[eDebate] Totally Tangential Reply To Branson

EMarlow at ucok.edu EMarlow
Tue Mar 6 14:48:58 CST 2007

I agree with Josh completely about the highlighting issue (we must have 
gone to the same Old School--Dinosaur University).  Massey and I had a 
VERY long discussion about this a few years ago.  I think that when 
critics read the parts of cards that debaters don't, it is cheating.  We 
paticipate in a discourse driven activity and reading the unread parts of 
cards for the debaters after the round is entering discourse into the 
round that simply was not uttered.   The evidence and it's warrants should 
only be adjudicated on the merits that were actually read in the round. 
Giving the un-highlighted parts credibility is a jedi mind trick.  Might 
as well give full weight to a claim a team doesn't make but you know they 
"meant to say".  In the push to denigrate the old school way of cutting 
cards that weren't very long, we have created a culture where debaters cut 
5000 word cards and actually read 50 of those words.  On paper the 
evidence might look better, but in reality it is the same as it always 
was.  I think critics should do their best to not do the reading for 
debaters after the round...don't cheat.

Just my two cents on what I see as a growing problem in our activity.


"Josh Hoe" <jbhdb8 at gmail.com> 
Sent by: edebate-bounces at www.ndtceda.com
03/06/2007 01:57 PM

"Josh Branson" <harobran at hotmail.com>
antonucci23 at yahoo.com, edebate at ndtceda.com
Re: [eDebate] Totally Tangential Reply To Branson

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 
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 

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 
(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. 
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 
chance I'm going to 'disallow it' or 'penalize it' unless the debaters
themselves bring up the issue of author context/permission and someone 
that author permission should be considered a gateway question to 
(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 
I also think that you are pretty right that ultimately we're on our own 
reading and comparing evidence. But for some reason some of what I'm 
thinking about strikes me as too interventionist. Imagine that the aff 
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 

In the policy community, legal community, or academy, it seems that the 
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): 
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 
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 
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 
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 
of that evidence. Otherwise, our perceptions of what makes a good card 
be determinative, and the neg wins.

I guess I'm kind of wondering what everybody thinks is the 'right' thing 
do in those circumstances described above? Is it ok to simply make your 
(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 
that, even though there is little doubt in my mind that a long-term world 
which people shifted away from Harrison cards and Copley News Service 
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 
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 
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 
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 
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 
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 
to the worst-case much more easily, maybe that's one reason that it serves 
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 
in very specific situations and in otherwise close debates, but obviously 
these 'close' debates are the ones where good judging is most important, 
a decent chunk of the time that I see split decisions among competent
judges, some version of the above principles is what animates the 
of opinion.


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