[eDebate] Totally Tangential Reply To Branson

Josh Hoe jbhdb8
Tue Mar 6 13:57:07 CST 2007


I have largely stayed out of edebate discussions this year (I am sure all
are thrilled by this development) but I wanted to make a short response to
this thread.

It seems to me that there are two problems in debate currently in this area:

First, the disjunct between academic goals based in research and strategic
goals based in research.  This disjunct encourages all of us to try and find
any absurd claim with minimal or no backing/proof/warrant/qualification and
win on it because "there are no answers in the literature" to such absurd
claims.  For instance, a few years ago a common CTBT add on claimed that the
real cause of Global Warming was testing because it "warmed the core of the
earth."  Many rounds were won on this piece of evidence not because it was
accurate or credible but because there were no answers in the literature
despite the fact that it was a barely credible argument from a whack job
blogger.  No credible scientist agrees or would consider answering the claim
because they had no incentive to visit www.iaminsane.com. The cause of this
being a winning argument was that most judges valued "A CARD" more than
"logical but true answers."

No offense to my Zizekian loving friends but Zizek is another example of
this - he is in no way more credible is claiming what causes 99% of what he
claims than any educated debater - but because he talks about literally
everything and NOBODY - even people who dislike him - have the time to
answer his 400+ solutions to capitalism etc.   round after round is won
because there is a "card" that says we need to "take the leap of death" or
"sacrifice the sacrifice" when to do so seems literally brain defying to the
average educated listener.  The opponant can spout blue, red, and green with
logical arguments about why this is close to criminally insane...but in
the end, the vast majority of judges say - "well, they have a card that says
x."  I realize I read Zizek but dont get Zizek - so hold off on killing me
for this example.  I think its fair to say some of his "solvency" claims are
more than a little unsupported by emperics or facts.

In other words, we have become, too attached to the cult of the card.....Or
perhaps, attached in ways that defy reason.  We reward research, often, at
the expense of the logic of what is said.  Often this is  because we reward
effort and strategic researching more than we resolve the "truth" claims
that are presented.

I agree with Branson that we ought not "legislate" what constitutes a good
card.  However, we might want to consider, as judges, standards for
evaluating evidence (like qualifications, the warrant, the backing, etc).
Which brings me to the second issue.

2. The disjunct between standards and pure freedom.  This is where I get
into trouble with many of my more performance based colleagues.  I believe
we should have well-defined, transparent, and published standards for how we
evaluate these issues as judges.  My current view is that judges go out of
their way to not influence the debate in any way that smacks of applying
their own opinions.  I believe judges should, as Antonucci and Branson hint
at, accord evidence the weight that its warrant/qualifications/backing etc
give to it.  If team A reads a card that makes a wild and unsupported claim
and team B says its not from a qualified author, not in the context of
comparison, and that the argument it makes is so wild that it ought not be
considered to create a meaningful linkage to be worthy of decision...Those
logic arguments ought count at least as much as they correctly describe the
argument made in the evidence.

(2A) A final concern is the recent trend to highlight out the warrants of
cards in order to save time reading.  Some teams read a page long card in
approximately 10 seconds by highlighting out the warrant/reasoning in the
evidence.....generally the warrants in the evidence are presented in a
melange of multi-colored highlighting that it would take a degree in
criminology to discern (followed by any parts of the card that would
contradict the tag being reduced to 4 point font so only the bionic man
could ever read it)....Ultimately, when you finally figure out what was and
was not read you have already read the warrant and make out the "reason" in
the card despite the team reading it not paying the price in time of having
read the warrant.  In my mind this is very unfair.  The cost in time you use
choosing what parts of cards to read is part of the choices you make in a
debate and you should be rewarded only for the arguments you actually made
during your time.  To do otherwise, literally, penalizes the team that
introduces complete arguments in a debate while rewarding bad practice.

Ok, just in case everyone forgot to put me on the "old school" pref sheet at
the NDT.....

Hope everyone is doing well,


On 3/6/07, Josh Branson <harobran at hotmail.com> wrote:
> 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.
> JB
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