Nudging Evidence Analysis In The Right Direction: The Case For Reading Author Qualifications Aloud In High School Policy Debate

The State of Evidence Evaluation In Debate

The recent discussions of evidence quality in high school policy debate have highlighted the need for debaters, coaches, and judges to revisit the prevailing assumptions about the proper role of cited material in our activity. While a drastic shift in the community’s approach to the evaluation of evidence remains exceedingly unlikely, there is an emerging consensus among debate educators that improving this facet of our pedagogy is both possible and necessary.

What is the problem? In short, the explosion of content enabled by new media has shattered traditional constraints on what constitutes “published” scholarship. While debaters in past decades were limited in their research to published books, journals/magazines, and newspapers, the debaters of today have access to a nearly limitless stream of information—all at their fingertips, and searchable in ways never before thought possible. As Gordon Mitchell describes in “Debate and authority 3.0,” the resulting information abundance has created a need for new ways of separating the good from the bad.

Publication, previously a one-to-many transaction, has become a many-to-many enterprise unfolding across a complex latticework of internetworked digital nodes. Now weblogs, e-books, online journals, and print-on-demand book production and delivery systems make it possible for a whole new population of prospective authors to publish material in what Michael Jensen (2008), National Academy of Sciences Director of Strategic Web Communications, calls an “era of content democracy and abundance.”

In content abundance, the key challenge for readers and referees has less to do with finding scarce information, and more to do with sorting wheat from the proverbial chaff (the ever-burgeoning surplus of digital material available online). The pressing nature of this information-overload challenge has spurred invention of what Jensen (2007) calls “new metrics of scholarly authority” – essentially, new ways of measuring the credibility and gravitas of knowledge producers in a digital world of content abundance.

Policy debate’s “metrics of scholarly authority” have developed slowly—changes in dominant assumptions about what constitutes “good evidence” have occurred over decades based on the organic back-and-forth of the contest round. At the high school level, the influence of summer debate institutes and the trickle-down from intercollegiate competition have played a major part in this evolution. While regional differences remain, the vast majority of those that participate in policy debate on the “national circuit” hold remarkably similar views about what makes a piece of evidence “good”. Indeed, the dominant conception of “good evidence” has become so normalized that it is often framed as self-evident: good evidence “speaks for itself”.

But the evidence can’t “speak for itself”—judges must inevitably make sense of the evidence cited by debaters in order to render a decision in the face of competing arguments. In a thought-provoking 2007 thread on the e-Debate listserv, Michael Antonucci revealed the impossibility of a neutral evaluation of evidence.

Judges enforce “evidence quality-control” all the time.

It’s called reading evidence?

The standards that we apply when reading evidence aren’t neutral, natural valuations. The community’s evolved a fairly homogenized set of techniques, but this set isn’t logically inevitable. … Judges could apply a radically different set of standards to evidence, if they so chose. … Tweaking the standards for good evidence would really be no more or less interventionist than current practice. Ultimately, you have to decide what a “good” card is, and it’s difficult for a debater to discuss every decision criterion you might employ in the course of [five] minutes. At some point, when you’re reading that card, you’re on your own.

Antonucci argues that most judges approach the evaluation of evidence in more-or-less the same way.

When reading evidence, judges generally apply a series of tests. How current is the evidence? Does it make a strong claim? Does it have a warrant? Does it appear to respond to the opponent’s claim? Does it have totally sweet violent imagery? Does it have supersweet 24 point font? Is that font Copperplate, which is clearly the best font ever?

The reading techniques that we currently consider “neutral” are anything but. They are artificial, stylized, and frankly a little bit weird. We value claims, or predictions, over warrants. We favor specific phrases and tropes, even — clean binaries, simple spatial analogies, and some fairly violent imagery generate a warm reception, for pretty subjective reasons.

This generalized agreement provides an important benefit: because most judges evaluate evidence in the same way, students can enter a contest round with a predictable understanding of what kinds of research will be rewarded. If the basic benchmarks for separating good evidence from bad were to change from round-to-round, students would be justifiably frustrated by inconsistent standards.

At the same time, the dominant assumptions about evidence in debate should be subjected to steadfast scrutiny. If the qualities that currently characterize “good evidence” are antiquated or simply wrong, they should be changed—slowly, perhaps—through an ongoing process that acknowledges the authoritative role played by judges in the creation and maintenance of community norms. In other words, judges need to accept that their assessment of evidence is not—and can never be—neutral. This acknowledgment is both constraining and emancipating: while it removes the facade of objectivity protecting judges’ decisions, it also encourages students to experiment with different metrics for the evaluation of evidence.

The danger, of course, is that deviating from existing community norms will result in frustratingly inconsistent decisions. But improvements in the way that high school policy debate approaches evidence do not require a descent into judicial anarchy. Minor changes prompted by small shifts in community norms can have immensely positive results without jeopardizing the predictability upon which the legitimacy of contest round decisions relies.

The Debate Judge As “Change Architect”

In their 2008 book Nudge, noted University of Chicago professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein argue that human beings—when left to our own devices—tend to make bad choices. In order to encourage better choices, public policymakers should use “choice architecture” to encourage good choices and discourage bad ones. In the context of high school debate, judges can be appropriately conceived of as “choice architects”: they have the responsibility “for organizing the context in which people [in this case, debaters] make decisions (Thaler and Sunstein, p. 3).” While performing as choice architects, judges have enormous influence over the behavior of the students who are competing for their approval. As the only decision-maker tasked with assigning a win or a loss, even seemingly insignificant changes in the way the judge approaches the debate can have a profound impact on the choices of individual debaters.

[S]mall and apparently insignificant details can have minor impacts on people’s behavior. A good rule of thumb is to assume that “everything matters.” In many cases, the power of these small details comes from focusing the attention of users in a particular direction. (Thaler and Sunstein, p. 3)

In this article, I will argue that judges should exercise their discretion as “change architects” to encourage students to read the qualifications of their evidence aloud in debates. This change, while minor, will have a profoundly positive effect on the quality of evidentiary analysis in high school policy debate. Implementing this norm is simple: judges should insert the following text (or something like it) into their published judging philosophies.

Debaters are expected to verbally cite the last names of the author(s), their qualifications, and the year/date of publication for each piece of evidence presented in the round. Evidence that is presented without citation of the author(s)’ qualifications will be assumed to be unqualified (“no quals available”). Debaters are encouraged to advance arguments about the qualifications of the authors/sources cited in the debate.

These expectations are not mandates: judges need not levy draconian punishments against debaters that do not follow them. But debaters are easily influenced by the expectations of their judges, and change will occur quickly if teams begin to lose debates because their opponents exploit this opportunity to align themselves with a judge’s expectations. The best—and perhaps only—way to improve the quality of the evidence read in debates and the discussion of that evidence is for judges to nudge debaters in the desired direction. If judges are unwilling to alter their expectations—whether out of fear or an ideological commitment to “let the debaters be”—no change will occur. If we care about improving the quality of evidentiary analysis in high school policy debate, however, this is an unacceptable outcome.

The Case For Verbal Presentation Of Author Qualifications

Debates about the qualifications of a given piece of evidence are important and desirable. By verbalizing these qualifications during a contest round, their importance is amplified—even if students choose not to explicitly discuss them during a given round. The current norm—in which only the last name of the author and the year of publication are read aloud—serves to de-emphasize the importance of qualifications in two important ways:

1. Excluding qualifications from verbal presentation implicitly de-values their importance when considering the quality of a piece of evidence. If the author(s)’ qualifications are not important enough to read aloud, after all, how important can they really be? The current community norm emphasizes consideration of only the recency and content of a piece of evidence—the author’s last name is just a reference point. Qualifications are just one of many things that are not deemed important enough to be read aloud, lumped in with the title of the book or article being cited and the page number or URL from which the cited material is taken.

This does not mean that the debate community values the qualifications of an author equally with the page number from which a card was cut, of course. But the message sent to debaters is clear: as long as it has an author and a date, a piece of evidence is worthy of consideration. And not just consideration: equal consideration, at least until the other team challenges the quality of the source/author being cited. Given this norm, debaters rightly prioritize evidence with outlandish claims and strong language over evidence written by qualified experts.

2. Requiring students to locate the qualifications of a given piece of evidence “privately”—during speech or prep time—prevents the judge from considering qualifications as part of their initial understanding of the evidence as it is being presented. The judge is not merely an information processing machine: s/he experiences the presentation of arguments and evidence by debaters and actively participates in the process through which this rhetoric becomes meaningful. When only a last name and date are verbally cited, the judge cannot consider the qualifications of a piece of evidence as they initially make sense of it—while judges may ask themselves questions like “does this evidence contain a strong conclusion?” or “is this evidence recent enough to account for relevant changes regarding this issue?” while they listen to the initial presentation of a piece of evidence, they are prevented from considering questions like “is this evidence from a qualified author?” or “how might this author’s qualifications affect the argument they are advancing?”.

Some critics of “interventionism” will undoubtedly contend that this exclusion is good: judges should not think about these things, they will argue, because it is the job of the debaters to make these arguments. But this relies on the naive assumption that the judge can remove themselves from the process through which meaning is created from the back-and-forth of a contest round. In his seminal defense of the “critic of argument” approach to debate judging, V. William Balthrop explained the crucial role played by the judge in the hermeneutical process.

[A]t some point in time—either at the end of the debate or, more likely, during the presentation of arguments themselves—the judge is involved in interpretation, placing these positions into a scheme such that the importance of some evidence and some arguments can be identified relative to others. It is here, at the point of interpretation, that the judge engages in the hermeneutical process. It is here, that an awareness of the “rules” of debate as that judge understands them, of the content area of the debate as that judge understands it, of various judging paradigms as that judge understands them, all combine to influence the interpretation by that judge as to which team did the better job of debating. The judge cannot withdraw from participating with the debaters in the creation of meaning, though it is a different kind of participation; and rather than admitting one’s biases and seeking to keep them from affecting one’s decision, a better perspective seems to be that which tests one’s biases against the debate itself and seeks to understand how they affect the decision. (“The Debate Judge As ‘Critic of Argument’,” originally published in the Journal of the American Forensic Association (1983), republished in Advanced Debate: Readings In Theory Practice & Teaching, 3rd Edition, 1987, p. 170-171.)

When author qualifications are not read aloud, they do not enter the hermeneutical process of the contest round unless/until an argument is advanced about them. But this leaves these arguments weaker and less meaningful than arguments about the content of a given piece of evidence because its content and not its qualifications were factored in to the judge’s initial understanding of it. Even if the judge enters the contest round intending to emphasize the importance of author qualifications in their assessment of the evidence presented by the debaters, they will be unable to do so during the course of the debate itself unless these qualifications are read aloud. While the post-round review process provides an opportunity for the judge to unearth the qualifications of the evidence that has been read, the consideration of these qualifications is at this point artificial and removed from the debate itself.

This is not to say that the verbalization of author qualifications will give judges a green light to consider them in their decisions regardless of the arguments made by debaters during the round. The onus remains on the student participants to discuss the importance of qualifications within their speeches. But by enforcing an expectation that qualifications be verbalized as part of the initial presentation of a piece of evidence, judges can “nudge” students toward doing so more frequently and more productively while ensuring that the hermeneutical process through which a given debate is rendered meaningful includes author qualifications.

Answering Objections

Critics of my position will undoubtedly advance a variety of objections. In what follows, I will attempt to respond to some of these objections while further developing the larger case for a change in the community’s evidence citation norms.

Debaters can make arguments about author qualifications regardless of whether they have been read aloud.

This is true, of course: even when only a last name and date are cited aloud, debaters can advance arguments about the qualifications of a given piece of evidence. But these arguments are necessarily separated from the evidence itself as it was initially understood. Verbalization at the time of initial presentation of a piece of evidence emphasizes the importance of qualifications while inviting judges and debaters to take them into consideration as they first make sense of the arguments being advanced.

In addition, time pressures should not be discounted. Reviewing each piece of evidence read by one’s opponents in order to discern the authors’ qualifications requires debaters to invest valuable—and scarce—time that could be spent on other forms of preparation. The dearth of qualifications debates in the status quo seems to support that students will most often ignore qualifications in order to preserve valuable preparation time.

A piece of evidence bestowing the benefits of clean coal from “Lucas ‘9” will be understood differently than the same piece of evidence from “Lucas, spokesman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, ‘9”—and for good reason. By normalizing the verbalization of author qualifications as part of the presentation of evidence in a contest round, judges can encourage students to take qualifications more seriously. At the same time, this norm will ensure that an author’s qualifications are understood as part of the evidence itself.

Reading qualifications aloud requires scarce speech time: it will tradeoff with the reading of additional evidence.

This, too, is true. But it relies on an unhealthy obsession with quantity over quality and with hyper-technicality over intelligence. If the verbal presentation of author qualifications results in three or four fewer cards being read in each constructive speech, that seems like an acceptable cost when compared with the benefits of improving the quality of evidentiary analysis in debate.

Because discussions of author qualifications are difficult, students will inevitably choose not to engage in them.

So long as arguments about author qualifications are not perceived as “winners”, debaters will choose not to make them. This is obvious. But in their role as “choice architects,” judges have immense power to alter the behavior of students. If judges expect students to read qualifications aloud, they will. And if judges take qualifications arguments seriously when evaluating debates, students will make them more frequently. Even in debates where they were not discussed, judges can play a positive role in their post-round commentaries by highlighting opportunities that students missed for advancing arguments about author qualifications.

The norm in favor of reading qualifications will be exploited by debaters—they will “highlight down” quals and “massage” them to make their authors seem more qualified than they really are.

This is a legitimate concern, for sure, but it is not damning to my position. First, any manipulation of the norm in favor of reading qualifications aloud will still take place within a context in which more emphasis is placed on qualifications. This provides a natural remedy for manipulative practices: because qualifications will be considered more important, those that attempt to disguise the shortcomings of their evidence will be subjected to heightened scrutiny. Even in a worst case scenario, this is an improvement over the status quo in which qualifications are largely ignored.

Second, the ethical norms that guide debate research will remain a strong firewall against abusive manipulation. The fabrication of an author’s qualifications should be treated in the same way as the fabrication of the text of a piece of evidence: as an unacceptable breach of the community’s trust. In short, there is no unique risk of unethical behavior associated with the verbalization of author qualifications.


High school policy debate is a research-driven activity: we rely on the citation of published material to support our arguments about issues of public policy controversy. In order to make sense of this “evidence” as it is presented in contest rounds, debaters and judges have developed a generalized agreement about the “metrics of scholarly authority” that determine what separates good evidence from bad. But recent developments in new media have called into question the veracity of these metrics. With a functionally limitless stream of information available at our fingertips, separating the good from the bad has become even more important than ever—and, unfortunately, more difficult.

In order to improve the quality of evidentiary analysis in debate, this article has advocated a shift in the community norm about the verbal citation of evidence. Instead of expecting students to read aloud only the author’s last name and the date of publication for each piece of evidence, judges should exercise their discretion as “change architects” to enforce an expectation that the author’s qualifications be verbalized as well. By adopting this minor change in expectations, judges can emphasize the importance of author qualifications to students while encouraging them to make arguments about qualifications more frequently and more seriously in contest rounds.

This “nudge” is no panacea. Many issues will remain regarding the community’s approach to evidence even if reading qualifications aloud becomes normalized. But this small step can have a profoundly positive impact. By elevating the importance of qualifications and forcing debaters and coaches to take them more seriously before and during debates, this move by judges will contribute to the much-needed development of new “metrics of scholarly authority” in high school policy debate.

This is the second in a series of full-length essays published by If you are interested in syndicating or republishing these essays, please contact the author.

15 thoughts on “Nudging Evidence Analysis In The Right Direction: The Case For Reading Author Qualifications Aloud In High School Policy Debate

  1. thedog

    I think reading author qualifications also reduces the emphasis debaters have placed in challenging evidence based on year. It seems too often debaters here ’06 and then they say we post date prefer our evidence. While there is no last step as you mentioned in another article or we are left with just dating instead of the more important qualifications. If Kagan writes an article in ’07 we prefer him to an article from some who knows what source in ’09. The reason and what becomes clear is that a former state department and international researcher has a better understanding of primacy than someone who knows nothing 2 years later. It also adds another element to evaluating evidence.

  2. Joe Balistreri

    This article is targeted at having judges change their judging philosophies, but what would you recommend for debaters? A lot of debaters have gotten involved in online discussions and have taken an interest in improving evidence quality. Should these students begin reading author qualifications in every round, regardless of the judge’s philosophy or should they wait for judges to make the first move? It seems like debater involvement is crucial, but if the judge is unwilling to adapt, reading author qualifications will only incur strategic disadvantages.

  3. Lincoln Garrett

    In my experience the debaters that voluntarily read qualifications (and when their evidence is qualified) receive an increase ethos boost, more credibility when evidence comparisons happen and slightly higher speaker points. I think there is an upside for the debaters regardless of whether the judges change.

  4. Peter Nikolai

    If you assume that there are pre-existing, judge-imposed ev filters now, which exclude source qualifications, then there is an obvious potential cost to debater-initiated quals debates. If the judge says “it’s all about the warrants, man”, or “there evidence is more strongly worded”, then a quals debate is going to cost you some time trade-off.

    If you assume that smart debaters making smart arguments about why source qualifications matter can change the culture, then it makes sense to invest the time in a quals debate, even in the face of status quo ev filters. I would guess that most judges would prefer evidence that was more qualified over a strongly worded piece of evidence if the debater invested the time to explain why it mattered.

    I think that teams already do this, to some extent, now when they read “all the neg authors are hacks” cards on warming, etc.

  5. gulakov

    I like how you use allusions to books you’ve read to draw connections to debate practices. I wonder if you actually read them though a debate–lens? Anyways, I favor a standard encouraging all evidence to have a cited “qualification” – this should be done by judges clarifying, or opposing debaters arguing, that those cards without it will be regarded as as good as analytics. I do consider a publication source to be a qualification, however… WSJ > hobbyist’s blog.

    I think your argument taken to its logical endpoint would say debaters should not underline evidence and they should read the entire article or book chapter. Debate is a game, so no one’s going to voluntarily read a qualification like “oil lobbyist” that obviously disadvantages them by pointing this out verbally to the other team. Just like a debater is rewarded for catching some key non-underlined sentence qualifying the opponent’s tag and pointing this out, the same is true if a debater catches their opponent’s card having an unread “biased” qualification. It is hard to disagree with your essay in theory. After all, it can’t hurt to read quals out loud – it makes it easier to catch bad ones if speech time is dedicated to it. Right? But why can’t the same thing be said in support of reading the entire piece of evidence, not just the underlined parts. Reading quals might weed out the 8% of evidence that’s obviously biased or unqualed, but reading full text would implicate at least 50% of cards, which are powertagged or significantly qualify their arguments. In practice, it doesn’t seem feasible that debaters would do this. But the underlying logic is the same: that a debater should sacrifice strategic benefit in favor of making debates overall more quality, expert–reliant, or otherwise “better.”

    The norms you talk about in the introduction are not arbitrary. They did evolve logically: from debate being a competitive game. It is nice to quote an emphatic, totalizing phrase in cross–x (like “after examining every possibility, i conclude there is no other possible challenger to us heg”) to leave an opponent with no possible “but what about x” objection, or to say something like “our author clearly refutes your arg here: ‘While some may consider x to be the root cause of y, such logic is flawed for three reasons.'” If debate rounds were structured more like a philosophy or lit dept conference, we’d obviously look for different things in writing. This is why your introduction might be seen as supporting a different argument: if the way ev is evaluated is through the scope of a competitive game, it would be hard to argue that debaters should read something that is strategically disadvantageous. Two reasons it is: when a card is obviously unqualified, you don’t want to tell it to your opponent when his ev is qualified; when both sides read qualified ev, then there is a 1:00-1:30 time skew. Can you give me some examples of other times that debate norms changed towards something that is “unstrategic”?

    Just having the quals in the cite is a better idea for a norm because it is more feasible to implement and doesn’t require the judge to already be convinced. This is not the status quo: the major change would be having judges regard evidence without qualifications (or a debater’s ability to provide one) as on the level of analytics. It would be quite easy for debaters to start putting quals in all their cards especially given this deterrence. It is also an argument a debater can initiate regardless of what the judge’s feelings towards evidence evaluations are. It doesn’t pose the strategic cost of time loss and arms debaters with a new strategic tool. It also solves your objection to weeding out the 8% of obviously unqualified or biased evidence because a) debaters would be more likely to look at all of opponents cards to catch “no quals cited” easy wins and b) debaters would be less likely to cut such ev, deterred by either the other team initiating a challenge or that some judges would write in their philosophies that they are not so tabula rasa and would intervene against the poor qualifications. You also say another advantage to reading quals is having more “qualifications debates” which I’ll address below.

    My second opinion about your thought–provoking essay is that the term “qualification” is rather vague. What are these debates over qualifications going to look like? You give obvious examples, like a card must not be from a “conflict of interest” like a lobby and it must not be from someone with either no qualifications at all (like on some anonymous blogs) or with qualifications in a totally different field. But beyond that, what is the hierarchy for qualifications? I remember my novice year, I’d read qualifications on every card. It’s kind of funny now, but I even arranged my 1ac so no card was not from a professor of some sort. It sounded cool to say “a professor!… of philosophy!… at HARVARD!” I don’t think that got me much though. Other than obvious examples, most evidence is actually reasonably qualified. This is not because debaters are so great at finding qualified authors, but because qualified authors tend to be quite prolific in their field and write well-warranted articles. That is in fact how they receive their qualification in the first place. So within that range of authors who aren’t obvious hacks, how do you differentiate? Does a prof trump an assistant prof who trumps a institute fellow? That seems more arbitrary that any standard currently used. I remember what probably changed my mind the most was an 06 or 07 eDebate post by Branson where he said that one of the most knowledgeable persons he worked with in the nuclear policy field would have no more qualification in a debate round than a “JD degree.” On the alt energy topic I read a lot of different authors, but one of the most informed I found to be a gristmill blogger (no other formal qualification) who spent years writing about alt energy politics and knew the subject better than anyone else I read. The problem with qualifications debates in practice is that they rely on formal positions. Even if we grant you that reading quals out loud causes more quals debates, what is the impact to that? That it produces more cards from people that are “official experts”? Why is it such a good thing that we read less from people without high–up formal positions in their field? Wasn’t it one of Gordon’s points that it’s somewhat good that authority has become decentralized in the online age, so we can get more sources of truth? A major think tank’s opinion can be bought by special interests, the bloggosphere’s not so much. Anyways, thanks for the essay, hope to see more of these about changes you’d like to see in debate.

  6. Pingback: The Case For Reading Author Qualifications — PFDebate Blog

  7. Nick Bubb

    Sunstein is not an economist, he’s a law professor that has written with law and economics legal theorists. That’s substantially different than being an economist. Subtle irony on a post about advocating author qualifications.

  8. Nick Bubb

    Less snarky than above (and an attempt to change my gravitar), the introduction of Sunstein and hermeneutics prompted me to think about how one interprets author qualifications. This is particularly problematic because many people perceive authors’ opinions to be a politically motivated response to a given issue, rather than an independent evaluation of the truth. Sunstein would articulate that “activist” opinions can be good for democracy, but the debate world might want to exclude them because they don’t reflect “truth” in debate about what policy to undertake.

    For example, do we minimize Howard Dean’s opinion on health care reform because he’s a democrat and advocates for health care reform? Or do we prefer his analysis because he knows the policy? Or minimize his opinion because he stands to gain politically from the enactment of health care reform? Or do we prefer his opinion because he’s a doctor? What about his opinion on the political implications of health care policy? There are fair arguments to be made on all of these questions, but the structure for interpreting who is qualified to speak to the truth of a given issue is difficult. Certainly some individuals are more qualified than others, but how can we answer that question? If you are to believe some aspects of a hermeneutical process, authors’ qualifications are really their biases and we as the listener have biases for/against their experiences. We can be jaded and dismiss them or we can listen to their reasoning. But which action corresponds with finding the truth? The answer can’t be as simple as to listen to everything, because that degrades back into the problems you’re attempting to address: the prevalence of questionable evidence quality.

    There’s also something odd about *needing* qualifications to speak to an issue. You don’t need a degree from Harvard to talk about poverty. A narrative from a poor person may be equally as powerful. I suppose the “qualifications” can change depending on the context, but then what do qualifications mean?

    I know the intent of this post is probably to answer the “random quote on a blog” should not be weighed equally with academically reviewed scholarship. I understand that and agree with the premise. I’m just curious where debates about interpretation and qualifications lead us. None of this is a disad to reading qualifications in the round. However, as a judge, I wouldn’t know how to handle comparative claims. Do I prefer evidence from an economics professor about poverty policy or is it more important to listen to the people that the policy affects?

  9. Troy Bolton

    What an intelligent sounding article.

    While my position is pretty summed up well by Gulakov, I have a few minor quibbles.

    One is that while Mr. Batterman has advanced a very strong case that forcing debaters to read qualifications in round would shift some of the ground of the debate to a discussion of those qualifications, there is not as much in the article about why this would be a good thing for the community. Why exactly is it so imperative to shift debate away from a discussion of competing warrants (which is more or less the norm now, at least in the decent rounds) to a discussion of competing author qualifications? Or put another way, if debate is just a game, and the way to pick the winner is to decide who did the best job arguing a partciular case within a particular set of parameters, why should we shift the parameters away from what they are now? Given Mr. Batterman’s background I’m sure he thinks that there is a greater educational goal to debate that can be reached by debating about author qualifications (well, debating MORE about author qualifications…smart teams already do this). I’d like to hear what the goal is, and why exactly he thinks debating about quals will accomplish that.

    My second minor problem is the tacit assumption by some that if some teams read quals vs. teams that do not read quals in front of judges who are indifferent to the reading of qualifications in the round, this puts the team that reads qualifications at a major strategic disadvantage. I believe this is wrong. Lets say that reading qualifications adds 3 seconds to each read card (lets say 1ac card). So in a normal 1ac there will be on average between 14 and 16 cards, along with framework. If framework is the equivalent of 1 card in length, and the average 1ac is 15 cards, that is 16 “cards” total, one of which does not require quals. 3 x 15 is 45 seconds on qualifications. 16 cards per 1ac is 30 seconds a card, so the reading of qualifications will force the average team to cut out 1 card and highlight down another card. But reading qualifications will give the team that does it a major strategic advantage that outweighs the disadvantage of losing 1.5 cards. Namely, if you believe in reading quals strongly enough to incur this “disadvantage” you will have arguments that your author’s qualifications are top notch, and as to why these qualifications should be taken into account by the judge. Many teams, at least for awhile, will be unequipped to negate these arguments effectively. Frankly, I think that framing the reading of qualifications as an argument between people advancing debate as a game of strategy and people advocating debate as an educational activity that should be framed as a judge/educator would be doing the quals position a disservice, and there seems to be a happy medium. Why not only read qualifications on arguments that seem to merit expert (whatever that means) analysis of the issue at hand? Do we really need to hear the words “staff writer” 16 times during every politics 2nc? Or do we need qualifications on inherency authors who are simply writing that there is no flex fuel mandate on the horizon? Reading qualifications on those specific pieces of evidence that seem to best warrant it would further cut down on the time “disadvantages” of reading qualifications, and shift the debate towards author qualifications on pieces of evidence that actually warrants that sort of exploration.

    Oh and Nick Bubb makes a lot of good points. (Had to say it…you will probably never hear it again)

  10. Nick Donlan

    While the talk about “choice architects” and the ideas presented are interesting, I don’t think the solution is necessarily reading quals for every card. I’m with Gulakov – judges should expect the ev read to have accurate cited qualifications. I guess reading quals out loud might spur a better evidence comparison within debates, but it seems that at the top levels of debate debaters already take this task upon themselves. Forcing the neg to admit their authors are hacks while reading their 1NC warming defense frontline would certainly be entertaining, but the bias/quals comparisons in these sorts of debates are inevitably going to be made in the rebuttals. The larger problem with these sorts of quals debates is that when teams know they cut ev from someone sketch, they won’t voluntarily cite it as “John Johnson, lobbyist, June 5, 2009.” Instead, it will read “John Johnson, PhD – X school, June 5, 2009.” Technically it isn’t a lie because this hypothetical person does have the degree, but the problem is one of full disclosure.

    The problem I always had in debates about qualifications was how to resolve them when both sides have good ev. It’s one thing to say “prefer our ny times ev – it cites key senators, surveys, etc. their ev’s speculation about vote counts from a blog – it doesn’t account for events on capitol hill.” Gulakov’s anecdote about Branson is what troubles me; how can debaters say that a professor at Harvard necessarily knows more about an issue than the person with the JD degree. Certainly the Harvard professor can more reliably assess the political situation in Russia than say a J.R. Nyquist, but then again he just teaches classes and writes for think tanks. Would it be laughable to say that someone with a bachelors degree but studies the Russian political sphere 70 hours a week is less qualified to make assessments? Clearly there are other elements within the evidence which must be evaluated (date, warrants, etc.) but Gulakov’s question “Does a prof trump an assistant prof who trumps a institute fellow?” is one we have to answer in one way or another. Should we immediately scoff when the 2N reads politics ev from the Sacramento Bee to answer ev from the New York Times?

    Sorry for rambling through this, just curious to see people’s thoughts.

  11. Michael Antonucci

    I really like this post. Another Gordon Mitchell article speaks to the distinction between debate as a written and spoken activity; I think that elaborates your point in some important ways. I really wish I could remember the title!

  12. Pingback: The 3NR » Reading Author Qualifications Aloud: A Response To The Critics

  13. Bill Batterman Post author

    I addressed many of the arguments made in the comments in a new post. I encourage you to continue posting your thoughts either here or in response to that article; if you’ve already made an argument that you think I’ve missed, feel free to re-post.

    I’ll address a few remainders here:

    @Joe Balistreri: “This article is targeted at having judges change their judging philosophies, but what would you recommend for debaters?”

    It’s hard to say: as Peter said, I don’t think you’ll ever really be disadvantaged by reading qualifications aloud except to the extent that you’ll have to cut a couple cards out of your constructives. To that extent, I think this is a “market inefficiency” that can be exploited—many judges will be quite amenable to arguments about evidence quality and most debaters will be caught off-guard by an evidence/qualifications full-court press.

    In front of some judges, however, the qualification/evidence comparison approach is probably a non-starter, unfortunately. “But they’ve got a card and you don’t—buck up and cut one!” is as common as “DA turns case and no risk of offense, so auto-neg” and “CP solves case, risk of DA means auto-neg” in the parlance of many judges. If you know you’ve got a judge that values hyper-technique and offense, you’re probably better off not even trying… this subsection of judges will only be persuaded outside of contest rounds, not by rebuttal speeches.

    @Alex Gulakov: “I like how you use allusions to books you’ve read to draw connections to debate practices. I wonder if you actually read them though a debate–lens?”

    I do everything through a debate-lens… it’s probably a sign of mental illness, so it’s not recommended.

    That said, I do encourage debaters to think about ways to incorporate concepts, arguments, or ideas that they’ve seen or read in other contexts into their debating. The extemp-style rebuttal intro has become something of a lost art, but intelligent analogies or anecdotes can be extremely effective ways to frame debates.

    @Nick Bubb: “Sunstein is not an economist, he’s a law professor that has written with law and economics legal theorists. That’s substantially different than being an economist. Subtle irony on a post about advocating author qualifications.”

    I was aware of this, obviously, but thank you for the correction—I edited the article to reflect that Thaler and Sunstein are University of Chicago Professors, not economics professors (Thaler is, Sunstein isn’t). The book is certainly about economics, though, so I hope you can excuse the mistake.

    @Michael Antonucci/@Gordon Mitchell:

    Thanks for the citation… I had actually read that article not too long ago for a different reason and have been meaning to write something about it for the 3NR. That’s now on the list…

    If anyone has any other citations that are relevant to this discussion, please share. I have been unable to find a scholarly article regarding the verbal citation of evidence sources… one surely exists—debaters used to read qualifications/sources aloud, after all, and I’m sure there was a debate/discussion that triggered the move away from doing so. Anyone know a cite?

    Thanks everyone for your comments/feedback… keep it up!


  14. Rishee Batra

    @Troy Bolton
    Our school has put a mandate on reading qualifications in the cite next year, and in order to not incur a strategic disadvantage we’ve been reading a very short version of the qualifications. For example, instead of “Jones, Professor of International Relations at Harvard, 9” we would read in the actual bolded part of the cite “Jones, prof of IR, 9” then have the full qualifications somewhere else in the cite. We also aren’t reading qualifications for politics unless it’s a really qualified card, because most of the people who are qualified to talk about politics are just staff writers anyway. Hope this helps any teams who want to read quals in the cite.

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