An ex student recently emailed me with some questions about a morality advantage from a camp aff my lab turned out a few years ago. His problem was that he had lost repeatedly on the same card over and over again in the past, and therefore disagreed with his partner about reading something similar this year. The card in question was the Isaacs morality answer prominent in many teams util frontlines. To paraphrase the email conversation:
him: “we keep losing on this card”
me: “well what kind of arguments are you making in response to it”
him: “the usual, the problem is we have no specific answers”
me: “why don’t you have any specific answers”
him: “there aren’t any”
me: “did you look”
I have had similar conversations with debaters many times over. The fact is many debates that will go on this year were decided months, if not years, in advance. They were “decided” because at some point at a summer institute someone did a certain amount of work and then stopped. That work then got distributed throughout the country and comes up in debates. The debates are “decided in advance” because that person’s work, however good it is, only goes so far- and that usually leaves one side too far behind evidence wise to win. Since no one picked up the assignment since then and did any fresh research on it, one side will end up with a few particularly good arguments that win them the debate.
The idea that there “are no answers” is a mental block that many debaters need to get over. People develop this belief either because a few minutes of scattered research do not find them the perfect card to respond to an argument, or because they see that an argument is so widespread and yet not responded to in the debate community and therefore assume that the search for an answer has been exhausted and is therefore fruitless.
Sometimes its exceedingly difficult to find a specific response. When an argument is published in an obscure journal by a not well known academic, responses don’t appear on the front page of the NY times. But the fact is that people in academia basically live to argue in journals, and no matter how obscure a publication is, if the article in there has a good debate card in it that means it is saying something radical and saying it forcefully- 2 things that get people itching to respond.
Other times finding a response is as easy as typing the persons name (isaac) and the publication (dissent) into google and looking at the 2nd result.
Arguments in debate are part of an evolutionary arms race- as each side develops a little better of an argument, the other side is at a little bit more of a disadvantage. The back and forth on this can be fast- from tournament to tournament or from round to round. But a lot of times it is slow- authors get read for years before someone takes the time to seriously look into their work and find the critics. Getting out their on the front lines by being the kind of squad that does this work and breaks these new answers is something that differentiates getting a bid from winning a tournament or clearing at the TOC.
Many people now know that you can use google scholar to see who is referencing a particular author or article, but few people are actually following up on this. There is also the social sciences citation index which is more of an old school method but still useful. Add to that the old name search described above and you should be well on your way.