Short note on debating qualifications

Let me begin by going through the bastardized version of the toulmin model I teach students (I have zero interest in debating the merits of this bastardization or how it differs from the proper model). An argument consists of 3 parts

  1. Claim- a short description of the argument you are making, “economic decline causes war”
  2. Warrant- an explanation of why the claim is true, “during periods of reduced economic activity states have less incentive to retain peaceful relations with one another because conflict no longer threatens prosperity”
  3. Evidence- how you know the warrant to be true. There are 3 broad categories of evidence
  1. Science- includes experiments, statistics, models etc
  2. History/Empirics- empirics being what you personally have experienced, history being the recorded record of what others have experienced
  3. Appeals to authority- some smart guy said this.

Obviously the most useful time to indict author qualifications is when a piece of evidence relies on 3C for its evidence- an unqualified author reporting on a major scientific study might be totally unqualified but still report the facts accurately.

Let me make a caveat before going on- appeals to authority are generally quite good. As Hayekians note, knowledge is fragmented- no one person is an expert on everything. An appeal to authority is an implicit recognition that someone who is an expert in a field that you are not is better suited to make judgments about said field. Obviously this is not a perfect system- experts disagree, the process of deciding who an expert is is not black and white etc etc. That being said, I disagree strongly with the school of thought that says “any regular joe can dissect experts by just using logic/focusing on warrants”. This has problems of its own- logic is not universal (either in ideal form or in application), warrants are useless without an evidence basis which most joe six packs do not have etc. So basically, this article should not be interpreted as a rejection of authority and eastern elites.

So, getting back to the point- author indicts. One major failing of teams attempting to indict author qualifications is that they never make it past the claim portion of the argument. Teams say things like “this author has no quals- ignore it” which is not a complete argument. So when a judge has to decide how to resolve this they have one side making a complete argument with a perhaps questionable source, and one side making an incomplete argument with no warrant or evidence.

Many teams who are frustrated that judges are not giving more credit to their indicts of the other side’s authors would have way more success if they gave a little more explanation and impact their argument, so this:

Their Zizek evidence is unqualified and stupid

Becomes something more like

Zizek is not an expert on nuclear testing- their claim that prohibition invites transgression turning the case should be assigned zero weight because there is no other evidence to support their warrant- and their generic conjecture is refuted by the qualified authors who wrote our solvency evidence. When assessing the likelihood that the CTBT will halt nuclear testing prefer concrete evidence to abstract theorizing.

Here you have not only explained why the lack of author qualifications is important (appeal to authority is the only evidence for their claim) you have also asserted a counter example (that your solvency evidence provides a warrant for why the opposite is true)

2 thoughts on “Short note on debating qualifications

  1. Josh G

    Not really all that bastardized Scott, but let's debate it anyway….jk. This post touches on a major pet peeve of mine as a judge and coach, so allow me to get up on the soapbox for a moment.

    I think it's worthwhile echoing a point that's implicit within this post, but never quite explicitly made, namely that evidence is not, by itself, argument. Evidence, well, evidences arguments. Few words in a debate round have ever been as analytically useless as the oft-repeated "this is answered by my ______ ev." It may be the case that _____ does a nice job debating and as a judge, I would happily assign them good speaker points and a win. You, on the the other hand, are not in such good shape when you say stuff like this, instead of making, you know, arguments. Young debaters (heck, even most old debaters) would do well to give some thought to the sort of evidence comparison that Scott's post encourages.

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