SPS Article Controversy

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There is a lot of chit chat about this, and I have some rather unconventional thoughts so I wanted to make a quick post here: To be clear I would not do this, and would discourage anyone I knew who was considering doing it.  I guess I’m a K debater at heart because I don’t want to defend the practice but I do want to criticize the response with a vague textless alt. 

 

1. Anyone involved in debate should be able to write and publish (in any way) anything a non debate person would be able to so long as they attach their name to it. 

2. This happens a lot more than people think- A LOT MORE. It’s the nature of the internet and the sheer number of people who are/at some point are involved in debate.  The number of debates I have judged where a card was read from a message board, an email, a blog, or a “comment” on an article/blog has climbed dramatically and I would say is now over 50% at most tournaments. 

3. I am much, repeat MUCH less concerned about a coach/debater writing an article than I am about card clipping, prep time stealing, tab room shenanigans and other clearly unethical behavior that may not influence a win or loss as much (poor disclosure/incomplete citations, opaque judge conflicts etc). 

 

3+4= very few people have any business attacking the “unethical” practices of others. 

4. If you are aff you should have a solid defense of your case that comes from peer reviewed journals and is written by qualified authors. You should also be able to explain why evidence that does not meet rigorous academic standards should be discarded- if you can’t you will lose to way more University Wire/Sac bee cards than cards written by other participants.  Part of the reason this is a problem is because of the delcining standards of what constitutes evidence, the “cult of evidence” that thinks any card auto beats an analytic, and because debaters are taught to just read cards and not critically think and deconstruct arguments ( a definate failing on the part of coaches).

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35 thoughts on “SPS Article Controversy

  1. David Heidt

    I agree with #1, however, the issue with the Marburry article did not involve this. It involved Skarb posting an article under the name “Marburry”, and involved him maintaining that Marburry was an actual person who wrote the article, by having “Marburry” return many emails to various coaches and students as if he were real. Had the article been originally posted under “Skarb” and not Marburry, there would not really be an issue. The subsequent references to Skarb were a late addition, and even with them, it was plausible that Marburry was someone else who knew Skarb, particularly given his email persona. If someone intelligent was going to write about sps, happened to know a debate person, and asked them for the major current source, it might be reasonable for them to thank that person for research assistance at the end. By comparison, I have no problem with the lame LOST article written by the BC debater, because it was attributed correctly and is therefore easily dismissed as written by a debater. Skarb, on the other hand, just cheated.

    If this practice happens a lot, then it is a larger problem that we need to address. It should mean at the very least that “evidence” from message boards, comments, and emails should be prohibited. Emails are a special case that I think needs to be widely shunned, but that is a separate topic I may address later. I think blogs are different, simply in that many qualified people do write for blogs and I see little problem with using evidence from them, as long as they are from an actual qualified blog, and not from MarburryAndME.blogspot.org.

    I agree that declining standards of evidence are a problem. This is not, however, entirely the fault of debaters. The “cult of evidence” is as much a problem with the judging community as it is debaters not attacking things like qualifications. I think debaters do what works; qualifications challenges sometimes work, so they are sometimes employed, but it is hardly a reliable strategy. Facing rhetorically powerful, fabricated evidence with nothing but an attack on qualifications is fine if your quals attack is “this was written by debate coach with a strong competitive interest in beating this aff” but is riskier when it’s “I know their ev is awesome but their author has uncertain ties to a debate coach so please disregard their pic.” The aff might win in both cases but but when the neg can debate the qualifications with some fabricated references to various degrees in the second instance, the aff’s chances are lower. I could see many judges saying they aren’t sure about the quals but the aff can’t otherwise generate offense, so…

    I agree that there are other instances of cheating in the debate community as well, but I don’t think they make this any less bad.

  2. Scott Phillips

    Dave,

    As I said, not defending the practice here, criticizing response. The people saying “debaters should never write anything that could be used in a debate” are to me, mind blowingly stupid. I think I clearly said i dont think other things make this less bad in my initial post, I am just saying the hysterical reaction to this = overblown/waste of time. How many debates have been won on that robbs malthus card about 1 death now saves 7.324532 lives in the future? No rational person can think that card is not fabricated but its like a big joke. I can’t really speak to when skarbs name was attached to article etc. nor is that really something I am taking issue with. I will say this- if I was going to write an article and make up a fake author, I would of chosen a WAY cooler name than that. Something like Max Power or Chickmagnet Dragonslayer.

    I do think author attribution is a much bigger problem than just this skarb thing- do you remember that peak oil card that harvard started reading on college energy that was like “peak oil blows up the world” that was a comment on a website with a handel and then everyone just like started citing “dr riddock” cause someone allegedly got in touch with him and he was like “oh hey im a dr”- I think this problem is way wider than this one issue.

  3. David Heidt

    Agreed about Riddock. I think Charles said he emailed him, which I’m sure he did, but the fact he had to email him because the original post had so little credibility meant it should have been unusable.

    I don’t know what Robbs card you’re talking about, I’ve actually only heard malthus in the 2nr once. If you have the cite, I’d be happy to investigate it. I can’t stand fabricated evidence.

    I judged a college debate this year at districts where I am positive one card the aff extended was fabricated. I couldn’t prove it though, but it was from a comment to an article posted by someone who was allegedly very qualified, happened to use all the terms in the resolution, and somehow did not exist on the internet outside of the one comment posted to the article. But I had no way of proving that the team reading it did it; and there is actually good reason to believe they found it on their own, as it was the first hit on a different search I did.

    I think the solution has to be disallowing comments / message boards / email ev altogether; judges need to just treat ev from these places as if it was an assertion from the team that read it.

  4. Whit Whitmore

    Someone clearly tried something similar before the NDT. While doing research I came across this comment posted to an article:

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/11/19/145825/34
    For story: Revamping the current ag subsidy system
    1 Comment | Post a Comment
    Will ending Agricultural Subsidies work?

    I have heard many people say, “we should end all agricultural subsidies” in hopes of reversing the disastrous effects of industrial agriculture including but not limited to: the slow disappearance of “small” farmers, environmental pollution, monoculture crops, and the high cost of food.
    While at first glance it would appear that subsidies are the direct cause of some of these problems, the truth is they are just a symptom of the overall problem: the powerful food system.
    Let me explain. Why is it that ending subsidies is debated every time a new farm bill is discussed in congress, but in the end, more money or commodities are added to the legislation in the form of agricultural subsidies rather than a reduction in support? It is because of the powerful food industry and lobby. Politicians are unfortunately more interested in being re-elected than standing-up to these power groups. Even President Obama caved to industry pressure and made Tom Vilsack head of the Department of Agriculture. For those who don’t know Vilsack has very close ties to large agri-businesses and is a fan of genetically modified foods or GMO’s.
    However, the problem isn’t just politicians caving to large industry desires, it’s also poorly crafted legislation, which while designed to resolve problems like environmental degradation, ends up being manipulated by these powerful agri-businesses for their own benefit. Take for example Conservation Subsidies like EQIP subsidies. As Leonard Blackham discussed during his Congressional Testimony on September 6, 2007:
    “The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to install or implement conservation practices on working agricultural land.” He continued by saying, “EQIP and other USDA conservation programs are critical to agriculture because meeting new environmental demands is a `make or break’ challenge for producers. Many on-farm environmental enhancements are beyond the short-term and even long-term economic payback for producers.”
    On face value, these sound like wonderful programs that can help “clean-up” the pollution created by farming. These subsidies, however, are used by large industry giants to hide the true production costs in farming and serve simply to keep large agro-business running while covering the true costs of their environmentally disastrous practices which if they had to endure those costs actually would make them change how they conduct their business. A clear illustration of this technique is how Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO’s, use these subsidies to try and cover-up the environmental degradation costs of their dangerous practices. Not only do CAFO’s target typically low-income minority areas in a form of environmental racism, they are enabled to do so by these very subsidies which allow them to escape punitive action from the Clean Water Act (CWA), or the Clean Air Act (CAA). Instead of being forced to pay for their degrading practices, they are “bailed-out” by government programs like EQIP which provide billions of dollars to aid in cleaning-up their messes. So instead of being shut-down because of these practices, they are enabled by these legal loopholes to stay in business. These programs thereby create a cyclical pattern where the CAFO’s pollute, get paid tax-payer money to clean-up their mess (which is never cleaned-up completely and never reverses the harmful effects placed upon the communities who have to endure these practices) and the root of the problem (the CAFO itself) is allowed to continue and flourish. These programs also have the negative effect of helping to eliminate small local competition because CAFO’s production costs are not passed to the consumer which enables them to sell meat cheaper.
    Even if a miraculous event took place and Agricultural Subsidies were eliminated, powerful lobbyist’s and other groups representing the large agro-business industry, will be in Congress horse-trading votes, donating large sums of money to political campaigns and lobbying the American public directly through commercial and print advertisements, End the end, if they didn’t directly get their original subsidies back as they were, they would get some variation of new programs that enable them to survive in new ways. After all, that is exactly how conservation programs are used by agro-businesses today: cushy feel-good environmental reforms designed to keep the very perpetrators in business.
    So, “how do we solve this problem you say?” Well, this is a difficult one to answer to say the least. At some point agricultural subsidies will have to be completely eliminated. To have anything left on the books, would only serve the powerful in Washington because the money would be shifted to some other form of agricultural support which would benefit those interests. But this isn’t enough as I pointed out earlier. The only chance we have to resolving this problem is to empower local communities and environmental justice groups. Groups that “think globally, but act locally.” Now is the time for local communities to stand-up and fight for their rights. Farmers markets and local co-opts are all good illustrations of the current movement that exists today in the realm of agriculture.

    by billsmith at 11:16 AM on 21 Feb 2009

    If you click on billsmith you will find the following ‘quals':

    Former employee in the USDA and now a community activist and organizer committed to Global Justice.

  5. Bill Batterman Post author

    DHeidt says: “I think the solution has to be disallowing comments / message boards / email ev altogether; judges need to just treat ev from these places as if it was an assertion from the team that read it.”

    I agree. Does anyone *disagree* with this? I know that many people defend email evidence, for example. I’d love to read the other side’s arguments.

    ~Bill

  6. Brett Bricker

    I disagree with the solution to “disallow email ev altogether” because I think there is a fair and academically honest way to represent evidence that is produced via email. As with any evidence that is researched and read in debate, there are a few standards I believe must be upheld:

    1. The entire conversation is “published” even if on a blog or a message board.

    2. The evidence is accurately cited. For example, if the evidence is from cross-x.com, the URL should not say “np” or “online”.

    Given the proliferation of ridiculous and contrived debate arguments, I believe that email conversations with qualified peoples are one of the only ways to ground these arguments in reality. For example, limitless external condition counterplans, consultation over irrelevant court decisions, evidence that is being read out of the intended context of the author, etc. are best handled by an open and honest conversation with the authors that are being used to represent those arguments.

    I have personally used email conversations as evidence, and will continue to email authors for more in-depth insight over their areas of expertise. This evidence included:

    A discussion about whether overruling the Morrison decision immediately reinstate the Civil Rights Remedy.

    A discussion about whether Brazil would say yes to a “quid pro quo” on ag subsidies for anti-deforestation policy.

    A discussion about the status of Lebanese debt to the United States.

    I didn’t use emails to AVOID research; rather, I used it in some instances to clarify ambiguous terminology, and to defeat arguments that have little literature base surrounding them. While I agree with basically all that has been said about Skarb shenanigans, email conversations are being unfairly associated with outright cheating.

  7. David Heidt

    I don’t think using emails are cheating, they aren’t even close. The practice has existed in small form at least since the mid nineties.

    However, I think there are problems with their use in debate, and would prefer that the practice ended, at least in the contexts I describe below.

    I agree there are strong educational benefits to emailing authors, and this should be considered legitimate evidence when it is a question of clarifying the author’s intent when it is ambiguous. But generally, I think emails as evidence should be discouraged, even though I think students shouldn’t hesitate to email their authors. My argument against emails generally boils down to “there is too much potential for abuse”:

    1. verifiability issues. 2 issues: a. The text of the conversation may be posted, but the emailed author will not / can not respond to every request about their response if the practice of emailing becomes widespread. b. can’t verify intentionally fabricated emails: the reason I don’t like message boards / comments is because none of that stuff is verifiable, the same is true for email. I could, and did, email John Marburry, but using his response that as proof of his existence for my new sps strategy would have come up short.

    2. predictability issues. It’s one thing if someone follows all of the advice in Bricker’s post. But in high school, for example, teams have broken a new aff based on email evidence but posted the relevant evidence only very briefly before the debate, which is tantamount to not disclosing it at all. Now, there is obviously a norm that new affs aren’t disclosed, but when the basis for that aff’s topicality rests upon the use of email that hasn’t been disclosed at the time it was sent, that form of aff is uniquely unpredictable and no negative team should ever have to debate something that doesn’t exist in the literature, at least not without prior knowledge. There are other examples outside of the new aff issue, but that is the most egregious example I’ve seen.

    3. the use of emails to change the scope of the topic is uniquely pretty bad in my opinion. This usually involves a debater asking an author using leading questions, and the author responding without knowing anything about topicality, but using the right words for a good card because the debater led them that direction. In my experience, the use of email evidence for topicality is much, much greater than all other uses combined.

  8. Roy Levkovitz Post author

    I feel like the issue can be separated by the intent of the email. To me there are 2 types of emails sent to authors.

    1.) Clarification emails- can you clarify what you meant by xyz type stuff, or describing how someone else is explaining the authors position and asking if this is accurate, problematic etc.

    2.) The leading question type emails. Asking authors how would the USFG react to X or what would the results of this happening be type questions. These should be frowned upon, while it is insightful and probably can produce some of the more specific topic related evidence which I feel can be detrimental to the activity.

    The goal of emailing an author is usually to find out / correct someone / learn more about the issue. Emailing the author and then using pieces of evidence not as clarification or for the purpose of clarifying how someone else is using the evidence incorrectly seems to cross the line to me. A topic is voted on for us to debate, it is now not our job to email authors in hopes that their emails will produce the most specific and useful topic evidence.

    I think the inability to draw a consensus for a bright line for what would and would not be acceptable under #2 types of questions is a reason we should limit emailing authors for Clarification purposes only.

  9. Scott Phillips

    To take devils advocate side:

    Having read emails before, and having had them read against me- they definitely are cheating and its not close. You have prompted someone to say something that otherwise wouldn’t have existed- therefore you have influenced the pool of evidence available to debate with. How is that not cheating?

    In my case I emailed someone about Tibet and the sanctions K. The sanctions k was a top 5 dumbest argument in history vs our case- it said limiting imports of food/medicine into one country to make the population revolt was bad/the logic of sacrifice. Our aff said china should have to pay more to export its goods unless they stop jacking tibetans for the good of han chinese. So to sum up
    1. No link
    2. Turn

    And yet the sanctions K is what we heard every single debate and resulted in our only losses. Before any of this happened, since I knew it would, I emailed some people and was like “lol sanctions k amirite?” and they were all like “omfg totes mcgotes lamo”. And then one dude was like ” Actually, well written rational argument sick cardzzz” so I was all like “sick research done halo shotgun/overshield/DOUBLE KILL”.

    So instead of forcing my self to debate better, i got a cheapo sick card and went on my marry way and still lost to this bs anyway.

    Moral of the story- play halo.

    Emails obviously do not meet the standard of “peer review”, in fact many of them do not meet the standards of “spell check”. Most professors when you email them will try and be helpful and in so doing will say things they would never say in a written paper submitted for publication- they will speculate without evidence, generalize, and generally mislead. Think of it this way- do you think these people do research in response to your email to answer it- or do they just guestimate? Obviously prompting someone to say something is the purpose of any email, even “clarification” emails. If their original work was not clear, that is an indictment of them as an author. I feel bad for any author who becomes “debate famous” and mass emailed with 500 million questions about an article they wrote 5 years ago. It is never “necessary” under any circumstances to email someone to defeat an argument. So now Bricker emails them and beats XYZ’s cp on an email card he posted to imissjennings.blogspot.com . Now 40 other schools who want the card or who (knowing bricker and his notorious lazy streak and therefore suspect him of foul play without the moral guidance of jennings) doubt the veracity of the evidence are all emailing this dude to ask follow up questions.

  10. Layne Kirshon

    dunno if this has been said above, but if there’s no brazil says yes to the QPQ ev not included in the non-email literature-base, it probably means the condition CP or whatever it’s used for is not a predictable strategy.

  11. Layne Kirshon

    in addition, building on what scotty said, emails can make entire aff areas topical that would, without them, have no literature defending w/ms or c/is. China aff on the public health topic proves. It was impossible to beat the aff on T cuz emails provided pretty badass we meet and c/i evidence using targeted questions.

    Emails should be encouraged to learn about topic areas and to ask experts WHERE to find literature defending X, but as evidence are undoubtedly cheating.

  12. Whit Whitmore

    Scott is right, it’s cheating. I don’t care if the evidence is posted to a blog or wiki, it’s usually not going to show up in a google search or a review of the literature on the subject. If it’s not in the literature base for an argument then it is unpredictable. Artifically expanding the research base in this way is no different than writting the evidence yourself. In some instances, if you have have ‘gone fishing’ for evidence by leading the author, you functionally have written the evidence. There is also the “posted it just before the round” disad. It is impossible to research these issues.

    If you want to email authors for insight about arguments, then by all means do it. They may be able to point you in the direction of more evidence or research on the subject. Use their advice to guide HOW you run an argument, but don’t use the email as evidence. If a team is using this author out of context for their CP or whatever, then approach them with the email and notify them that you think they are out of line. If the press the issue by continuing to read the argument then possibly I could see the email being used. However, it should only be done in this unique limited sense.

    Ultimately I think it is a bad form of research. It’s functionally impossible to anticipate and prepare for this type of evidence, and the circumstances under which the evidence was written make it near impossible to defeat argumentatively (written by an expert, in the context of the argument at hand).

  13. Whit Whitmore

    I forgot the cherry picking disad. You can email 10-20 authors and only post the ones that agree with you or wrote the best evidence. There is no way to force teams to post emails with dissenting authors. The system is set up to always favor the emailer.

  14. David Heidt

    Even if there are strong normative reasons to not use email, which I mostly agree with, I don’t agree that it can be described as “cheating.” The problem is that the use of email as evidence has existed a long time, there are sometimes questions or grumbling regarding it, but this isn’t something that has been universally condemned as unacceptable, unlike evidence fabrication. Even where the evidence isn’t allowed in debates by judges, I don’t think the existence of email evidence by itself indicates cheating.

    To me, I think cheating implies either breaking an explicit rule or being academically dishonest. The explicit rules question is difficult: there is no single rules organization governing debate, but I don’t think any organization involved with debate would EVER conclude that evidence fabrication was not cheating. The academic dishonesty question is much easier: fabrication is clearly the equivalent of lying to all competitors and critics and would violate any honor code. In that respect, I think email evidence is cheating only if there is an intent to deceive: saying it isn’t email, not disclosing the full conversation, misrepresenting the author emailed, etc. I don’t think including an email conversation in a research paper would violate an honor code, as long as it was correctly cited.

    Having said that: I do mostly support an official rule vs. email evidence. I think the NDCA should cultivate explicit standards regarding evidence in general, and would be happy if they disallowed comments / message boards / listserves, and email.

  15. Kathryn Clark

    I strongly agree that high school debate would benefit from explicit standards about comments, message boards, etc.

    Here’s one question I would like to pose. At the TOC, I was researching a transmission neg. There were some excellent cards in the comments section of the National Journal’s Energy and the Environment blog (http://energy.nationaljournal.com/2009/03/who-rules.php). I decided to cut these comments because each was attached to the name of an expert, his/her picture, and his/her qualifications. The blog also identifies itself as an “expert blog” where “a panel of insiders discusses key issues.”

    My question is:
    1. Is it desirable to distinguish between this and the “Norman Ornstein”-type comments?
    2. Is there a clear way to do so? Is it fair to say that these comments are sufficiently non-anonymous?

    This is not meant in any way to condone the use of “Norman Ornstein” comments by suggesting the lack of a clear standard as a reason for no standard. I would gladly not cut evidence like this if it supported a clear norm against quasi-anonymous and easily-fabricated comments.

    I would like to add one other thought. Last summer at the DDI we discussed whether we should adopt a rule requiring all cards cut from blogs to be clearly identified with the word “Blog” somewhere in the cite. We decided this was unnecessary because it was already obvious from the URL. Would this be helpful when it came to message boards, comments, etc.?

  16. David Heidt

    The National Journal’s Energy and Environment blog isn’t what I had in mind when I said no comments / message boards. I’ve cut cards from that blog, it was a pretty fantastic resource and everyone who posted to it was qualified. I think it is distinguishable, in that it is explicitly an expert blog, you have to be invited by the editors to post to it, some random Skarburry can’t do so. I just tried to see if there was any way for a nonexpert to post and I don’t think it’s possible.

    I usually put “blog” in the cite when I cut cards from blogs. I don’t think it helps much, but there’s no reason not to do it.

  17. Kathryn Clark

    Thanks for checking that out. It makes sense that it’s more of a closed expert discussion where non-experts can’t post even though they’re labeled as comments.

  18. Rajesh

    A few random thoughts–

    First, I agree with David about the judging community’s contribution to the “cult of evidence.” The fact that debaters don’t call people out is not solely our fault. An example

    “Cap leads to extinction via accidental space nuke war and other forms of destruction– Marko ‘3 http://www.sydney.indymedia.org.au/node/11594

    This is clearly a post from an anonymous source by the pen name Marko (given how strongly it’s worded, I wouldn’t rule out it being a debater). He says the root cause of space militarization is nuclear policy, which is necessary to protect our regular foreign policy, which is (clearly) all centered around capitalism. Though false on many levels, the simple claim that if space were truly dominated by the capitalist mindset, then it would never make economic sense to risk a space war because that would tank our economy should be enough to take this out.

    But even when we call people out on it, judges still ask for the card and weigh it strongly vs our assertions about source quality. This especially hurts people like Anshu who, for obvious reasons, have absolutely no credibility with judges in the first place. As a result, I feel like the change away from supporting evidence should start with an increased judge willingness to vote on those args, which would in turn cause more debaters to see the value in bringing up those args. To be frank this will not happen on the side of the debaters without that.

    E-mail’s– Most of the good points have already been made. But two additional thoughts.

    Topicality questions alone seem to be reason enough to disallow e-mails. The combination of Whit’s Cherry picking and David’s delayed response claims mean that teams can literally e-mail 20 authors, ask if X New Aff was a QPQ for alternative energy and just pick the best card and you are good to go on T. EVEN IF the negative could e-mail 10 more after the round and cut sick cards, absent a time paradox (thanks DTay) that won’t change an L into a W. To say that a neg could literally read EVERY article on this years topic and still not be prepared for this debate makes any claims that e-mails are good for topic education/clarification spurious at best and actually pretty backwards at worst. To even grant Bricker’s arguments full weight, the negatives ALWAYS outweigh the positive; every time you see an opening in a debate community there is an reaction to abuse it in every which way–meaning that the only way to prevent a slide toward a ruined community is nipping the activity in the bud. Which brings me to my next point–

    My solution for the middle-ground in e-mailed evidence would be a combination of an e-mail posting forum and an NDCA rule/condition. This still has several kinks, but hear me out, I think it could work.

    The basic idea is that there would be a general rule that e-mailed evidence could only be introduced in round if it were posted in the forum and posted there 4 (random, atm) days before the start of a tournament, and that email conversation was within 2 days of that post. I.e. if you had a tournament on the 12th, you’d have to post an article by at least the 8th, and if you had a conversation with someone on the 15th, you’d have to post it by the 17th.

    This approach would allow for the good parts of Bricker’s posts (clarification, research depth, etc.), while preventing, or at least removing the incentive to, develop new squirrely args based off of random e-mails from authors — I’m looking at the China Medical Teams aff + T-Substantial definitions from “experts” — since these would become common literature for all to read. You are still allowed to do it though, so it’s just like reading a new aff that is rooted in the literature.

    Some may say, but this kills neg flex more than dispo if we constantly have to disclose what we are thinking before the tournament. I mean it’s not like you post your new shady politics DA’s. I would respond that this begs the question of why you are e-mailing authors in the first place. If you are truly trying to get an edge by cooking up some obscure strategy or solvency advocate, then yes, you should stop and be dissuaded by this. But if you are trying to do what Bricker described then there would be no disadvantage to helping the rest of the debate community with disambiguation.

    Another potential condition would be that ALL e-mail conversations, regardless of with authors should be posted to this forum. This one is a lot sketchier, because it is clearly based off of verifiability and as I see our community progress at times it seems like winning debates pwns honor. So this is probably a no go, but it would definitely deter cherry picking, so it is something to consider.

    Anyway any ideas on that forum would be appreciated.

  19. Layne Kirshon

    Thoughts

    a. To Dheidt. When people say cheating, I don’t know about other people but this is how I feel, I don’t mean like omg u read an email you’re off the debate team. Rather, NDCA rules that state no emails in debate means judges not even call for/evaluate email-based evidence, only for the reason that potential for abuse is so high given Whit’s litany of “disads” to reading emails

    b. I think Kathryn’s question really demonstrates how vague and grey a lot of these areas are. I think the “cult of evidence” could probably be solved for not by saying blogs in general are a no-go, but rather debaters should spend more time debating the source quality and judges should assign bigger risk-takeouts (many times zero) for arguments like Marko’s a dumbass, judge. For instance, clearly the Electricity Blog mentioned earlier is valuable. Joe Schmo saying “uhhh coal is good for the economy” who obviously has zero qualifications is just debating wasting their time reading evidence. To me at least, evidence from Joe Schmo isn’t “cheating” but it basically reduces the card from “evidence” to an “analytical” argument. One problem with the “cult of evidence” is that many times arguments that aren’t attached to evidence aren’t considered full arguments/evidence trumps it no matter how well the analytical is explained relative to evidence explanation. I’m not going on a tangent, I’m rather trying to say is that if judges considered Joe Schmo to be just as qualified as Anshu, no matter how low her credibility is, Rajesh, the evidence would lose its value but things like the Electricity blog would not be a problem.

    *debaters wasting their time, not debating

  20. Noah Chestnut

    Great discussion. Here are some more thoughts:

    A) I think more judges will start calling teams out on reading bad evidence. The norms are changing. This year, I voted against BG in the Octos of the TOC because their only shot of o/w warming was Marko, which Rajesh handled nicely above. I don’t think I would have made that call when I was an undergrad. For me, I was less willing to dismiss ev because I judged more from the perspective of someone in the debate, not as someone judging the debate. Distance is healthy. I love that judging is difficult and takes practice. After judging for two years I feel much more comfortable seeing arguments in terms of their quality, not in terms of their quantity.

    B) The e-mail question is difficult. All I know is my own experience. On the courts topic, Ravi and I were in contact, via e-mail, with Sunstein and Cherminsky to talk about the Roberts DA. When asked point blank if one overrule on either one of the four cases really mattered for the future of the Roberts’ court jurisprudence, both answered in the negative. The way we deployed these e-mails was not as a total link take out, but as a way to evaluate the probability of the link. I think that if you combine e-mails with peer reviewed evidence, you can make better comparisons. I see no reason why we shouldn’t be in favor of this. This is a touchy subject, but I think that the standards of evidence, similar even to the news industry, are changing and we should embrace change, knowing that this will improve debaters engagement with the literature. We will get better at being more transparent.

  21. Pingback: The 3NR » Exploiting Inefficiencies: Moneyball and Opportunities For Innovation in High School Policy Debate

  22. Jim Hanson

    it is one thing to write as part of scholarship or even as a way to inform the public about an issue, it is another to write specifically so that your kids can read counterplan net benefits, etc. as i understand it, this article was crafted specifically to make cards for a specific strategy against a solar power satellites affirmative.

    allowing such an approach, means you can just ask your coach to write some good link cards for your disads; write on-point answers for counterplan solvency deficits; etc. if i’m the coach, I can just sign them as “w.c. haji” or some other pseudonym. heck, I could write them as “dr. james hanson” (and i am a ph.d. in rhetoric with a focus on public policy and legal issues). i suppose you could just treat my evidence as “assertions” but i doubt that is what will happen in the actual rounds especially if i word it real well and with good warrants.

    the core of this is that writing articles with the intention of getting winning cards destroys the purpose of evidence gathering–to find authors without a vested interest in the outcome of our debates who are writing specifically for that vested interest.

    that is the core of my problem with this incident as i understand it.

    and, i strongly suppport the suggestion to have a centralized posting spot for emailed evidence. a simple group type blog would be able to do that.

  23. Pingback: The 3NR » Debate and authority 3.0

  24. Justin B. Skarb

    Much conversation has surrounded the writing and publication of the essay “Space-Based Solar Power: Right Here, Right Now?” This will, hopefully, be my only post on the subject. As such, it will be slightly lengthy.

    It is accurate that I, Justin Skarb, was, indeed, the author of the blog comment, carrying the same title, on the Space Frontier Foundation’s space-based solar power blog (http://spacesolarpower.wordpress.com/2008/10/13/time-to-build-a-first-look-at-the-initial-plan/#comment-3059). It is also accurate that I was the author of the essay published by The Space Review (http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1359/1). It is also accurate that a pseudonym, John Marburry, was used both in the blog comment and in the publication of the essay by The Space Review.

    Unfortunately, numerous misstatements and inaccurate accounts of what happened and why it happened have been made by numerous people both on this message board and elsewhere.

    First, I have been accused of fabricating the qualifications listed in the essay. Nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from the use of a pseudonym, all of the attribution information provided in both the blog comment and essay published by The Space Review is accurate. I believe that it is worth mentioning that I read every technical and non-technical report on space-based solar power (SBSP) I could find before ever picking up a pen. Regardless, I hold a B.A. in history and a B.S. in political science from Arizona State University. I also hold an M.A. in communication from California State University at Fullerton. I have conducted legislative and policy analyses on local, state, and national issues on an independent basis for a political action committee. I am currently employed as a business consultant for a Fortune 500 company. In short, my qualifications were not fabricated.

    People can say what they want about whether this makes me “qualified” to write the essay I did and to make the arguments advanced in the essay. Frankly, I do not think that it takes a rocket scientist to come to the conclusions that money does not grow on trees and that money for a program that would cost tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions, of Dollars would have to come from somewhere. Honestly, I think the village idiot is smart enough to realize this.

    Second, I have been accused of “publishing” the essay just prior to the TOC. As an initial matter, I did not publish the essay. The essay was submitted to respected and prominent journal on space issues, The Space Review. The essay underwent The Space Reviews normal editing and review process conducted by Dr. Jeff Foust, an aerospace analyst with a bachelor’s degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in planetary science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Space Review and its editorial staff chose to publish the essay. From my perspective, this editorial and review process is far more stringent than the editing and review that a fair amount of evidence read in debates ever undergoes.

    Tangentially, several individuals have chosen to criticize my actions by lambasting the editorial process at The Space Review. Apart from the fact that I highly doubt any of these individuals have ever submitted an essay to the journal for consideration and, as such, would have little knowledge of their editorial process, what is interesting is that some of these same people that have attacked The Space Review either read or coached teams that read evidence from the exact same journal. For instance, one prominent team read the following evidence all from The Space Review:

    And, this jumpstarts the civilian market.
    The Space Review ‘07 (Taylor Dinerman, “Solar power satellites and space radar” http://integrator.hanscom.af.mil/2007/July/07262007/07262007-16.htm, July 16, 2007)
    The first steps in such a program would be to begin…made into a win-win outcome.

    And, no technological barriers, we would fly demonstrations in 4 years, and independent study groups indict their author.
    Ashworth ‘08 – Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society (Stephen, The Space Review, “In defense of the knights”, 6/23, http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1153/1)
    Usually, Day’s articles are among the…contents of the SPACE FRONTIER FOUNDATION study report.

    SSP solves supply problems that destabilize Afghanistan
    Dinerman 11/24, (Taylor Dinerman, writer for The Space Review, “Space solar power and the Khyber Pass,” 11/24/08) http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1255/1
    For the second time… …to the modern world.

    Others don’t have the incentive or technical capability to cheat. Elhefnawy ’06 Nader Elhefnawy, written on space policy and international security for several years and currently teaching at the University of Miami, 11/27/2006. http://www.thespacereview.com/article/755/1
    Arms control skeptics…much as possible

    I believe if the review and editorial process for these articles was sufficient and stringent enough for teams reading the SBSP affirmative, it is also sufficient and stringent enough for my essay.

    Likewise, the essay was not published by me days before the TOC. As a point of fact, the essay was submitted to The Space Review for consideration on February 11, 2009. By random chance, The Space Review notified me that they were going to publish the essay in an upcoming issue of the journal. The Space Review ended up publishing the essay on Monday, April 27, 2009. Other than submitting the essay for consideration, I had no part in this editorial decision.

    Third, I have been accused of using a pseudonym to hide my bias in order for Damien to be able to read the evidence in debates against the SBSP AFF. It is important to note that no team from Damien ever read evidence from this essay in any debate. Regardless, there was a non-debate reason for the use of a pseudonym. When I wrote the essay and submitted it to The Space Review for consideration and posted it on the Space Frontier Foundation’s SBSP blog I was concerned that the publication and/or posting of the essay under my name could be viewed by some as being in conflict with the non-compete clause of my current employment agreement. As such I chose to submit the essay using a pseudonym.

    What is ironic about this entire situation is that in attempting to ensure that nothing that could be considered unethical by some occurred, I have been accused of being unethical. Upon learning that the essay was going to be published prior to the TOC, I asked the editors of The Space Review to include my name in the article. Likewise, the original comment on the Space Frontier Foundation’s SBSP blog was reposted making it clear that a pseudonym was used in the original comment. It was obvious to me that it was more important that my involvement in the essay be made clear than any risk that may or may not have existed in regards to my employment agreement. The reason that this entire situation is ironic is because if I had not tried to make my involvement known, I doubt that it would have ever become known that I was the author of the essay and I would have never been accused of cheating or being unethical. Again, had I wanted to or intended to cheat or be unethical, I would have never associated my name with the essay and people would still be trying to track down John Marburry. This was, in no uncertain terms, never my intent.

    Fourth, I have been accused of writing the essay for the purpose of using evidence from it in debates against the SBSP AFF. Again, the premise of this argument is flawed. I do not believe that anyone can know my intentions on this subject. It is accurate that the research for the article coincided with research that was completed for the 2008-2009 high school debate topic. Given the ongoing public discussion of this subject in addition to the President’s calls for comment on the subject (http://change.gov/open_government/entry/space_solar_power_ssp_a_solution_for_energy_independence_climate_change/), the decision was made to seek an outlet to edit, review, and publish the essay. Given my overriding interest in participating in the policy discussion, the essay was also posted as a comment on the Space Frontier Foundation’s blog on SBSP. The article was written as a scholarly piece, plain and simple.

    My feeling was that there was little to no chance that the essay would ever be published. Likewise, there certainly seemed to be next to no chance that the essay would be published prior to the completion of the high school debate season. As such, it seemed as though there was little chance that there would ever need to be an explanation about the essay or its authorship. Frankly, if it was my intention to deceive, I would have kept silent about the subject, never reposted the comment on the Space Frontier Foundation blog on SBSP with my name on it, and certainly never asked the editors at The Space Review to include my name in the article.

    Whether evidence that could be read in a debate could be found in the essay is not relevant to the question of whether it was written to be used as a source for such evidence. I do not think it is shocking my time in debate would influence my writing style. More to the point, it seems as if the logical conclusion of this line of thinking is that any article that includes strongly worded arguments must have been written for the purposes of being read in debate and, as such, should be disqualified. I will not bother getting into the dangers of this argument. Far from contaminating the literature base, the essay contributed to not only the literature base but also the ongoing public policy discussion surrounding space-based solar power. This is evidenced in no small part by the comments the article has received, both publicly and privately, from a senior engineer at an aerospace defense contractor, the CEO of a solar powered satellite company, and the former Director of NASA’s Energy Program who happened to lead one of the organization’s investigations of space-based solar power.

    Truth be told, members of the Damien coaching staff did toy with the idea of using the comment on the Space Frontier Foundation’s blog as a means to illustrate the absurdity of the means by which the NSSO completed its evaluation of SBSP. Our argument would have been that it is a travesty of intellectual thought that such an important study would use blog posts and comments to influence its findings and recommendations. The NSSO did, indeed, rely on this very forum to assist in its review of SBSP (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/2007-07-25-pentagon-space-power_N.htm) and (http://spacesolarpower.wordpress.com/2007/11/03/what-comes-next-phase-1-your-comments-needed/). Likewise, the blog actively encouraged the participation of the high school debate community (http://c-sbsp.org/2008/01/11/debate-topic-alternative-energy/) and (http://spacesolarpower.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/ad-astra-special-report-space-based-solar-power/ — comments 16 and 17). Had Damien made this argument, the blog comment would have been used to illustrate the fact that it is irresponsible to conduct a study of this kind by utilizing unverifiable blog comments. Our argument would have been a means of illustrating why the DOD thinks the report is a joke (http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1147/1).

    Ultimately, Damien chose not to make this argument and decided that other strategies against the SBSP AFF were far more viable. This is proven, in no small part, that Damien debated Westminster’s top team, that began reading the SBSP affirmative, at the NDCA National Championship, twice in elimination rounds and did not use any evidence from the Space Frontier Foundation blog comment.

    Some individuals have raised the argument that the fact that the essay was posted as a comment on the Space Frontier Foundation blog in February is proof positive that I intended to deceive the debate community and that Damien intended to use the evidence in debates. In all honesty, I did not realize that it had become so commonplace to read comments on blogs and blog posts from unverifiable authors. As such, I never thought that the blog comment would ever be used in a debate by Damien or any other team.

    I truly believed that the community had a general rule that evidence should only be read from “explicitly… expert blog[s]” where “some random Skarburry” can not make posts and rely only on “actual qualified blog[s].” After this entire situation caught fire at the conclusion of the TOC, I started doing some digging around on the high school case list. In short, I was positive that I would only find that evidence was being read from “expert blog[s].” Here are some examples of what I am speaking about:

    1. Increased footing with Cuba is key to prevent Russian bombers there that will bring us to nuclear war
    Hinz 3/14 – Founder and Editor of the Minority Report (“Russia to send Bombers to Cuba and Venezuela” http://www.theminorityreportblog.com/hinzsight_story/david_hinz/2009/03/14/russia_to_send_bombers_to_cuba_and_venezuela)
    Like Nostradamus or Jeanne Dixon, the prognostications of Joe the Biden have come to pass. An… red line for the United States of America,” said General Norton Schwartz said on July 23.

    Sure enough, David Hinz is the President and Editor in Chief of the Minority Report. It is interesting, though, that one can’t seem to find his qualifications for writing anything with any level of authority despite the fact that his writings are rather prolific in the blog world. I suppose, though, its enough that the esteemed names of the “Front Page Contributors” for The Minority Report include: BooBooKitty, .cnI redruM, Streetwise, DocJ, Dave In Boca, pilgrim, EPU, Night Twister, Joliphant, HeavyM, Haystack, Susannah, Knight of the Mind, and $peciallist. An “actual qualified blog” indeed.

    2. And, SSP immediately reduces launch costs.
    Eades ‘07 – (Jeremy, “US military proposes space-based solar power station”, Futurismic Blog, 10/17, http://futurismic.com/2007/10/17/us-military-proposes-space-based-solar-power-station/)
    A few weeks ago, Tobias posted about…technology for civilian consumption

    I wasn’t able to figure out who Jeremy Eades is (I’m sure he is an expert on launch costs though), but I was able to determine that the Futurismic Blog “seeks contemporary, near future science fiction for online publication.” More importantly they are looking for “Mundane SF, Post-cyberpunk SF, Satirical/gonzo futurism, Realistic near future hard SF.” I’d classify this as one of those “actual qualified blog[s].”

    3. Colonization’s impossible: launch costs are too high, conditions are inhospitable, and it’s never economical Stross, 7 – technical author; freelance journalist; author of The Web Architect’s Handbook; specializes in space opera and hard science fiction [characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail and scientific accuracy] (Charles, “The High Frontier, Redux,” 06-16-07, http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2007/06/the_high_frontier_redux.html)

    Now I’m beginning to see the pattern of what constitutes qualified sources…SCIENCE FICTION! I’m sure that because Mr. Stross “went to university in London and qualified as a Pharmacist,” “went back to university in Bradford and did a postgraduate conversion degree in computer science,” and “managed to turn his unemployment into an exciting full time career opportunity as a freelance journalist specializing in Linux and free software” he is more than qualified to speak about launch costs, the economics of space colonization, and the conditions for humans to survive in space. Maybe Mr. Stross is qualified to discuss this matter because he got started “around the time he was getting heavily into Dungeons and Dragons.”

    4. Pollinator deaths cause extinction Dee 07, (jay, “colony collapse disorder” associated content 9/5 online The overuse…unchecked

    Given public statements that “[i]t’s true that sometimes people are lazy and cite things as “NYT” or whatever, but it’s rare that this is a cover-up for bias … it involves lazy people LEAVING OFF qualifications for no reason other than they are careless” that this scientist’s qualifications were just accidentally left off of the citation. I was happy to learn that Mr. Dee has “written and published numerous short stories, poems, and magazine articles” and has “even written one play that was produced in Canada.” His interests include “writing, coin collecting, [and] bike riding.” I was worried that maybe this actually wasn’t a scientist that had the qualifications to discuss what does and does not cause extinction, but then I found out that Mr. Dee has an “Associate Degree – Psychology.”

    More importantly, his motto is from Albert Einstein (shouldn’t this automatically make him qualified)…“Imagination is more important than intelligence.” Truer words have never been spoken.

    5. RPS is a form of picking winners that distorts energy markets – the counterplan is a superior form of market regulation that allows greater technological innovation Epstein, 08 (Max, “In Defense of Carbon Pricing: Why Clean RD&D Isn’t Enough,” 7/21, http://www.thebreakthrough.org/blog/2008/07/guest_post_in_defense_of_carbo.shtml)

    This is my favorite out of all of them. One would, again, think that the lack of author qualifications was just another example of laziness on the part of coaches and debaters. For goodness sake, at the very beginning of this article Mr. Epstein is cited as an “occasional Washington Post editorialist.” Clearly this author must know what he is talking about, even the Washington Post has published his articles. I was able to overlook the fact that he didn’t include any sources for any of the claims he was making in this article because I was sure that I would find them in his Washington Post articles.

    So I decided to take a look at one of his Washington Post articles
    (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/29/AR2008052903263.htm).

    It was certainly interesting that there weren’t any sources for any of the claims he was making. I thought that was part of the process of writing a quality scholarly piece. The Washington Post explained that Mr. Epstein is a student at the University of Maryland. I thought that he surely must be a graduate or Ph.D. student studying economics.

    So I decided to take a look on the UMD web page to see if I could track down Mr. Epstein. Sure enough, I found a page that clearly explained how qualified he truly was to be discussing Renewable Portfolio Standards
    (http://teams.gemstone.umd.edu/classof2010/chip/team.html).

    “Max Epstein Economics and Government Major
    Max is a sophomore economics and government major from Chevy Chase, Maryland. Following graduation he plans on either attending law school, grad school, or working as a waiter traveling across Europe. In his free time he enjoys watching movies, playing sports and reading.”

    A sophomore at the University of Maryland…Yet another fine example of evidence being read from an “expert” and not “some random Skarburry.”

    6. And, that’s key to Chinese growth SciDev 11/3/8 (is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing reliable and authoritative information about science and technology for the developing world, “China must use science and technology for development” http://www.scidev.net/en/opinions/china-must-use-science-and-technology-for-developm.html)
    China has made great ….and address global climate change”.

    This one was somewhat interesting to me. When you go to the web page provided in the cite, there is a link to the full article originally published in Science Magazine

    (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/322/5902/649?ijkey=HEnoG/1aCB.yE&keytype=ref&siteid=sci).

    Obviously, this source is beyond reproach. But why in the world would someone not use the Science Magazine source and, instead, opt for the SciDev source. It must have just been an oversight that the author of the article was Wen Jiabao who is the Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. Clearly he isn’t an author who might have some bias when it comes to what is and is not important to continued economic growth in China.

    7. NASA deliberately disclosed false information about risk factors and the need for nuclear power. The real reports go negative. Chong, 97—Daniel, “Nukes in Space: The Final Frontier?” The North Coast Express, http://www.sonic.net/~doretk/Issues/97-08%20AUG/nukesinspace.html Risking a Human Tragedy…deadly plutonium

    When it comes to debates about using nuclear power in space, there is no better place to look than The North Coast Xpress. After all, it “is a quarterly magazine committed to educating the public, as well as prisoners, about political, social and economic issues related to justice, including but not limited to: preserving the democratic ideals of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, safeguarding the environment, explaining U.S. domestic and global economics, revealing how the criminal justice system works, and providing a voice for underrepresented minorities.”

    More importantly, at the bottom of this particular version of the article the reader is notified that this is a reprint of the version of the article that appeared in Awareness Magazine (http://www.awarenessmag.com/sepoct7/SO7_NUKE.HTML). At the bottom of this printing of the article, the reader is notified that it was reprinted from the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice (http://www.fcpj.org/). I am not sure what their qualifications are to talk about nuclear power in space, but they are having a yard sale on May 30. Maybe you can buy some of the textbooks they used to learn about using nuclear power in space for a really good price.

    Ultimately, it seems to me that the real problem is the authors debaters and coaches are willing to cut evidence from and the sources they are willing to cite for their evidence. It is 100% accurate that “debaters should follow (and judges should enforce) higher standards of evidence.”

    All of this being said, I made several errors in this situation. First, I was wrong to post the essay as a comment on a blog and to submit the essay for publication if I was not also able to attribute the article to myself and to identify myself as a high school debate coach. This is especially the case in this situation where the article was submitted prior to the end of the debate season. Second, I was wrong to not make more of an effort to alert the debate community to my level of involvement in the writing of the essay. Finally, I was wrong to respond to emails requesting information from individuals that identified themselves as members of the debate community without identifying myself as the author of the essay. For exhibiting this level of poor judgment, I have no excuse and can only say that I am terribly sorry.

    I am truly sorry for any headaches and frustration the publication of the essay caused. In no uncertain terms, there was no intention to do harm to the debate community, let alone the program at Damien High School. Those that know me, know that I love and cherish debate like none other and that leads to an unwavering respect for the activity and its integrity. I have been involved in the activity for over 15 years. Acting unethically or cheating has never been and was not my intent. For acting in such a way that has opened me and, more importantly Damien, up to questions about ethics, integrity, and intentions, I am truly and deeply sorry. I pledge that this mistake will not be repeated.

    Respectfully,

    Justin B. Skarb

  25. Pingback: Academic Debate And The Ethical Use of Evidence — PFDebate Blog

  26. David Heidt

    Higher standards for evidence are good. But the majority of Skarb’s post is meant to deflect attention from himself; none of his examples are similar to what he did. It isn’t news to point out that debaters (and coaches) are sometimes lazy or careless in cutting cards or citing qualifications. But it takes a special kind of person to justify fabricating evidence.

    Skarb is correct about one thing: we can never know his intent. It’s plausible that Skarb considers something he described as a joke blog post from which cards would be read to demonstrate that the NSSO was unqualified to be a “scholarly piece.” Or it’s possible that Skarb really had no intention of actually writing cards, he was really just doing his civic duty by answering the president’s call to advance the national conversation on space solar power, and boy was he just shocked that people thought that these were cards, how dare they, he didn’t know the words would come together the way they did. I guess it’s also plausible that writing an article about space based solar power conflicts with with the “don’t write about space solar power” clause in his employment agreement as a consultant for a Fortune 500 company, and that company also had a really strict “lie about who you are when people ask via email” policy too. Or, for all I know, Skarb’s article was written just so he could send out an “apology” that serves as an ironic performance of the lack of standards we have for evidence. Or maybe this really was just a case of poor judgement. Colossally poor judgement. Judgement so idiotic that it demonstrates a basic unfitness to be responsible for or interact with high school students.

    Intent doesn’t matter in this context. Intent isn’t verifiable. Reducing this solely to a question of intent is a license to cheat. “Oh, I wrote these cards and posted them to ironically demonstrate their evidence wasn’t qualified but they didn’t see the irony so I just extended them and we won the debate on cards I wrote” isn’t too far removed from the Skarburry defense. It’s true that Skarb thanked himself while using the Marburry name, but this is hardly a demonstration of intent when he continued the charade via subsequent emails. For all anyone knows, that line could have been added to create a plausible defense in case someone did track down the source of the post or in case it was leaked from someone else at Damien. The other coaches and students on that squad appear to have ethics.

    Were any student to do what Skarb did and get caught, they most likely would lose a debate, be kicked off their team, or worse. Skarb, on the other hand, appears to face few, if any consequences. There should be a lesson in this. I just hope that the lesson is “Skarb did something absolutely unjustifiable” instead of “Skarb isn’t to blame.”

  27. Peter Nikolai

    In the interest of academic honesty, I ripped the idea for this post off from Saturday Night Live.

    First, I have been accused of fabricating the qualifications listed in the essay. Nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from the use of a pseudonym, all of the attribution information provided in both the blog comment and essay published by The Space Review is accurate.

    Really? Does John Marburry exist? You admitted that you made him up. (By the way, you didn’t make him up, Aaron Sorkin did. Did it occur to you that perhaps other people in debate might watch the West Wing?) Because when you say “Apart from the use of a pseudonym”, it sounds like Charles Manson saying “Apart from all the murder, my cult was just a bunch of kids hanging out in the desert.”

    I believe that it is worth mentioning that I read every technical and non-technical report on space-based solar power (SBSP) I could find before ever picking up a pen.

    Really? Did you conduct any original research on the issue? Because what you just described is called “secondary research”, and is nothing more than doing an 8th grade book report.

    Regardless, I hold a B.A. in history and a B.S. in political science from Arizona State University. I also hold an M.A. in communication from California State University at Fullerton.

    Really? And that qualifies you to write about space-based solar power because?

    While you were at ASU, did you ever bother to read the “Students Obligations to Academic Integrity”? Paragraph A prohibits any act of “academic deceit.” Paragraph D prohibits acting “as a substitute for another person in any Academic Evaluation or assignment” . http://provost.asu.edu/academicintegrity/policy/StudentObligations When you posted an article under a pseudonym you engaged in academic deceit, and hid your “work’” and passed it off for another.

    I have conducted legislative and policy analyses on local, state, and national issues on an independent basis for a political action committee. I am currently employed as a business consultant for a Fortune 500 company. In short, my qualifications were not fabricated.

    You understand, substituting your qualifications for the qualifications of a made-up person is called writing fiction right? Oh, by the way, the John Marburry of the West Wing has better made-up qualifications then the ones you gave him. Next time you write evidence under his name, just use the ones Aaron Sorkin wrote up.

    Second, I have been accused of “publishing” the essay just prior to the TOC. As an initial matter, I did not publish the essay. The essay was submitted to respected and prominent journal on space issues, The Space Review. The essay underwent The Space Reviews normal editing and review process conducted by Dr. Jeff Foust, an aerospace analyst with a bachelor’s degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in planetary science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Space Review and its editorial staff chose to publish the essay. From my perspective, this editorial and review process is far more stringent than the editing and review that a fair amount of evidence read in debates ever undergoes.

    Really? What is The Space Review’s normal editing process? Right now it looks to me like it comprises the following steps: (1) Ctrl-A; (2) Ctrl-C; (3) Ctrl-V. Did Dr. Foust know that were publishing under a pseudonym? I am going to guess the answer is “no”, since he did not say that it was published under a pseudonym. Since The Space Review did not look to see if John Marburry really existed then I doubt that “The Space Review” is really a respected and prominent journal.

    By the way, what does Dr. Jeff Foust think of you now?

    I believe if the review and editorial process for these articles was sufficient and stringent enough for teams reading the SBSP affirmative, it is also sufficient and stringent enough for my essay.

    Really? Because I think you just wrote indicts to any cards coming from The Space Review.

    Regardless, there was a non-debate reason for the use of a pseudonym. When I wrote the essay and submitted it to The Space Review for consideration and posted it on the Space Frontier Foundation’s SBSP blog I was concerned that the publication and/or posting of the essay under my name could be viewed by some as being in conflict with the non-compete clause of my current employment agreement. As such I chose to submit the essay using a pseudonym.

    Really? This is my favorite part. Your defense of doing one slimy thing (fabricating evidence), is that you were doing another slimy thing (violating your contractual obligations under your employment agreement, and trying to cover your tracks by not assigning your name to it).

    Oh by the way, I am not sure what Fortune 500 company you work for, but I bet that the Damien administration is equally pissed at you for doing what you did. And not for nothing, but I bet that your current employer probably could not care less if you posted your opinions on solar powered satellites.

    What is ironic about this entire situation is that in attempting to ensure that nothing that could be considered unethical by some occurred, I have been accused of being unethical.

    Really? You think its ironic? Here are things that are more ironic: (1) rain on your wedding day; (2) 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife; (3) the good advice that you just didn’t take.

    And NONE of those things are remotely ironic.

    Upon learning that the essay was going to be published prior to the TOC, I asked the editors of The Space Review to include my name in the article.

    Really? But I thought you were so concerned about violating your employment contract? Why not just ask The Space Review to pull the article? That way your Fortune 500 employer would never know of your cunning ruse to deceive it.

    The reason that this entire situation is ironic is because if I had not tried to make my involvement known, I doubt that it would have ever become known that I was the author of the essay and I would have never been accused of cheating or being unethical.

    Really? There you are using “ironic” again. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2y8Sx4B2Sk&feature=related

    You know what else would have ensured that you were never accused of cheating or being unethical? Not writing cards prior to the TOC, and then trying to pass them off as written by someone else. When you replied to e-mails in character, you lost all credibility on this issue.

    My feeling was that there was little to no chance that the essay would ever be published. Likewise, there certainly seemed to be next to no chance that the essay would be published prior to the completion of the high school debate season. As such, it seemed as though there was little chance that there would ever need to be an explanation about the essay or its authorship.

    YOU FIRST POSTED THIS ON A COMMENT TO A BLOG!!!!!!!! There was obviously no filter on the comment section. Also, you chose to publish your book report at a source which you knew was used by debaters on this topic. Why not wait to submit the article, under your name, until after NFL nationals? This is strong circumstantial evidence that you wanted the article posted when debaters could use it.

    Frankly, if it was my intention to deceive, I would have kept silent about the subject, never reposted the comment on the Space Frontier Foundation blog on SBSP with my name on it, and certainly never asked the editors at The Space Review to include my name in the article.

    Are you just making it up as you go along? You admitted that you posted under a pseudonym, but you never alerted anyone that it was a pseudonym. You then responded to e-mails under the pseudonym. That’s overwhelming circumstantial evidence that you in fact intended to deceive. You took action to deceive, and succeeded (temporarily) in deceiving. Really.

    Whether evidence that could be read in a debate could be found in the essay is not relevant to the question of whether it was written to be used as a source for such evidence. I do not think it is shocking my time in debate would influence my writing style. More to the point, it seems as if the logical conclusion of this line of thinking is that any article that includes strongly worded arguments must have been written for the purposes of being read in debate and, as such, should be disqualified. I will not bother getting into the dangers of this argument. Far from contaminating the literature base, the essay contributed to not only the literature base but also the ongoing public policy discussion surrounding space-based solar power. This is evidenced in no small part by the comments the article has received, both publicly and privately, from a senior engineer at an aerospace defense contractor, the CEO of a solar powered satellite company, and the former Director of NASA’s Energy Program who happened to lead one of the organization’s investigations of space-based solar power.

    Do you care to be more specific what these comments were, by whom they were made, and when they were made? Because absent some sort of corroboration, you will pardon those of us who don’t believe you, because, you know, you lied.

    Frankly, the rest of your post is a bunch of red herrings. What you should have said is “this is what I did, it was wrong, and I am super sorry I did it.” Trying to embarrass teams for reading cards from blogs is not the same as apologizing or showing contrition for what you did. Really.

    Pete Nikolai
    St. Paul Central Debate

  28. Bill Batterman Post author

    I’m with Pete and Tim.

    Justin, I agree with your quite thorough and entertaining skewering of the state of evidence quality on the national circuit. But in the context of the discussion about the Marburry article, your retort is a transparent attempt at diverting focus from what you did. Even if your actions were taken within the context of an activity that suffers from low standards for what constitutes evidence, there is a fundamental difference between conducting poor quality research and producing scholarship under a pseudonym for use as evidence.

    You are right that no one can know your intentions, but I still do not understand why you replied to emails sent to the fictitious Marburry email account as if such a person existed even after the “research thanks” note was added to your article. What possible reason did you have for deceiving those members of the debate community who emailed “John Marburry” with questions?

    The only mention of this behavior in your message is the following:

    All of this being said, I made several errors in this situation. First, I was wrong to post the essay as a comment on a blog and to submit the essay for publication if I was not also able to attribute the article to myself and to identify myself as a high school debate coach. This is especially the case in this situation where the article was submitted prior to the end of the debate season. Second, I was wrong to not make more of an effort to alert the debate community to my level of involvement in the writing of the essay. Finally, I was wrong to respond to emails requesting information from individuals that identified themselves as members of the debate community without identifying myself as the author of the essay. For exhibiting this level of poor judgment, I have no excuse and can only say that I am terribly sorry.

    I appreciate the apology, but what explanation can you offer for this choice to continue the charade when replying to email messages?

    The bottom line, for me, is that you quite clearly did something wrong. I think you’ve now acknowledged that, at least in part. But your continued attempts to divert attention away from what you did and to rationalize your “poor judgment” makes me skeptical of how apologetic you truly are.

    It is important that you clearly communicate to the many students who have followed this saga that what you did was wrong and that if given the chance, you would never have done it. If your reply had included only the last two paragraphs, I think I would have been satisfied that you had done this. But the preceding 45 (give or take) paragraphs make me think otherwise. “I apologize” or even “I apologize, but let me explain what was going through my mind” would have been wonderful; “first let me explain why what I did was not wrong and then let me explain why everyone else’s behavior is equally bad and then I’ll apologize”, not so much.

    I’m not interested in conducting a witch hunt, but I’m very troubled to read the comments on cross-x (and elsewhere) from students who don’t think this is a big deal. Yes, other things are undoubtedly more important. But this is a big deal, at least to me.

  29. Nathan Ketsdever

    With the exception of Kevin Sanchez, I think most of the people on Cross-x were of the tone that “don’t blame the students”

    I think with the changing nature of scholarship as Noah Chesnut and Gordon Mitchell point out (and every corridor of power from government to journalism to mass media to law are dealing with). I think a consolidated opinion piece with people with different perspectives on the issue might be helpful. Its unfortunate that you have to read 40+ pages of text to get up to speed (CEDANDT, here, and cross-x)

    What is acceptable/fair?
    How to go about it (ie contextualize it)?
    How to contact experts in a professional fashion.

    These are issues these kids, we as a a community, and future generations are going to have to deal with. Without a shared standard or basis to make decisions students may either suppress valuable scholarship or pursue.

    Openness and transparency is certainly a start. This seems to be what was lacking most in afore mentioned case.

  30. Anshu Sathian

    Try not to disregard everything I say just because I “have no cred.” Not everyone can pull off argyle and unshaven beauty like Rajesh can.

    I won’t get on a high horse because, as Skarb pointed out, I’ve cut my fair share of poorly qualified cards (incidentally, not a surprise–and the debate community probably didn’t need a coach to mercilessly mock a bunch of cards that Westminster high schoolers cut on a public forum to know that). However, as someone leaving the activity and hoping to stick around as a judge, I have a few thoughts that I wonder if people are interested in.

    1) It seems like a fundamental question is where we draw the line on debate as a game vs. debate as an academic activity. This is a disagreement Rajesh and I had many a time, but ultimately for both of us it is some mix of the two. Lab leaders, the NDCA, the 3NR etc, could all help debaters out a lot by engaging in a discussion about how to utilize academic standards in debate. The Marko card is a great example of how people don’t take into account indicts of authors even if they’re just objectively true. (Because they’re not offense? Another thing I don’t get.) I guess the problem here is how “quantifiable” or “impactable” these author indicts are. Does it implicate the overall truth of the article or just shed sketchy light on the content?

    2) Along those lines, does literature shape the game, or does the game happen around the literature? It seems like the latter is true simply because of strategy. For instance, the ITER aff had very little to do with the topic. The NIF probably wasn’t what the framers had in mind. Buying a single nuclear carrier, or investing in tornado-makers probably weren’t either. I don’t mean this as an attack on those who cut or read these affs, because they obviously had to do a ton of work and did well. But it seems like, at least in many of our T debates this year and just general discussions of the topic, there was very little discussion of the impact of topic education.

    If topic education is important — or just literature-based education in the first place, then something like e-mailing is probably a terrible practice. Whit, Dheidt and a few others have articulated that much better than I can already.

    But if debate is purely a game, and the literature simply the “playing field” for that game, then e-mailing becomes a fully justifiable practice and we devolve into trying to cherry-pick somewhat arbitrary distinctions to justify things like “clarification” e-mails vs. “informational” or “targeting” e-mails. Though that distinction might be totally right, how on earth will it be enforced? Counter-interpretations of theory things like this in actual debates rarely get implemented.

    For me, these questions all mean that debate has to be much more than a game. Vague alt alert warning… If we value literature as a community more, then we might have a clearer brightline for a lot of things like evidence. For instance, the “cult of evidence” would be less necessary if debaters could effectively attack qualls, impact them, and have their judges evaluate those attacks credibly. Things like this SPS controversy or e-mailing authors might not be as much of an issue. I was pleased at the outraged response to the SPS article, because I was and remain incredibly uncomfortable with the whole situation. However, I hope that controversies like this can both serve as a deterrent and a standard for future evidence.

  31. Marcus Walton

    Just a couple of thoughts. Sorry Skarb, but your excuses don’t justify the article. At worst, you made a mistake and tried to cover it up. At worse, you tried to write an article to win rounds. Either way, we have a bunch of high school kids who admire you and your work at Damien wondering if their coach can write some crazy good cards under a pseudonym. And to them, it’s justified. That’s where the damage lies.

    Second, the idea of a coach writing something on the current topic and can be used as evidence during the season seems mighty, mighty wrong to me. If the writing isn’t part of your day job, then don’t do it. Wait until after the competitive season. Even if you aren’t writing in order to affect debate rounds, no one truly knows your intent. If you are a tenured professor who must publish in order to keep your job, publish IN YOUR FIELD (I don’t know how many tenured professors in the sciences are debate coaches) and don’t speculate on the current debate topic. We are debate coaches. If you want to write about debate, please do so. If you want to write about the resolution IN A DEBATE CONTEXT, please do so before or after the season. But for a debate coach to write an article on the current topic in season is just opening the door to some unethical behavior. Skarb is right, we don’t know his intent. That’s the very reason why the article should have never been published. Peer-reviewed or not, a debate coach writing in season opens the door to lots of speculation about intent.

    Let’s take this example: An active debate coach works for a newspaper or magazine covering social services. He or she decides (in March or April) to write a bunch of stories about this small, new program that just needs some federal funding to become the next big thing. And the article just happens to list a number of reasons the states can’t do this program. Is this OK just because some other teams may find it and be able to use it too? It isn’t. If an active coach wants to contribute to the discussion, he or she can do so AFTER the season. If their full-time job requires they write on a topic in season, that is another story, but they should a) involve their editor as much as possible and b) be do it with as much transparency, openness and honesty as possible.

    I’ve been in that position to write columns and news stories my students could use in debate rounds on current resolutions. And it was my day job and likely career path. That is a far more legitimate reason for a coach to write something that could be used as evidence than what Skarb is trying to pass off as legit. I chose not to write things that could be used in debate rounds.

    This is much deeper than just what Skarb did or didn’t do. As coaches, we need to realize that we are educators first. This idea that winning trumps ethical behavior needs to die. We need to stop fabricating evidence. We need to stop lying during disclosure. We need to stop encouraging our students to lie in rounds. Then maybe we can stop worrying about whether someone is getting messages in debate rounds, whether the kid going to get water is talking to their coach and whether we can trust the evidence that’s being read.

  32. Pingback: The 3NR » Nudging Evidence Analysis In The Right Direction: The Case For Reading Author Qualifications Aloud In High School Policy Debate

  33. Pingback: Gordon Mitchell on Ethics and Evidence – Repost from edebate 5-18-09 « Its debatable…Speak Up!

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