[eDebate] response from Lindsay

Josh Branson harobran
Mon Mar 5 10:45:43 CST 2007

1. I certainly do not want to turn this into a war of accusations. As long 
as everyone agrees this hasn't been and isn't an 'ethics' issue, and we've 
segregated the issue of this evidence validity from the kid who my sophomore 
year in HS read a 'card' that said verbatim '[insert my plan text] would 
cause an immedite (yes, it was misspelled) global nuclear holocaust' (no 
joke), then I'm fine. I think debating the merits of reading evidence like 
this is interesting and raises some important questions.

2. Could you find other evidence that makes similar arguments to the ones 
made on the blog? Yeah you can, but obviously none worded so strongly and 
couched so specifically to the Bush DA. And that is, of course, why people 
read that card in debates. Yeah, the Harrison card wasn't the only one that 
we read for our DA, but honestly if I had to pick one at the end of debates 
for judges to read, it would be that one. The rest of the evidence differed 
in that
a) it usually requires multiple pieces of evidence to make the argument
b) it required far more 'spin'/explanation than the Harrison evidence.

I'm reminded of a phrase that DHeidt always uses when judging evidence, that 
a truly phenomenal piece of evidence 'speaks for itself.' That's what this 
Harrison evidence does, in that it both cuts down on the amount of 
explanation/thought needed from the debaters in the debate, and it saves 
them time.....which, if you have my job description, is exactly what you are 
trying to do for your kids in big debates.

3. Dallas?s concerns.

I am sympathetic to some of your examples, but I do think that they are 
slightly different from the case at hand. If you read a Gottlieb 2NR 
(something I would have loved to get my hands on!) from a demo debate, I 
think that it is perfectly clear that the things he says in a debate are not 
in ANY way an endorsement of his actual beliefs or the substantive merit of 
such arguments. Indeed, such a principle is the lovely switch-side debate 
concept that is the bedrock of our whole activity. I mean god, if I was ever 
quoted on some of the arguments I went for, I would hide my head in shame 
(mass slaughter the Chinese babies, yes, please).

Same with Ross?s research guide. Such a guide is an instruction on the FORM 
of argument construction. He wants to show you sound argumentative 
principles. I don?t think the DRG contains any attempt when explaining the 
relations DA to break new substantive ground about the Truth of how 
relations work. Now, if Ross wrote some article leading off the DRG about 
something on which he?s an expert (community politics, maybe), and wrote how 
that should inform that year?s topic, then my first inclination is that, 
while it might be ?advice? to debaters, that it would be fair game for 

On the other hand, Lindsay?s blog was designed to clear up debaters? 
?misunderstandings about the legal system??something that can only be 
interpreted to have a SUBSTANTIVE bent to it. Perhaps this was simply an 
error in wording on her part, but at the time, I think there can be no 
question that it was intended to make a factual, substantive claim.

Along these lines, I offer a counter-example: what about the CTBT/Kyoto 
experts interviewed by Ross a few years ago? That whole interview was set up 
to ?give advice? to debaters, as the purpose of the interview was explicitly 
for the author to clear up substantive concerns that debaters had run into 
regarding the topic, and included such questions as Spiece EXPLICITLY asking 
him for a space-based laser DA link, it wasn?t peer-reviewed, etc. Yet 
everyone read cards from it and there seemed to be a consensus that it was 
great. Do we do away with that?

4. Aside from whether this evidence is strategic or not (which I think it 
clearly is), there's the other question of whether or not it's pedagogically 
sound to read.

Well, my first post was designed mainly to attack the uniqueness to that 
claim, and honestly I think the evidence in question here is more thoughtful 
and 'researched' than a good chunk of evidence that is read in debates. 
Everyone does realize what they're asking for, right? You cut out this 
Harrison card, the odds are NOT high that it's going to be replaced by some 
shining paragon of erudite scholarly research. Instead, you're probably 
going to get a few things, maybe a Lewiston Morning Tribune editorial where, 
b/c of the relatively low editorial standards and readership of such a 
newspaper, the writer is able to spout off venomously about how the 
Roberts/Alito court is an instrument of politics inevitably tied to the Bush 
administration, and then after that you might get a nice little a) through 
c) subpointed block with a few empirical examples of liberal court decisions 
that 'reflected' on Bush.
[no offense meant to anybody who inadvertently either works for the LMT or 
reads it religiously]

5. The larger issue.

I think the larger issue is the 'appeal to authority' fallacy. The reason 
that Adam says he will continue to read it, is that it will help him win. 
That is, the very reason that the Harrison is strategically so sweet raises 
some bothersome questions.

I will say that after spending a year at CSIS, the SINGLE biggest difference 
between debate and the real scholarly world is this appeal to authority 
bias. Obviously, I'd be laughed out of the room at a serious meeting about 
Iranian proliferation if I were to point out that a JD Candidate at Fordham 
Law School trenchantly observed in a law journal article that [insert some 
debate strategy], but of course in a debate everybody would say 'sweet 
evidence' and we'd probably win. I do remember that Chemerinsky at the NDT 
last year made the exact same point, and I believe that 'what counts as 
evidence' was one of his biggest differences between debate and the 'real 

This is not to say that I think that evidence is bad, but I do think that 
what qualifies as 'evidence' has gotten out of control. I've said in my 
judge philosophy all year long that if somebody is good they could convince 
me to evaluate JD Candidate and Newspaper Staff Writer articles as an 
analytic argument, but not a single debater that I've judged the whole year 
has progressed beyond 'our evidence is more qualified [lacking warrant or 

The sad thing about this is that is that it's not even like it's an even 
playing field; there are active incentives to read the above-mentioned 'bad 
evidence' in debates. Why? For one, the more scholarly something is, the 
less flamboyant its claims tend to be. As I've been writing at CSIS, one of 
the things I've had pounded into my head is that extremist claims should be 
discouraged, because rarely do you have a solid empirical or scholarly basis 
for making such claims. That is, of course, how we debaters get away with 
predicting the end of the world so frequently, because at each step of the 
chain (particularly the impact level), we make worst-case and hyperbolic 
assessments. So when you have a 27-year veteran international trade official 
make the scholarly and credible claim that the 'WTO dampens incentives for 
trade wars to escalate into potential political/military conflict', why the 
hell would you read that when you can substitute some hack jerkoff writing 
in the Copley News Service who says 'nuclear winter?'

And because debaters never make qualifications arguments aggressively, 
people routinely get away with Copley News Service-esque arguments.

Who's fault is this?

A) The debaters. Obviously the decline of 'good' evidence and the incentives 
for people to read from blogs etc primarily must rest in the hands of 
debaters. I think people simply want to win, and that obviously if a poor 
piece of evidence helps them win, then they do it. I was just as guilty of 
this as the next person.

I also think that maybe it's an institutional culture thing. I think I often 
felt that I lacked the speech time in big debates to really go into the 
finer points of qualifications comparison. It takes a relatively high time 
investment to persuasively win a high-impacted claim that a card should be 
discounted (just reading the size of my original post and Lindsay?s response 
demonstrates this point), and if the pay-off is that you discount ONE (or 
maybe a few more) cards, that's a tough trade-off to make in a high-stakes 
2NR. It reminds me of a joke that Klinger and I used to always make to each 
other, which is that when in doubt, don't bother to read the other team's 
card, just say that yours is 'more qualified, more predictive, post-dates, 
and is explicitly comparative' and move on. That's what I feel most people 
do, because it's easy, it doesn't require a lot of prep-time, and it sounds 
like you're doing evidence comparison when you're really not.

I will say though, to respond to Adam, that I think that 'waxing poetic' or 
being persuasive hasn't been eliminated from the activity. Not to pick on 
you at all, b/c you guys have been solid the few times I've judged you, but 
in the last elim debate that I judged you guys, in the relatively long 
discussion DHeidt and I were having about it later, we both agreed that you 
would have certainly won (probably on a 3-0) if you guys had stepped back 
from the 10 times you read 'more evidence' and looked up and did more 
evidence comparison and spin and DEBATING (I still think I'm right, but 
that's neither here nor there). Trust me, I think most judges yearn for the 
debaters who have really high-quality evidence and know that their evidence 
is higher quality and are just willing to call bullshit on people's bad 
evidence. I definitely know that the times judges were most complimentary of 
me after a debate is when I stepped back from the easy by-rote 2NR/2AR of 
extending all the evidence and doing the perfunctory evidence comparison 
that most top kids can do in their sleep, and would really get into the 
2nd-level assumptions/pitfalls of the other team's evidence. I guess, yeah, 
people that bury people in ?walls of bad cards? may tend to populate the 
doubles/octos at most tournaments (which is a problem), but I?ve always 
thought that the people in the finals are the ones who move beyond that.

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. But I do 
know that one of the biggest things I struggle with as a judge is achieving 
a balance between accepting really good but Truthfully absurd spin of 
terrible evidence, and the other end in letting fantastic evidence speak for 

I've long thought that, way more than the much overhyped 'where does he/she 
fall on the K-policy spectrum', that THIS was one of the true axes where 
judges differed....some are way inclined to just read the cards and vote on 
who's are better, where some call for very few and are way more interested 
in spin/debating.

I think judges should certainly be (and probably are) in the middle of this 
spectrum, where spin and debating and comparison is important, but can only 
compensate for inferior research point up to a point. Deciding where that 
point is has and is very difficult for me, especially in close debates, and 
in my opinion is one of the biggest causes of split decisions.

C) Coaches.

There's unfortunately a huge free-riding/race to the bottom incentive that 
ensures people will continue to read evidence (from blogs, from Copley News 
Service, JD Candidates, etc etc etc) as long as it wins. And as explained in 
my last post, I am exceedingly uncomfortable with top-down mandates to 
eliminate it, which is why I was so disgruntled by Lindsay's original claim 
that we should 'penalize' teams that read it.

But I do think that maybe judges/coaches in their pre-round coaching and 
strategizing, as well in their decisions and oral critiques, should make 
this more of a point of emphasis. Because I do really strongly feel that the 
low evidence quality is one of the primary things that both vitiates 
debate's credibility with outsiders (the horror of one of my HS teachers 
watching me in a HS debate against the capitalism K with 'evidence' from 
RedArmy.org being treated like gospel by the debaters), and serves as poor 
training for kids to deal with real academia/policy/law.

Ok I'm done ranting. Sorry about the long post.


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