[eDebate] Totally Tangential Reply To Branson

Josh Branson harobran
Tue Mar 6 11:27:26 CST 2007

Good and interesting points.

I think I would say as a matter of clarification that when I mentioned my 
distaste for enforcing quality-control, I meant it along the lines of the 
original Harrison post of 'penalizing' teams for reading evidence from 
questionable sources like blogs etc. I also meant it to indict Dallas's 
rhetoric of needing a 'rule' to disbar evidence from certain sources etc. I 
think that for judges to enforce rules such as his is too interventionist 
and infinitely regressive, as proven by Scott and my responses to his 
Gottlieb etc examples.

Similarly, if somebody reads that Harrison card in front of me, there is 0% 
chance I'm going to 'disallow it' or 'penalize it' unless the debaters 
themselves bring up the issue of author context/permission and someone wins 
that author permission should be considered a gateway question to inclusion 
(not necessarily a tough argument even to win, but one that I strongly 
believe must be initiated by the debaters).

However, I agree that it is within our purview as judges to make decisions 
regarding evidence quality, even if such decisions seem somewhat unfamiliar. 
I also think that you are pretty right that ultimately we're on our own when 
reading and comparing evidence. But for some reason some of what I'm 
thinking about strikes me as too interventionist. Imagine that the aff wins 
X% risk of their free trade advantage with Copley nuclear winter as the 
impact, and the neg wins a decently higher than X% risk of a DA with a 
seemingly credible, scholarly, piece of evidence that says their impact 
'severely exacerbates conflict pressures and escalation risks in Y region.'

In the policy community, legal community, or academy, it seems that the neg 
wins. In a debate, absent strong impact analysis from the neg, I'd say the 
aff gets at least 90% of judges. I know I would probably vote aff. Would I 
be comfortable staring down the aff, in the absence of impact defense or 
explicit clowning on Copley News Service staff writers' qualifications to 
interpret the resultant geostrategic consequences of breakdowns in 
international economic cooperation, and saying 'sorry, but this evidence 
isn't qualified, even though you have won what is basically a conceded 
nuclear winter impact vs. amorphous unspecified increase in conflict 
pressures. I vote neg.'? I don?t know, probably not.

Another example (one relevant to how this conversation got started): imagine 
the neg goes for the Bush DA using the Harrison card as the link. The aff 
responds with some solidly scholastic but also general and abstract evidence 
about the mechanics of the Court's relationship to Bush, which, when read 
with some inference and spin from the debaters, supports the argument that 
the likelihood of an individual Court decision having a sizable impact on 
unrelated agenda items is small.

The question is, what do you do as a judge when there is little evidence 
comparison, and the neg just keeps appealing to the direct rhetoric of the 
Harrison card as their primary warrant, and the aff simply restates the 
thesis of their argument and extends their "better" but more theoretical and 
less direct evidence? I think it's probably again around a 90% win for the 
neg. I'd say that holds true even if the aff says 'their evidence is overly 
rhetorical and comes from a blog.' My feeling is that it would take a 
substantially higher investment in both explanation and impact of the 
'overly rhetorical/blog' claim for it to be determinative in judge's reading 
of that evidence. Otherwise, our perceptions of what makes a good card will 
be determinative, and the neg wins.

I guess I'm kind of wondering what everybody thinks is the 'right' thing to 
do in those circumstances described above? Is it ok to simply make your own 
(even contrary to most debate norms) judgment of that evidence quality, 
especially in a big debate? I don't know that I would feel comfortable with 
that, even though there is little doubt in my mind that a long-term world in 
which people shifted away from Harrison cards and Copley News Service cards 
and towards 'better' evidence would be on-balance beneficial.

Antonucci says that it wouldn't really be more interventionist than the 
current practice, and while I think he's completely right in the abstract, 
just the mere fact that such practices 'seem inevitable' to people now 
perhaps give them predictability....i.e. I would feel exceedingly 
uncomfortable ending somebody's NDT with some newfangled way of evaluating 
evidence with which both I myself and the debaters were unfamiliar.

I guess I'll finally bring up two potential DAs to such a shift:

1) Discouraging argument innovation?

Maybe we can go too far with the deification of 'qualified sources' as the 
end all be all of evidence. Just because you can't find some credible 
scholar making the argument obviously does not mean that it's not 
necessarily a good argument. Would this discourage argument innovation? 
Probably....unless debaters just got more innovative at spinning the 'good' 
evidence they had, instead relying on their own arguments to innovate and 
push the application of the evidence they already had in new directions.

I don't know. The direction of this impact is tough for me: at one extreme 
you have stagnation, while on the other you have a lot of the god awful 
arguments that win exclusively b/c they're new.

2) Risk comparisons become harder.

Obviously of the things we all have to explain to people outside of debate, 
usually the next question after 'why do you talk fast' (or at NU, 'are you 
guys carrying bananas in those banana boxes?') is 'why does everything end 
the world?' I tell people that I think the main reason is that risk 
comparisons are easier in extremist frameworks---it is much easier to 
discern tangible and simple-to-calculate net benefits when the impact frame 
is enormous, because marginal differences in probability etc become much 
larger and glaring in such frameworks. If we were to be truly honest about 
some DA, lets say the federalism DA, we'd say that even assuming the neg 
wins most of the basic principles of the DA, that the net result of the plan 
is probably a relatively marginal increase in bloodshed and violence 
somewhere down the road. But weighing two impacts such as those is hard. 
It's much easier to conceptualize when we're talking about some specific 
scenario that escalates to large-scale war. (Same is true of course of 
kritiks, which is why so much stuff ends in Holocaust or Hiroshima. It's 
easier to weigh).

The more I think about it, I think that this is the fundamental explanation 
for why everybody gravitates at the margins towards the worst case. It's 
easier to compare things at the extreme ends of the spectrum than it is in 
the middle.

Given that I think the bad evidence ala Harrison allows us to make this jump 
to the worst-case much more easily, maybe that's one reason that it serves a 
potentially positive purpose, in that these sorts of claims are easier to 
conceptually weigh, especially in a time-limited activity like debate.

On the last note, I do realize that most of this stuff only comes into play 
in very specific situations and in otherwise close debates, but obviously 
these 'close' debates are the ones where good judging is most important, and 
a decent chunk of the time that I see split decisions among competent 
judges, some version of the above principles is what animates the difference 
of opinion.


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