Reading Author Qualifications Aloud: A Response To The Critics

Several readers provided thoughtful commentary about my recent essay about evidence analysis, “Nudging Evidence Analysis In The Right Direction: The Case For Reading Author Qualifications Aloud In High School Policy Debate.” This post is an attempt to further develop the arguments advanced in the initial article while addressing the concerns of critics.

1. Normalizing the verbal citation of author qualifications will “nudge” the debate process in the direction of the development of new “metrics of scholarly authority.”

Much of the feedback regarding the article has centered around the competitive outcome of this change in the norm about evidence citation: how will debates about qualifications be resolved?, what qualifications will be preferred?, etc. This largely misses the point: the function of this change in norm is to emphasize the importance of these discussions and encourage debaters and judges to address them explicitly.

Nick Bubb highlighted many of the issues in a thoughtful comment:

[M]any people perceive authors’ opinions to be a politically motivated response to a given issue, rather than an independent evaluation of the truth. … 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?

[A]s 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?

This is exactly my point: these issues are difficult, but they are also important. In a world where students are exposed to ever-expanding volumes of information, learning to intelligently separate the good from the bad is essential to informed citizenship.

I do not pretend to know the answers to the questions that Nick has posed. I can offer no mechanism for cleanly separating the intellectual wheat from the chaff. But the current model we have adopted in debate is certainly subject to criticism: “if it’s published, it’s evidence” has absolved us of our responsibility to take these issues of scholarly credibility seriously and of teaching students to intelligently navigate through the maze of information at their fingertips.

Effectively determining whom to believe—and more importantly, why to believe them—is arguably the most essential life skill that debate can teach. Perhaps better than any other activity, debate can effectively train students to think critically—to question others’ arguments and to evaluate their claims with skepticism. Working through the complicated business of analyzing sources and comparing qualifications is part and parcel of this facet of debate pedagogy.

The current norm—evidence should be verbally cited only by author’s last name and date of publication—hamstrings our ability to emphasize this aspect of critical thinking and in fact actively undermines it by framing the issue of qualification as separate from instead of intrinsic to the evidence itself.

As I argued in the article, this effect occurs at two levels:

  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? …

  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.

Shifting the norm to require verbal citation of author qualifications uniquely addresses these concerns.

2. Debate participants overestimate their ability to present, discern, and evaluate the “warrants” of most arguments.

Troy Bolton questions the need for a shift from “competing warrants” to “competing author qualifications”:

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?

This was addressed, at least in part, in the previous discussion of information consumption. More importantly, though, there is no forced choice between an evaluation of warrants and an evaluation of qualifications. Indeed, the attempt to separate the two harms the hermeneutical process through which arguments are understood in contest rounds, something that will be discussed in more detail below.

As I mentioned in a comment responding to Roy Levkovitz’s recent article “Revisiting the Toulmin Model in debate,” there is more to an argument than simply a claim and a warrant.

Without grounding, a warrant is just another claim. Many times in debates, the only grounding (or backing) that a piece of evidence offers is its appeal to authority. Even when a card has “warrants,” it rarely has any data to support them (that portion of authors’ arguments tends not to get cut/included in debate evidence).

In reality, the “warrant” for a given argument cannot (and should not) be separated from the larger context from which it is derived. The notion that debaters and judges can intelligently resolve incredibly complex debaters over issues of public policy controversy by simply “comparing the warrants” is naive to the level of absurdity.

We do our best, for sure, and our training in argumentation often helps us make much better decisions than would be made by a layperson. But we are not experts in the fields that are discussed in our debates, and we rely on cited experts for that very reason.

Before discussing this further, a detour is necessary.

In a comment made to the original article, Alex Gulakov argues that the verbal citation of an author’s qualifications is indistinguishable from other, undesirable demands on debaters:

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. … [T]he 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 justification for verbal citation of author qualifications is not the search for truth—if it were, then this comparison would make more sense.

First, the quotation of excerpts from published works is an accepted scholarly practice. When debaters cite excerpted paragraphs from a book or article, they are engaging in a legitimate practice: there is nothing wrong with “highlighting down” an author’s work so that its content may be presented within the time constraints of a contest round. If the underlining/highlighting process changes the content of the author’s work, then that is another matter. If this occurs in a debate, my hope is that it is being done unintentionally. But the issue of whether an author’s qualifications should be cited verbally is distinct from concerns about accepted practices for excerpting published work.

Second, the “oil lobbyist” concern is a benefit to the verbal citation of author qualifications. If students would be embarrassed to read a piece of evidence if the qualifications of its author were cited aloud, they should not read that piece of evidence—this seems self-evident. If, on the other hand, a debater feels that a given piece of evidence is strong despite coming from a source that could be perceived as biased, they should read that piece of evidence and vigorously defend it.

In either case, however, we should not pretend that the lack of verbal citation of the author’s qualifications does not impact the hermeneutical process through which that argument is understood. One of the primary effects of our current norm is that arguments are understood as separate from the authors cited to support them. When an argument about an author’s qualifications is made, it is the first time the judge has heard that qualification—s/he does not have a context for incorporating this new dimension of the argument into what s/he initially understood.

Returning to an example used in the initial article, there is a dramatic difference between a judge’s understanding of a piece of evidence describing the feasibility of clean coal technology from “Lucas ‘9” and their understanding of the same piece of evidence from “Lucas, spokesman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, ‘9”. If this piece of evidence is presented in the first instance without the author’s qualification, the opposing team’s assertion that “their evidence is from a coal industry spokesman—prefer our evidence because it is from independent scientists without a financial stake in clean coal” will be isolated in the judge’s mind from the initial argument about clean coal’s feasibility.

This is largely responsible, I think, for the difficulty that judges have in resolving arguments about evidence quality. A similar refrain is heard from a broad swath of judges when questioned about these arguments: “debater’s don’t impact their author qualification arguments enough,” “I just think the argument in the card still makes sense,” “I don’t know what to do with this argument—I don’t want to throw out the card entirely,” etc. This is a predictable response given the aversion most judges have to “intervention.” When author qualification arguments are perceived as distinct from instead of intrinsic to the argument being advanced by a piece of evidence, it will be difficult for judges to avoid feeling “interventionist” about them.

Finally, the incorporation of an author’s qualifications into the understanding of an argument does not mean that certain authors need to be preferred. In the above example, a debater could persuasively defend the authoritativeness of evidence from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity in a variety of ways: it cites scientific studies, it cites the consensus of experts, the author has many incentives not to overstate his claims, the industry’s opponents are unqualified/relying on bad science, etc. A rational decision-maker might decide to listen to evidence from a lobbyist or industry spokesman despite their conflict of interest because he or she made a good argument.

Indeed, Congress routinely solicits testimony from “biased” experts on both sides of an issue like clean coal. Members of Congress and their staff listen to their arguments, read their prepared testimony and supporting materials, ask them questions, and then come to a conclusion about the issue at hand. But the first thing that every expert does when testifying before Congress is introduce themselves and describe their affiliations/positions—in debate-speak, their qualifications. This provides Congress with a context within which to understand their testimony. Debate judges should demand the same context.

Gulakov continues:

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.’”

The dominant features of “good evidence” were not selected at random, certainly. But neither are they objectively correct.

Totalizing rhetoric, for example, can be viewed not as helpful but as harmful to an author’s credibility. Academic authors rarely write with the degree of certainty expressed by these hypotheticals (“after examining every possibility”), and for good reason: a degree of modesty about one’s conclusions reveals a thoughtful mind.

Tim Alderete has explicitly discussed this in his judging philosophy:

I am changing how I approach hyperbolic evidence. Particularly with all of the sources available on The Internets, way too many un-peer reviewed cards make ridiculous claims and use Extremely hyperbolic rhetoric. This isn’t only an issue of warrants or qualifications – some well qualified authors make ridiculous but warranted claims using hyperbole. My concern is that debate rewards this because power wording and extreme arguments are what make for “Good Cards” in debate. I am increasingly skeptical of this – I find it very hard to give the same weight to a screeching Weekly Standard Neo-Con that I give to a more reasonable author. Bottom line, if your author is hyperventilating about the blood of terrorists, or claims that his elixir can cure cancer, AIDS, racism and poverty, I think that the hyperbolic rhetoric is an Indict of that author, not just “power wording.” I don’t know exactly where to draw the line, I rarely will just ignore evidence, I don’t know how much of that needs to be made in the round – I don’t Know where I will end up on this. But for practical purposes, I think that I will reward teams that point this out, and I will make every attempt to apply the same standards to hyperbolic Kritik evidence, which I probably haven’t done in the past as well as I can.

The latter of Gulakov’s examples (“x = y is wrong for three reasons”) is not really relevant to this discussion—obviously, authors that explicitly cite and refute another’s argument are fruitful sources of evidence for debates. But this is really external to the question of whether an author’s qualifications should be read aloud.

Gulakov’s final objection is that the verbal citation of author qualifications forces debaters to jeopardize their strategic position:

If debate rounds were structured more like a philosophy or lit dept conference, we’d obviously look for different things in writing. … Can you give me some examples of other times that debate norms changed towards something that is “unstrategic”?

I disagree with the premise that the verbal citation of author qualifications is “unstrategic.” As explained above, I do not think the outcome of a discussion of evidence quality is pre-determined: just because you’ve read a piece of evidence from a lobbyist, for example, does not mean that you will lose the given point. To the extent that the verbal citation of qualifications discourages debaters from reading evidence which, if questioned, they would be unable to defend, however, this demand is desirable.

To separate the source of the piece of evidence being cited from the argument that the piece of evidence is supporting undermines the hermeneutical process through which that argument is understood. If improving our understanding of arguments is “unstrategic”, then we need to recalibrate the norms of our game.

Gulakov proposes a “counterplan”: debaters should textually cite the qualifications of the authors they are citing and judges should consider evidence without such a cited qualification as equivalent to an analytical argument.

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.

I think this is the status quo, at least for some subsection of judges. For the rest—those willing to evaluate evidence without qualifications and those who prioritize “having a card” over an analytical argument—this transition is undoubtedly an uphill battle, something I am more than willing to admit.

Compared with the initial proposal to normalize the verbal citation of qualifications, however, this counterplan falls short because it retains the hermeneutical wall between the argument advanced by a piece of evidence and the qualifications of the author the piece of evidence is citing. The only unique disadvantage to verbal citation is “time loss”—but this is a red herring. If establishing a norm in favor of orally citing an author’s qualifications results in better debates, then the time investment is justified.

Conclusions

This brings us full circle. If it is true that developing more sophisticated ways of assessing the qualifications of evidence presented in policy debate rounds is desirable, then it is important to seek ways to actualize this outcome. Given the authoritative role played by judges in determining the norms that debaters follow, then it is important that judges take the initial step to “nudge” debaters in this direction. Enforcing an expectation that students verbalize the qualifications of the authors they are citing will bring the issue of author qualification into the hermeneutical process through which arguments are understood in a contest round, thereby encouraging students to develop innovative ways to assess scholarly authority. The resulting proliferation of arguments regarding source quality and author qualifications will improve debates both competitively—by spurring better, deeper argumentation about evidence—and educationally—by training students to behave as intelligent consumers of information.

Additional comments—either here or on the original article—are appreciated.

8 thoughts on “Reading Author Qualifications Aloud: A Response To The Critics

  1. David Heidt

    I think debates about source quality are important; however, I don’t agree with the conclusion that debaters should verbally present qualifications in the debate. An amended form of the statement you recommend adding to judging philosophies could be along the lines of “Qualifications and source credibility are important; debaters should be prepared to defend their source quality” or something similar. I have 3 arguments for why I think this is better than asking debaters to read qualifications aloud:

    1. the wall between arguments and source credibility is frequently good. Encouraging debaters to focus on the arguments made is generally, though not always, better than encouraging a focus on qualifications. In many cases, a focus on qualifications is a distraction, and a verbal requirement will focus some debates on qualifications that will undermine the quality of debates. Unqualified people make good arguments and MANY qualified people make terrible arguments. For example, anyone with formal qualifications that says solar power will be cost competitive nationally or that renewable energy will decrease electricity prices should not be taken seriously. My point is that qualifications are not always intrinsic to the arguments being made; they are frequently, though not always, distinct from the argument. I do think that some degree of EXPERTISE probably is intrinsic to an argument, but expertise isn’t accurately reflected by formal qualifications, and measuring the amount of expertise necessary to make an argument is frequently impossible. An argument, or warrant centric approach that evaluates the credibility of the argument is implicitly also an attack on a particular author’s expertise.

    This is not to say that qualifications debates are bad to have, but that they are one of many strategies that should be employed in the process of evidence comparison. Requiring verbal presentation to me is like requiring verbal presentation of the full date as opposed to the year, or requiring the specific names of the studies evidence is based on, or requiring all of the ununderlined parts of the evidence to be read. It may be that a full date, the name of the study, or the ununderlined parts of evidence are relevant, that they could impact the judge’s perception of an argument as much or more than qualifications, but the point is that these should all be options for debaters to decide how to attack or defend evidence, rather than having the judge dictate it for them.

    The criticism to this first point might be “debaters can have qualifications debates now, but they don’t”, but I think amending the judge philosophy the way I described above goes some distance to change this. Debaters will do what works, if they think that judges are receptive to qualifications arguments, they will certainly make them.

    2. A majority, I think the vast majority, of competing evidence is similarly qualified so as to make verbal presentation a waste of time. There is a fair amount of unqualified evidence in debate, but think it is the exception, not the rule, at least if you’re looking at evidence outside of politics disads and critiques. In my opinion, or at least in the debates I see, qualifications attacks ARE made against the exceptions: for example, anyone who said LOST was on top of the agenda was generally not qualified and I’ve seen the aff make those arguments effectively, or teams generally attack the credibility of terminal impacts in a new 1ac because that evidence usually isn’t qualified, or affs call out the authority of a professor of English to say all foreign policy ventures are doomed to fail. But the majority of evidence isn’t questioned because the majority of evidence has qualifications available for it.

    The “focus on quality over quantity” response isn’t persuasive to me. Reading qualifications on every card WILL decrease the amount of arguments in any given debate, but I don’t think there will be an increase in quality: I think quality is already high in most cases, at least in most cases where qualifications matter. And, even horribly unqualified evidence like the Gregorian calendar or aliens authors DO have formal qualifications, so I don’t think the verbal presentation requirement really solves much. In fact, in some debates where teams read low quality arguments like the above, they go out of their way to read qualifications now.

    3. The “critic of argument” school of thought is really just code for “increased judge intervention”. Judge intervention is inevitable, but less is better, in my opinion; it is more educational for debaters to make and defend arguments about quals on their own (the only circumstances where I’d defend active judge intervention are in instances of cheating). I am uncomfortable of a world in which judges discredit evidence because they heard the verbal presentation of some author was that he or she was an oil lobbyist. I am far more comfortable with debaters calling out the other team for reading evidence from an oil lobbyist: there is a debate to be had about that. I think a judging philosophy that makes it apparent that qualifications debates can be important will encourage qualifications debates like the above when they are appropriate.

    But part of your justification for verbal presentation seems to say there is a separate benefit to judges in evaluating evidence credibility REGARDLESS of the arguments made in the debate: in that you say this “Lucas” evidence would be evaluated differently if the judge knew it was from a clean coal spokesperson. I think that model is less educational. I am happy to tell a team that I thought the link evidence to a disad was obviously biased because they were from an industry lobbyist, but because they didn’t make arguments to that effect, I gave the link a higher degree of credibility than it should have had. But I think I’d be wrong if I discarded the link independently of the arguments made, particularly because, as you point out, there are defenses that can be made for industry lobbyists, or neocons for that matter.

    I know that your ideal world is that verbal presentation encourages the debaters to make all of the arguments on their own, with no or little judge intervention. But it seems to me that the underlying assumption of the benefit of verbal presentation is to change the “hermeneutical process through which arguments are understood.” If this occurs separately from arguments debaters make about qualifications themselves, it could only mean that a judge might assess a card differently than they would have had qualifications not been verbally presented. That, to me, is not a benefit: it is judge intervention that calls into question a judge’s own biases, and even in the instance where some intervention is required to resolve claims that were debated poorly, judges can make that assessment now, regardless of verbal presentation.

  2. Scott Phillips

    “the wall between arguments and source credibility is frequently good. Encouraging debaters to focus on the arguments made is generally, though not always, better than encouraging a focus on qualifications.”
    This is false. When authors have no business writing about something it is not worthwhile to debate the merits of their claims. I don’t think the primary purpose of debate is education, but you seem to given this post. There is zero educational value in debating insanity like nuclear war good, aliens secretly have the best energy tech buried underground or being neg against permits. This is all nonsense. Emphasizing qualifications is a necessary, though insufficient, vehicle to reduce nonsense.
    “In many cases, a focus on qualifications is a distraction, and a verbal requirement will focus some debates on qualifications that will undermine the quality of debates. Unqualified people make good arguments and MANY qualified people make terrible arguments.”
    Yes, you should debate qualifications AND quality. It’s not one or the other. This point misses the boat- no one is saying cut a bunch of highly qualified nonsense. Its that you should find both in one card. If you can’t- its probably not a good argument.

    “For example, anyone with formal qualifications that says solar power will be cost competitive nationally or that renewable energy will decrease electricity prices should not be taken seriously.”
    Of course they should be taken seriously, and taken seriously means responded to with comparably or better qualified evidence that makes good arguments.
    “My point is that qualifications are not always intrinsic to the arguments being made; they are frequently, though not always, distinct from the argument.”
    This is silly dave, on average do people with good qualifications
    A. make more sense
    B. Make less sense

    Than the average moron? Yes there are absent minded professors out there who have great quals and write nonsense- they are the EXCEPTION, not the rule.
    “I do think that some degree of EXPERTISE probably is intrinsic to an argument, but expertise isn’t accurately reflected by formal qualifications”
    I assume by “formal” you mean “school”. I don’t think anyone at any point said this. Obviously if someone works in a field for a long time that is a form of qualification. Creating a website and writing stupid cliff hangers like a Dan Brown novel about how XYZ is necessary to prevent extinction is not a qual.
    “and measuring the amount of expertise necessary to make an argument is frequently impossible. “
    So is assigning a percentage based risk to a disad. People do it, its not that hard. This is a partial information game, deal with it.

    “An argument, or warrant centric approach that evaluates the credibility of the argument is implicitly also an attack on a particular author’s expertise.”
    This sentence is nonsensical. Please explain.

    “This is not to say that qualifications debates are bad to have, but that they are one of many strategies that should be employed in the process of evidence comparison.”
    This is our point.
    “Requiring verbal presentation to me is like requiring verbal presentation of the full date as opposed to the year, or requiring the specific names of the studies evidence is based on, or requiring all of the ununderlined parts of the evidence to be read.”
    This is not even close to true. Reading a card about whether or not zero point energy works you don’t think the authors background in say, physics vs creative writing, is more important that 9-1-08?

    “It may be that a full date, the name of the study, or the ununderlined parts of evidence are relevant, that they could impact the judge’s perception of an argument as much or more than qualifications, but the point is that these should all be options for debaters to decide how to attack or defend evidence, rather than having the judge dictate it for them.”
    This misses the entire point. The purpose of making people read quals is it will have a chilling effect on nonsense cards. Reading dates would not do that unless people were currently reading cards on “x impossible” from a date after which X actually happened- at which point that would obviously be good too.
    “The criticism to this first point might be “debaters can have qualifications debates now, but they don’t”, but I think amending the judge philosophy the way I described above goes some distance to change this. Debaters will do what works, if they think that judges are receptive to qualifications arguments, they will certainly make them.”
    Seriously can we all just agree amending judge philosophies is a silly idea to spark change- dave how many absurd CP’s have you judged after amending your judge philosophy to say absurd cps are bad- the fact is none of these little amendments will outweigh your basic (and in my mind correct and unarguable)tenet of non intervention?

    “A majority, I think the vast majority, of competing evidence is similarly qualified so as to make verbal presentation a waste of time.”
    This is true because the bar is set so low everyone reads garbage.
    “There is a fair amount of unqualified evidence in debate, but think it is the exception, not the rule, at least if you’re looking at evidence outside of politics disads and critiques. “
    I will say you have this one exactly backwards. The people who write about politics are career political analysts- even the cliché “sac bee” cards don’t just make up facts- those reporters get them from the hill talking heads. Obviosly most of what they say is warped by debaters into the politics disads- but you can’t find a more qualed group. Same with the K for the most part- people who get published are prof’s etc who are experts in their field. I assume your quip is saying they aren’t qualified to discuss policy debate issues- but that seems to prove our point- this should be debated.
    “The “focus on quality over quantity” response isn’t persuasive to me. “
    I certainly never said no quantity, and I don’t know from my reading of BB’s articles that he did either. It’s not either or. Read 100 cards good, just say who wrote them.
    “Reading qualifications on every card WILL decrease the amount of arguments in any given debate, “
    Perhaps minimally at the margins, people could say be more efficient, stumble less, take out one nonsense card, or repeat themselves less to make up this time. Giving good impact calculus will also decrease the amount of arguments. It’s a tradeoff sometimes.

    “And, even horribly unqualified evidence like the Gregorian calendar or aliens authors DO have formal qualifications, “
    Yes they do- which is why qualifications should be DEBATED. If people just look at the written quals and are like “oh snap, PHD national American university” and don’t say anything that is bad. Teaching people to debate quals means god forbid they may when researching the neg to that google that school and find out something about it.
    “so I don’t think the verbal presentation requirement really solves much. In fact, in some debates where teams read low quality arguments like the above, they go out of their way to read qualifications now.”
    Yes and because no one has practice debating them these BS quals sail by.

    “I am uncomfortable of a world in which judges discredit evidence because they heard the verbal presentation of some author was that he or she was an oil lobbyist. “
    So many things. First, I don’t know who said judges should start intervening, as far as I can tell no one. Second, judges do this kind of thing all the time now when debaters don’t give them a better way to resolve arguments. If you really think we have to defend an either or on quals/quality then yes its better for judges to break ties on author quals when deciding if terrorism causes extinction and reading muller vs Alexander.
    Next- why do people keep repeating this BS arg that people will have to “present bad quals”. THIS IS A NONSENSE STRAWMAN!!!! Cut a better card is the answer, not “have to read that this author is biased”. I mean jesus, this is crystal clear. Related to that- sometimes these obvious “biases” that debaters scoff at are actually stupid and SHOULD be defeneded. If you read a card from the Perryman group yes you could say “oil lobbyist” when reading the quals, or you could say “nobel prize nominated economist, nominated for nobel prize for work done in the field of oil economics, and did I mention nobel?” If someone’s only qualification you can find is “gave money to senator on behalf of shell oil” then either
    A. they are a moron and you shouldn’t read cards from them
    B. Your research skills suck
    Your alternative is not to encourage teams to read millions of cards from the shell answer man (http://www.energybulletin.net/node/26455) I won’t make the mistake of hyperbolizing your position so I know you will probably say “if they are already written down etc”. But seriously- that’s the squo as batterman points out.

    “But part of your justification for verbal presentation seems to say there is a separate benefit to judges in evaluating evidence credibility REGARDLESS of the arguments made in the debate: in that you say this “Lucas” evidence would be evaluated differently if the judge knew it was from a clean coal spokesperson. I think that model is less educational. I am happy to tell a team that I thought the link evidence to a disad was obviously biased because they were from an industry lobbyist, but because they didn’t make arguments to that effect, I gave the link a higher degree of credibility than it should have had. But I think I’d be wrong if I discarded the link independently of the arguments made, particularly because, as you point out, there are defenses that can be made for industry lobbyists, or neocons for that matter.”
    Dave this is silly- you intervene all the time when YOU decide a card is bad without the other team saying it. You have no problem doing that. That is judge intervention, just along another criteria. The criteria YOU in fact say is more important. This is pretty important and undermines a lot of what you have written here. I have been judged by you/judged with you countless times where you said something like “this link evidence is bad so I gave lower risk of disad”.

  3. TimAlderete

    I think that this discussion has been framed in the context of Time Trade offs. Qualifications are only controversial because we have a limited amount of time to make arguments in a speech. In a world without time constraints, I don’t think that anyone is making an argument against presenting full qualifications, or comparing those qualifications. The objections are only that time spent on reading and comparing qualifications will trade off with other, more productive, uses of time. I don’t agree with this, but do have concerns.

    The appropriate comparison should not be “reading qualifications ” to “reading full cites” – rather a norm expecting qualifications to be read in the 1NC is comparable to the norm expecting evidence to have Years read in the cite. The current norm is that a Name and Year must be read, but it is worth asking why we read the year and why do we read the name, because the answers are different. Why do we read the name? Without the qualifications, the name is not relevant to the round – it is just a name. The Reason we read the name is to Identify the card later in the round when we refer to it – a footnote number would accomplish the same thing. But the year, we read that because it is a point of comparison between evidence – a way to compare cards. This may be the most trivial or superficial of comparisons, and it definitely the most overused one. But the reason Years are expected to be read in the round is to facilitate evidence comparison. Reading the full date would only marginally improve that comparison – usually only in politics uniqueness debates, and in many of those cases, the full date Is read aloud when the evidence is first presented. That is exactly parallel to reading qualifications – qualifications are a method to compare evidence. The difference is that reading the year takes less than a second, and reading qualifications takes 3-4 seconds – 6-8 times longer. In my opinion, the only reason why we read one point of comparison and not the other is because reading the qualifications would take much longer than just reading the year. This helps to draw the distinction between the two different time pressures. The first – the time spent in the constructives (when most of the evidence is read) reading the qualifications. The second – the time spent in rebuttals and the bloc comparing qualifications.

    In the first time expenditure, the majority of the time trade off is spent on reading qualifications for cards that won’t be compared. The vast majority of arguments made in the constructives that have cards attached to them won’t become controversial, yet the qualifications would still need to be read for all of those cards. In simplest terms, you would need to present qualifications for all of the disad’s cards – uniqueness, links, and impacts – even though the affirmative may only end up going for impact arguments, so the qualifications read for the uniqueness and links were not important to the comparison process. You could simply wait to find out that only the impacts matter and then only read and compare those qualifications.

    The time spent on this is not insubstantial. I don’t think that it would be the 3-4 cards that BB mentions in the original article, and obviously it will vary based on the round, but the math done by Troy seems reasonable enough – 3-4 seconds per card. BB says that this might not be a bad thing, because we are too obsessed with quantity of cards, but that isn’t how we are going to react to a norm for reading qualifications. Instead, 3-4 seconds (8-10 words) will be highlighted out of each card. The fact that we are obsessed with quantity gives a pretty good reason why time spent reading qualifications would undermine the Quality of the cards being read, because the cards would be shorter. Alternatively, if cards were taken out, it may not be “quantity” that decreases – people would simply cut corners on shells – cutting out a step in the succession of links, so that the same number of positions are read, but they are less developed. I don’t have any Proof that this would be the result – but a historical example might apply. I was debating in college when the speech times shifted from 10-5 to 9-6. We all thought that this would mean fewer arguments in the 1NC. However, in response to having one less minute for the 1NC, most people simply cut down the number of cards in the shells or underlined more out of the cards – the number of positions and cards didn’t change much. I suspect that something similar would happen.

    The Second time pressure is the “trade off” between time spent comparing qualifications and time spent comparing warrants. Troy states “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?” David says “Encouraging debaters to focus on the arguments made is generally, though not always, better than encouraging a focus on qualifications. In many cases, a focus on qualifications is a distraction, and a verbal requirement will focus some debates on qualifications that will undermine the quality of debates.” When responding to David, Scotty says that we should do both – “you should debate qualifications AND quality. It’s not one or the other.” I think that BB phrased Scotty’s argument a little bit differently – instead of debating qualifications AND warrants, I think that BB was saying that, done properly, debates about qualifications ARE debates about warrants. A good comparison of qualifications IS a comparison of warrants. That when we don’t know how to debate qualifications, we make poor comparisons that are not relevant to the warrants in the evidence. If students learn how to debate qualifications, their comparisons will be Substantive, rather than just formalities like “He’s a Prof” or “She’s a lobbyist”. A better skill set would involve talking about whether the author is qualified to make the proofs that constitute warrants for their claim, Why the author would use the warrants that they do, or if the conclusion drawn by debaters from the warrants is the same way the author would use them. Obviously, qualifications wouldn’t resolve all comparisons between evidence, or even most, but the only way to prevent them from being “distractions” from warrant comparisons is to teach students how to make better ones that ARE warrant comparisons. Scotty’s best example takes one of David’s points and turns it around – being able to say “This person is crazy in spite of his credentials” requires thinking more in depth about what qualifications mean, which requires a better skill set than students currently have.

    I have a different frame through which I view this discussion – it is a Solvency lens. What constitutes a nudge by the Change Architects? Should that nudge occur in judging philosophies or in Decisions? Should a judge identify this as a decision criteria in a round absent students making the argument? Should judges nudge the changes in norms, or should students drive them? Most of the questions so far have focused on what would be fair for the round at hand. They ignore Solvency questions – would this norm Solve for nudging the community toward better qualification comparisons? Here, I have more questions than opinions. The first question is whether a norm of reading qualifications with evidence would encourage qualification comparisons? Would such a norm improve the Quality of qualification debates? Certainly having the information about the qualification is a necessary precondition to making a comparison, but reading it aloud is not the only way to get that information. Going back to my earlier comparison, an expectation that debaters read the Year with the card has NOT lead to intelligent comparisons between cards based on date. I agree that Not reading the qualifications Symbolically denigrates their importance, but I am not necessarily convinced that Reading the qualifications will Symbolically convince people to emphasize their importance. I don’t think that this is simply reverse causal.

    As to the question of How to emphasize that importance, I definitely agree with Scotty that putting comments in our judging philosophies would be nearly trivial. Both BB and David are saying “Say it in your philosophy” – BB is saying put “I assume that evidence without qualifications read to be unqualified” in his philosophy, and David is saying put “I place a high priority on qualifications for evidence comparison” in his philosophy. I am completely unconvinced that these would “nudge” the community. I think you have to Vote on it, and tell teams that you Voted on it after the round. I could put in my philosophy “I am more easily convinced than most that probability outweighs impact size” all I want, but until I vote on that argument, several times, and after the round say “I voted on the probability of solving poverty harms over the impact size of the politics disad” – until I do that, I don’t think that I nudge anyone. I think that it is more important for judges to Emphasize Qualification comparisons as an important, Decisive part of their reasons for voting after the round. If enough judges do, then that can nudge communities.

    Well, that then raises a Whole Lot of hypothetical situations, which get to the central concern of some in our community of Identifying Judge Intervention. Should judges ignore all other comparisons in a round, and make qualification arguments when debaters don’t and then say so after the round? I doubt that that would come up too often. Should we collectively change our norm to emphasize qualifications in our decisions? I don’t think of it as much of a change – I think that most of us already agree (Mr Sanchez’s principled objection noted) that qualified evidence is good for debate and that we prefer qualified evidence over other evidence. Is Scotty right that we are already making these decisions using these criteria anyway, because most evidence comparisons are done poorly now? In that situation, it is simply a matter of what we choose to highlight in our discussions after the round.

    How does this implicate reading qualifications when the evidence is presented? Take this hypothetical situation: The Aff doesn’t read qualifications on evidence, although their evidence Is qualified. Neg does read qualifications. 2NC says “Our qualified evidence is better – they don’t read qualifications”. Aff rebuttals say “Here are the qualifications from our evidence – it is just as qualified” – would you feel comfortable saying “I evaluated the negative’s evidence as more qualified because the aff did not present qualifications until the rebuttals – there wasn’t time for the Neg to respond.” Now, certainly the neg had time to respond – they could have checked the qualifications in CX or prep and made the appropriate comparisons. But the Aff didn’t make the argument until rebuttals – “Our evidence is qualified – here is the qualification” is an Argument, not an external fact. What if the same situation happens as above, but the 2NR is the first time that the neg says “Prefer our qualified evidence because they haven’t read qualifications” Has the negative initiated this argument sufficiently in the constructives by reading the qualifications? Do they have to make the second part of the comparison? I probably would be comfortable with saying that in both situations. (I would also probably gain Substantial perverse pleasure in saying “You have to read qualifications in constructives – your qualifications are New in rebuttals.” I Probably wouldn’t actually do that, but can enjoy imagining it…)

    Second hypothetical: Aff doesn’t read Qualifications on evidence, although their evidence Is qualified. Neg does read qualifications. Neither side makes a Comparison. The warrants are also not compared (or at least not compared well) such that the evidence is roughly equal. Would you feel comfortable saying “I preferred the negatives’ evidence because I was certain of its qualifications because they were read in the round. I didn’t have any other way to compare the evidence.” I probably would be comfortable with saying that as well.

    Another way to Nudge the community is through our position as Coaches rather than Judges. As a lab leader, do you require students to put the qualifications in the part of the cite that gets read? Do you highlight, underline, bold or box just the name and year? Do your cites read “Name, Year, Quals” or “Name, Quals, Year” – the former Substantially increases the odds that the quals won’t be read aloud.

    Those are my thoughts.

  4. David Heidt

    Scott,

    Some of my points were directed at Bill’s original post: the judge philosophies bit, quantity vs. quality, and the judge intervention part. I don’t think you really understood my argument regarding judge intervention, but I probably wasn’t clear enough either. The “critic of argument” he quoted and the part about the judge requiring verbal presentation to independently evaluate arguments to me is a call for greater intervention, not an explicit one, but it is the logical implication. Bill said that reading quals verbally involves the judge in the debate differently than having evidence available after the round. If this is true, it can only be true by making the judge more actively involved in scrutinizing arguments regardless of what the other team says about them. This is also my understanding of the “critic of argument” school of judging. I agree that intervention is sometimes necessary, that judges are sometimes required to make independent judgements about evidence because claims are otherwise unresolvable, but less is best.

    Similarly, I don’t think I ever defended the “people will have to present bad quals” argument, that was not the point I was making. My claim was limited to saying that encouraging judges to independently assess quals is bad, and that some judges will dismiss evidence solely because it’s from a lobbyist or the Heritage Foundation. Yes: they can do that now, and sometimes have to given a lack of debate and an otherwise unresolvable situation, but my point is less intervention is better, and that we should not encourage the judge to be MORE involved in assessing arguments that weren’t made by debaters.

    My experience is that the 2 greatest sources of unqualified evidence are critiques and politics disads. This obviously doesn’t indict all or even the majority of evidence for either of those two areas, or ignore that reporters or professors are qualified; as I said, I think the vast majority of evidence read in debates is qualified. But the debates I’ve judged that involve the most egregious lack of qualifications usually involve those areas: “LOST is at the top of the agenda” or “capitalism is ending now, the rev is coming” for example.

    As far as my points about warrants vs. qualifications: I agree that qualifications are important, but expertise is also important. I think expertise can include things like secondary research. I am not suggesting that Dan Brown or that Caldwell guy are defensible, they seem like clear examples where their lack of qualifications do matter. My argument is that there are many examples of evidence that lacks qualifications but nonetheless reflects expertise in an area and therefore arguments made are important and should not be dismissed. The best example is evidence from a guest commentator or op ed that isn’t at all qualified but contains judgements based upon data that the author has researched. Gulakov’s example of the gristmill blogger who wrote more informed pieces than anyone else on the topic is a good one: Gulakov could recognize his expertise based on his own topic knowledge despite not being able to find qualifications. I think a lot of evidence is like that, and frequently unqualified evidence contains references to studies, interviews or other data to support their arguments. My reference to “formal” qualifications doesn’t just include education; my argument is that some authors have expertise based on research they did that isn’t reflected in qualifications debates.

    Having said the above: I think debates about qualifications are good. I agree with your claim that qualified people generally write more intelligent and informed articles. I think qualifications can be an important basis to prefer some evidence over others. My arguments in the preceding paragraphs are just reasons why I don’t think all evidence should be summarily dismissed because of a lack of qualifications. There are instances where it should be, certainly, but it also depends in part on the reasoning behind the argument made.

    Qualifications debates are good, but verbal presentation isn’t necessary, and, always involves a time tradeoff. In my opinion it is a thoroughly unnecessary time tradeoff. Most evidence has qualifications, and frequently when it doesn’t, the debaters are prepared to defend that now, ie “the requirement of qualifications is capitalist”. Requiring verbal presentation for all cards when the vast majority of cards read won’t be challenged because they actually are qualified is a waste of time, and involves a substantive tradeoff. Encouraging debates about a professor vs. an assistant professor seems pointless. I don’t think verbal presentation will increase the number of debates on qualifications over what occurs now by very much, if at all.

    The only new argument I saw from your post was the “chilling effect” argument. I don’t think this is persuasive: the egregious examples of unqualified arguments you list, like aliens or spark, all have authors with qualifications attached to them, and debates about qualifications for these arguments are inevitable and occur now. Debaters won’t stop reading unqualified evidence, they will email the author for what college they attended, or otherwise find stupid things written about them on the internet that will sound like qualifications. All evidence will be minimally qualified, but the content of the arguments won’t change much. Corsi and Nyquist, for example, are horribly unqualified to make the arguments they make, but debaters won’t have a problem finding “qualifications” for the purposes of verbal presentation. Verbal presentation of these qualifications is completely irrelevant, what matters is whether the qualifications are actually debated.

    Changing judging philosophies is one way to change. I agree with Bill that changing judging is a prerequisite to changing norms. Debaters do make qualifications challenges now, frequently without much effect, but verbal presentation isn’t really related to the reason these qualifications challenges fail. Changing a judging philosophy at least tips them off that they won’t be wasting their time pursuing those arguments, even if they will frequently choose not to. It is better than any alternative I’ve heard at least.

  5. Scott Phillips

    Dave,

    You don’t like that “critics of arguments” would insert themselves into debates on the issue of quals:

    True or false- when you judge a debate you often decide the quality of evidence read independent of arguments made by the debaters in the round?

    Time tradeoff cannot possibly be a real argument here- “prof. of economics- yale” takes less than 1 second to say- not 3-4.

  6. David Heidt

    Scott,

    Yes: frequently resolving a particular claim is impossible without making an independent assessment regarding evidence quality, and quals are part of that. But the goal of any judge should be to reduce this as much as possible; some intervention is inevitable but minimizing it puts the debate more into the hands of the debaters. As I said originally, I am far more comfortable telling someone that they should have made an argument that a card was bad for whatever reason than I am independently deciding a card was bad, but clearly circumstances sometimes force the latter. This is obviously not unique to qualifications, but I raised the objection because a unique benefit to verbal delivery of quals was presented as involving the judge in the process in breaking down the hermeneutical wall between the arguments presented and qualifications. While I don’t think there is actually much of a relationship between VERBAL presentation of quals and a judge’s interpretation of an argument, to the extent that one exists, it’s negative and not positive. I do agree with Bill that qualifications can provide context and grounding for warrants. However, I don’t think that this is always the SOLE grounding and I don’t think qualifications always accurately reflect expertise: there is a debate to be had and warrants shouldn’t be summarily dismissed. That’s why I think these issues should be debated by the debaters themselves and that judges should seek to remove themselves from inserting their own independent judgements about these as much as possible.

    Time tradeoff is a real argument, not everyone is as fast as you were. The time taken to read quals cumulatively has an impact. Some quals are longer. I’m surprised you aren’t sensitive to this given that you debated with Cyrus. And if the quals are both abbreviated and read so fast that they can’t be digested anyway, what is the benefit to verbal presentation? I don’t think there’s normally a real benefit that isn’t fully captured by having quals available for every card. But in a situation where quals are just a blip that are probably impossible to flow for the majority of cards, I don’t think there could possibly be a chilling effect or any other advantage.

    If I thought a verbal presentation requirement would actually increase the quality of qualifications debates, I would retract everything I said above. I used to strongly encourage debaters I coach to read quals aloud, and I did it sometimes when I debated. Qualifications are sometimes determinant in decisions I’ve made. But I’ve judged a fair number of debates that have started with verbal presentation over the years, and I don’t think a single one changed the quality of qualifications debates and I don’t think a single outcome could be traced to verbal presentation.

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