

Tweaking the standards for good evidence would really
be no more or less interventionist than current
practice.  Ultimately, you have to decide what a
"good" card is, and it's difficult for a debater to
discuss every decision criterion you might employ in
the course of six minutes.  At some point, when you're
reading that card, you're on your own.

Any tweaking would, of course, deviate significantly
from expectations.  A judge would probably want to
telegraph such deviations to the community far in

I don't know if such modifications would be a good
idea - I just haven't thought about it enough.

I would defend the following propositions, though:

P1. Judges could easily choose to modify their
criteria for the evaluation of evidence.

P2. Some modified standards, mentioned above, wouldn't
be any more unfair or interventionist than current
practice.  It would seem *really* weird, and it would
be "defamiliarizing."  I think defamiliarization is
good in this context; I think that you've internalized
a highly artificial set of reading techniques, such
that they genuinely seem 'inevitable' to you.

C. I consequently place far less of the blame for
these practices on the debaters, coaches and pre-round
strategizing.  Judges cause this, and only judges can
change it.  Judges are responding to the expectations
of their students and peers, of course, but they're
the ones making the call.

Students and coaches really can't move judges too far
from their default reading techniques.  

a. They're often genuinely subconscious.  Thinking
about this too hard would weird some<->many judges
out, and they'd be tempted to say "shut up, this is
stupid, a good card is a good card because it's good."

b. Efficiency.  Comparing dates on a politics debate
is really fast.  Distinguishing between descriptive
and predictive evidence is also fast.  You don't have
to much work to make it click in a judge's head.  

Arguing against hyperbole or reversing the valuation
of claim > warrant, however, would probably require an
additional paragraph of explanation in front of even
the most thoughtful judges, I suspect.  

c. Raw percentages.  If you're just better than you're
opponent, investing heavily in unusual comparison is a
low percentage shot.  It's the three, and conforming
to fairly established standards is a layup.  You can't
ask debaters to take a low percentage shot in good

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