Debate related rules- Good in theory bad in practice

Some have brought up the need for formalized rules or regulations guiding the use and administration of emails, blog evidence etc. Unfortunately the notion of debate community rules seems much like the NPT, a good idea in general but a failure as a whole. I don’t think that most people disagree that use of most blog evidence and email is bad (lets call these signatories of the NPT) but there do exist some who disagree (lets call those the rogue states) who either do not care or who do not find it a bad idea. So where do we go from here?

There seem to be some serious problems to trying to have an organization (be it NFL, NDCA, etc) regulating the use of this stuff / creating rules for it

1.) Jurisdiction- Not all tournaments are NFL tournaments, or NDCA tournaments, or CFL sanctioned tournaments. What happens if someone reads this evidence at NFLs how should it affect them at the NDCA, TOC or regular tournaments? It also presumes that most of the debate that happens is national circuit when in reality local and regional debate is much bigger then this. Some places prevent use of technology like laptops in debate, hell the state of Georgia’s state championship is 4 person debate (your team is 4 people 2 aff and 2 neg and they never switch). The lack of standardization of debate across the country makes it impossible to have a single jurisdictional body

2.) Enforcement- its kind of bad when the IAEA would be a better enforcement mechanism then the debate community would be. Who would enforce any type of rule? This is obviously related to the jurisdiction issue above but in addition to that do we elect people as card enforcers? I’d obviously nominate Dheidt to the role but some people probably wouldn’t like Dhizzle laying down the law (I would obviously accept the role of debate tsar if requested, but only if someone sent me a really nice email requesting my expertise). It would  be incredibly difficult to rule on all of these evidence issues considering the number of “violations” that would be raised, a daunting task for most.

3.) Issuing a protest of evidence etc- lets say someone reads this bad ev or violates the rule does the debate stop immediately? It would bring tournaments to a grinding hault if this happened. If the debate continues then what incentive does the team have to not read the evidence and say well if we get caught we’ll deal with it later? If it’s the finals of the TOC and NDCA and they do chose to read a card from a blog and it helps them win that tournament then why would they care? The ADA has rules against reading Kritiks in college yet more people have read and gone for them. Citing ADA rules as a reason the K should go away does not work with 95 percent of the judging pool.
4.) Punishment- Lets say we are somehow able to create a panel that could monitor and regulate this issue would they be allowed to punish teams? Debate probation NCAA style? Can’t go to the next tournament? It seems like the tournament director ultimately gets to decide who can or cannot attend their tournament not some rules board. Would punishments be consistent? What if I know some people on the panel well and they like me (ok lets assume its not me since we know that probably wouldn’t be the case) are there less strict and more strict punishments?  Does this become too politicized?

Is there a problem with evidence being read in debates today. YES. Should we consider outlining some standards for what is acceptable and what isn’t? Probably.

But the reason the NPT has failed is a reason debate related rules would fail. The rogue country that wants to develop weapons or subvert the system will do that either because their interest overwhelms that of the community consensus against them. So making the “cost” of cheating or breaking our norms needs to be enough to overwhelm the benefits of some actions

Inside the round- Losing sucks. Make args about why their evidence is bad and unqualified. Kids are like judges won’t vote on ev indicts. Its because your indicts suck. Debates now about evidence are limited to ours is a prof theirs isn’t prefer ours. That is not enough, you should be making args about why qualifications on the issue are important, how being an expert phd in the field makes you more credible and knowledgeable about the issue and how absent existence of quals from a blog or staff writer that evidence is no more then vague assertion. I’m pretty sure if I had judged the “Skarburry” (dheidt 09) evidence had teams made args about this being assertion without facts and how there is no real qualifications listed for the author, that would have been enough to make me either disregard the evidence or prefer more qualified evidence from the aff. Taking ev indicts to the next level is key to getting judges to vote on these indicts.

Outside the round- These discussions of the SPS article and people’s reactions should be a warning to others that if you chose to do something questionable with regards to evidence production or posting you will get called out, your name will be smeared, your schools will be too (fairly or unfairly) and kids on your team will be judged for the behavior of one. Hopefully that deterrent will be enough to overwhelm people from doing stuff that could harm them, their school, and their program.

Rules are only as good as the teeth behind them, I think the discussion here, on cross-x and on edebate are a larger disincentive to engage in questionable activity then some rules that would be difficult to enforce.

A larger discussion on agreeing to community norms would be helpful though for making clear what a large chunk of the community thinks is acceptable

19 thoughts on “Debate related rules- Good in theory bad in practice

  1. David Heidt

    There are definitely serious enforcement problems with rules. And there are serious issues designing rules that aren’t overbroad, that unintentionally exclude good sources of evidence.

    But the existence of the npt is better than the nonexistence of it. Formal rules help cultivate norms that make it easier for judges to justify the exclusion of some kinds of evidence. I think the burden for debaters to make arguments regarding evidence quality is currently too high; it requires a time investment that is frequently rewarded with “but you didn’t really answer the warrants so I think the evidence is fine”.

    The only enforcement necessary is a willingness by judges to exclude evidence from these sources, not stopping a tournament or the like. This is different from the evidence fabrication issue, which should have a stronger penalty because it is a deliberate attempt to deceive (NFL rules regarding evidence fabrication are a good model). Judges won’t universally enforce this but cultivating a stronger norm is a prerequisite to greater adherence.

  2. Roy Levkovitz

    I definitely agree with the ending the most, the norms are key. The ndca, nfl etc creating some guideline would be nice but we just shouldn’t have high expectations that the institutions will be able to create something on a large level that can be used as a way to exclude stuff.

    I agree judges need to start considering the evidence quals debate a little more fairly but I do find that for the most part the team indicting the evidence does less work explaining their arg then the other team does defending the evidence. I’m guessing the team making the ev qual arg usually just drops the arg “it still has warrants” which is why judges vote on it.

    Good debating requires good ev comparison don’t leave it only on the judges

  3. Scott Phillips

    Rules are stupid and unnecessary. The reason debate is sweet is cause its the wild wild west- there are no rules. It’s all up to the debaters to debate it out. The solution is not rules, its debaters being more assertive. One of the reasons Damien EH was so sick this year is because they didn’t take crap from anyone. In the finals of USC Bellairmane tried the old “time out” in the 2AC and the judges were fine with it until Damien threw the challenge flag. The solution is not a rule against time outs promulgated by the NDCA, its for debaters to fight for their rights.

    And as an aside, we all know the NPT trades off with regional agreements and thus= the suck.

  4. Layne Kirshon

    While I think an NDCA handbook is probs tard, i think Scott’s rule-less-ness is a REALLY bad model for debate and there should be a list of black-and-white things that CANNOT be done to receive NDCA qualification. Stealing prep, clipping cards, un-contextual highlighting, hiding opponents’ evidence, etc. all shouldn’t be things for debaters to debate out. That’s a waste of time for all parties involved and trades off with substantive discussion. It also legitimizes it. Cards written under fake pseudonyms to get a competitive advantage are cheating. period. The same goes for targeted emails. There should be a list of things that are outright cheating and result in tournament DQ.

  5. Scott Phillips

    “While I think an NDCA handbook is probs tard, i think Scott’s rule-less-ness is a REALLY bad model for debate and there should be a list of black-and-white things that CANNOT be done to receive NDCA qualification. Stealing prep, clipping cards, un-contextual highlighting, hiding opponents’ evidence, etc. all shouldn’t be things for debaters to debate out.”

    There is not now nor has there ever been a “rule” against any of those things. Debate is sweet now.

  6. Alex Miles

    Debate is sweet now because judges frown upon those things and most will result in lower speaks and clipping/uncontextual highlighting will result (sometimes) in an automatic loss. There can probably never be rules about how to evaluate blogs/comments becuase as the energy journal example shows, its not always black and white. So as Scott (I think) said ealier, its up to the debaters to make a bigger deal over quals. however, DHeidt and Roy are correct too, judges should start frowning upon unqualed ev from blogs like they do stealing prep – because winning a debate on Markos is probably worse than 10 extra seconds of prep.

  7. Alex Miles

    I just realized that everything I just said was said by Layne/Scott/Rajesh an hour before me on the debate-change post

  8. Rajesh Inder Jegadeesh

    OK, how about this. No NDCA ruling, but an NDCA sponsored forum that i described in the other post. Combined with Scott’s claims about debaters arguing it out, I feel like it would functionally be a CP to “solve all the reasons why e-mails could be good and weed out the reasons why they are bad.”

    Yeah rules suck etc. let e-mails good/bad be the new PIC’s debate. Having a forum would strengthen the side of truth and justice.

    Any specific feedback to the updated idea?

  9. Layne Kirshon

    /2-300% more stalkerish. Also, I don’t know how Raj’s idea does anything. From what I understand, it’s just a bunch of debate nerds arguing online.

  10. Michael Antonucci

    I think this discussion suffers from a distinct lack of perspective.

    I don’t think that any handbook or set of guidelines should dictate content.

    What you’ve failed to account for, however, is that people’s jobs are at stake in these sorts of discussions, as are their academic reputations. Those are much different stakes than a win or a loss. I’m happy to let the Wild West or free market play itself out in reference to a T debate, or even an e-mail good/bad debate. I am incredibly uncomfortable, however, with threatening a person’s career or slamming a set of high school students based on no standard other than “Scott Phillips said so in a quarter to semi-intelligible blog post.”

    I know that many high school students and those who cater to their worst impulses hate anything that smacks of rules. I guess that someone losing their job seems hi-larious to people who probably haven’t had one. (Law school will probably rapidly cure you of your rules allergy; we’ll check back in a bit on that one.)

    Some narrowly constructed standards for evidence and appropriate practice help insulate these sorts of ethics discussions from
    a. turning into witch hunts
    b. politics. I’m incredibly discomfited by the sense that popularity may well exert some gravity on the sort of mob rule that’s tearing up Skarb.

    Debates over issues should go to the most assertive. Debates over careers and a school’s reputation, however, probably shouldn’t dictated by who can be the best politician or the screamingest douche in the room.

    Do I think it’s “enforceable” in the sense that the NDCA gets to kill your puppy if you break it? No. I’m not an idiot.

    Rules such as this exist because they’re relatively neutral and represent a deliberate opinion that’s insulated from either personal politics or the heat of a particular incident.

    There are also formal rules in debate. You can’t flip over tubs or set things on fire, and the speech times and schedule are set.

    Back to your scheduled Fox-News-ish programming.

  11. Michael Antonucci

    Quick precis? Er, short version?

    Wild West good when the stakes are win/loss.

    Wild West bad when the stakes are real people getting fired or humiliated or bounced out of school. High stakes demand deliberation, neutrality and consensus.

    Codified content norms bad. Codified ethics norms good.

    Should I drop in a picture?

  12. Michael Antonucci


    Stuff that’s cheating versus stuff that’s just stupid.

    E-mail evidence might be stupid, but all the cards are above the table. From what we can determine, the Space Review incident was probably cheating because it involved lying.

    While message board cards aren’t cheating in the same way, I feel they should be subject to expressed norms because of link instability and search-a-bility problems, which defy the implicit norm that evidence must be equally accessible to all.

    Content regulations are like the dumb and ignored “T is a voter” rule for the NDT, or the ADA Kritik rules. Those are weak.

    People don’t lose their jobs over cutting some dumb card. People do lose their jobs, potentially, over academic dishonesty. Our activity is sufficiently arcane, however, that it’s not real clear to anyone but us when someone’s been academically dishonest. Therefore, I strongly believe an attempt at codification is in order.

    I don’t say that so that every round can be interrupted by some absurd challenge phase. I mean, I know that would be, as you say, tardles. I’m pro-codification so, if someone’s job or academic career is in jeopardy, we can be real sure that they knew what they were getting into according to a clear code of conduct that won’t vary according to how cool or reputable they are.

  13. Scott Phillips


    I understand your point now. I think the job thing is kind of a moot point though- a high school is not going to consider any NDCA code of conduct in making a hiring/firing decision.

    I strongly agree witch hunts bad, is making the NDCA the ethics police going to reduce them though? I think increase, and I think this incident proves that.

  14. Michael Antonucci

    High schools or high school head coaches may certainly consider the opinion of their colleagues when making firing decisions related to academic dishonesty.

    Colleges may consider the opinions of coaches when making decisions to eject students based on fradulent Heritage Foundation documents.

    By “may,” I mean “do.” I mean, really. Who else would tell administrators what’s academically dishonest? They don’t even know what a card is.

    No one wants to make an “ethics police.” That’s obvious rhetorical rigging that plays to the crowd. Instead, one would want useful guidance to insulate these decisions from political pressures, and to give researchers some idea of what guidelines govern the cutting of cards.

    This practice makes sure we are very, very careful – that we don’t jump on someone because they’re unlikable while giving someone else a pass. For example, I seemed to receive a pass on my email stuff, whereas others got torched. That is probably because I am suave and debonair, but that’s not fair.

    I don’t see how this incident proves that guidelines = witch hunt – like, at all? Please clarify.

  15. Nathan Ketsdever

    >>Some narrowly constructed standards for evidence and appropriate practice help insulate these sorts of ethics discussions from
    a. turning into witch hunts
    b. politics. I’m incredibly discomfited by the sense that popularity may well exert some gravity on the sort of mob rule that’s tearing up Skarb.

    I generally agree with Michael on this issue.

    On a tangent, he makes an argument about the searchability of message boards which I don’t understand:
    1) Message boards show up fairly highly in search results
    2) Social sites like blogs and message boards will likely show up higher in results as Google increasingly favors the personalization of search. (generally started in November 2008)
    3) The only thing I think he could be talking about is old school walled gardens (like old school AOL). However, this indict could be made of Lexis or any other private

    Although most of that evidence, unless its from someone qualified or with experience does carry a certain quality issue Michael spoke to.
    Not really an issue…just thought I should clarify.

  16. Michael Antonucci

    1. IMDB was not searchable in the one instance that I’ve judged a round that came down to a post. I favor my direct judging experience. Why IMDB? Who knows. Maybe because it can’t be searched?

    2. It’s really unstable because it could be deleted any second.

    3. I mean, honestly, who cares, it’s a message board, no one’s stepping up to defend this? If someone wants to go to the wall defending the value of angerbro33ii3’s post, go for it.

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