[eDebate] Disclosure Norms: Codification: Russell and JT

Michael Antonucci antonucci23
Tue Mar 10 16:17:21 CDT 2009

I don't really have a dog in this fight.  If people think disclosure is fine
now, they think it's fine now.  JT and Russell are also both genuinely
courteous games players, in my experience, and if everyone modelled their
good nature, this conversation probably wouldn't be happening.

That said, I've witnessed repeated clashes over disclosure and disclosure
norms that clearly either originate with students or get channeled through

It's unrealistic to put highly competitive students in a setting where
they're fighting for an inch, encourage them to fight for that inch, then
seem surprised or get bent out of shape when very poorly defined rules/norms
result in conflict.


"Disclosure wouldn't be a norm then; it'd be a rule. It's a courtesy,
The reason mis-disclosure is so irritating is because it is discourteous. If

more people were willing to treat violations of disclosure norms with
reciprocity, fewer violations of disclosure norms would occur."

Norms are uncodified rules - but they're still rules.  Disclosure would then
be a codified rule instead of an uncodified rule.

I think there's a distinction between a courtesy and a norm, though.  A
norm, in this situation, implies that there's a code that's slightly better
defined, and that there may be established, if variable, penalties for its

Most students and coaches would agree that getting screwed on disclosure
feels more like a "rules violation" than, say, an opposing team making fun
of your shoes or blasting annoying music before a round.  Terrible personal
hygiene is "discourteous" - atrocious disclosure screwups feel more like

Your invocation of "reciprocity" implies a sort of vigilante street
justice.  If someone's disclosure is inadequate, they'll be treated the same
way.  I think that sort of practice begs for rule-making.  Should the
reciprocal punishment extend to an individual team, or across a squad?
Should other squads join in the beat down against violators?  Who decides?

Absent codification, I see a whole world of conflict ensconced in the
deceptively innocuous phrase "treat...with reciprocity."

"That said, there shouldn't be any need to create rules about disclosure and
doing so
would likely result in NFL type rules disputes which I am universally
annoyed by."

(Which NFL do you mean - the high school National Forensic League or the
professional National Football League?  I imagine you mean the high school
one, for strictly rhetorical reasons, but both have rules disputes, so I

I think codification would potentially result in
a. a moderately annoying drafting process
b. an occasional rule dispute which could then result in an amendment.  This
dispute would be annoying, although I would find it no more or less annoying
than current disclosure conflicts.

I guess the question, really, is whether the juice is worth the squeeze.  As
I see and hear about an irritating amount of informal rules lawyering now, I
tend to think so.  You apparently don't see any of these conflicts, so you
don't think so.  It appears that JP Lacy does see those conflicts, so he may
think so.

I suppose only more and better data, even if anecdotal, can resolve our
factual disagreement.

"Only coaches really think that this type of disclosure
mumbo-jumbo is particularly important; it's (or should be) telling that most

debaters don't really care and think things are basically fine now."

I disagree with the categorical first sentence.  *Some* debaters certainly
think that disclosure mumbo-jumbo is important, and feel cheated by
violations of this hazy norm.

I don't know about the inductive second sentence.  I can't speak for "most
debaters."  Neither can you.   We can't appeal to a silent majority without
some method for verifying our conflicting instincts on this issue.

Finally, even if coaches are the only ones who care, rules should probably
exist to protect debaters from unspoken power differentials.  I've seen
coaches browbeat.  Leaving this whole process to consensus often creates a
situation in which less resourced and experienced debaters have a less
complete understanding of whatever you believe the consensus to be.
Codification protects the inexperienced as well as pre-empting conflict
among the hyper-competitive.


Your post seems internally conflicted.  It says "this is not complicated" -
then issues a pretty complicated and probably controversial rubric for
disclosure.  You say "don't codify!" - then codify.

For example, you get to "ask if there will be a plan text" in the event of a
new aff?  I'm not sure about that.  What if the point of breaking a very
critical new aff is that the opposition doesn't expect it to be highly
critical?  I wrote one planless aff this year for precisely that reason.

Do you really feel that subsection of your rules (norms?) can somehow
logically be derived from "don't be a jackass"?  I don't.  Not in any
transparent way.  I think it's debate arcana.  No one really knows.  That's
why someone should probably codify it - as you start to do.  Detailing
arcana while insisting that "everyone understands this already" seems like a
self-defeating exercise.

Debate norms are no more commonsensical than the Diplomacy convoy order or
string-raising regulations.  (Probably less so, in fact.)  They're the
product of a very unusual and self-contained game.  Your feeling of
immersion in a particular subculture may make it seem natural, but it's
not.  Nobody knows, and someone should probably work this out outside of the
most conflict-prone situation possible.

Michael Antonucci
Debate Coach
Georgetown University
Mobile: 617-838-3345
Office: 202-687-4079
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