[eDebate] response from Lindsay
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
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
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.
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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