[eDebate] gen eng as topic if leaning domestic

V I Keenan vikeenan
Mon Apr 21 10:29:54 CDT 2008

If you're really set on a domestic topic, go back and reread the Gen
Eng paper.  I'll probably put more cohesive comments on the blog, but
I will say that I think it would be an excellent topic of debate for
the year.

I just finished running a year long scholarship competition that
occurs in a debate format.  Our topic was adapted from Scott's old
paper because we were told to 1) be domestic and 2) explore an area of
public debate related to science.  Overall, it was probably the best
topic we've had and the entire participant AND judge pool were excited
and interested in the debates.

The resolution was: "The United States should substantially restrict
the use of genetic engineering."  Despite being narrower that Scott's
potential wordings (and clocking in at only 11 words), there was still
a lot of affirmative flexibility in what to discuss (cloning, gmo's,
stem cells, etc), but the uni-directional nature gave neg's sufficient
predictability.  There are a finite number of federal laws that
specifically address biotechnical advances and applications, so it's
possible to have very in-depth debates.  Given the first semester
focus on elections scenarios and the emergence of new scientific
discoveries over the course of the year (we got to deal with stem
cells from skin cells), the debates will be able to evolve (we won't
run out of stuff by the NDT).

The real reason that I like this topic area is that I think teams can
make a choice - you can still go the "traditional" debate route with
apocolyptic advantage scenarios (yay bioterrorism), international
actor CP's, politics and econ trade off da's, your precautionary
principle backfile, or standard K's of ethics, cap, and tech OR I
think you can honestly develop more specific strategies that return to
the case debate that half of the judging philosophies I read say would
be desirable.

Also, I think few other topic possibilities clearly prioritize ethical
and philosophical questions so clearly with the more traditional
policy areas of cost/benefit analysis and economics.  It makes the
critical ground intrinsic to the "policymaking" questions . . .
perhaps giving debaters on both sides of the divide an opening to
become familiar with different kinds of arguments.

If you REALLY want an agricultural debate, I also think you can
reasonably extrapolate parts of that into the GMO debate.  If you
REALLY want another international topic, international trade and
potential treaties are also inherent to the research.

I also think this is a great topic for recruitment.  Even if the
science isn't always immediately graspable (but it can be pretty easy
to understand it when needed) to the humanities major, the issues out
in the public debate make this discussable by the casual observer.
One of the first "events" I did this year was with a campus group
during their weekly "rap session" - a loosely organized discussion on
topics of current relevance.  I made a three page article available to
them if they wanted, and after 90 minutes, they were still heatedly
debating the potential harms and benefits of biotech applications.  I
think for folks who are tired of having the "same" debates this gives
them an option, without making all of the backfiles a smaller program
may rely on irrelevant.

Finally, the Lit major in me likes that for folks who don't
immediately get what all of the issues are out there, there are lots
of cultural touchstones to begin with for debaters.  Yes, I heard a
lot of Gattica references in the past year, but Brave New World and
Frankestein have enough popular mythology to work as analogies when
you get bored with early Jude Law.  Also, Jodi Picoult (My Sister's
Keeper -soon to be a movie, Second Glance, and Perfect Match) has
multiple contemporary works that address some of these issues
thematically and with scientific detail in her writing.

And if argumentation journal articles are more your speed that novels,
the Winter 2006 edition of Argumentation and Advocacy had an article
called "Making Room for Stem Cells" by John Lynch.  Even if Gen Eng
isn't the topic, you should read it for the real world T debate it
examines and the implications.

Just some thoughts . . .

[off to clone some Binghamton debaters]


Vik Keenan
Director - Baruch Debate, CUNY
Assoc. Director - New York Coalition of Colleges
212/992-9641 or 347/683-6894

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