Evidence Age- Like Fine Wine…

I have for a long time assumed that people would agree with me on the following:

On an issue that is not time sensitive, say whether or not Nihilism is good for value to life, I would much rather have a significantly older but better card, then a much more recent but slightly worse card.

I am now starting to think I am in the minority on this, and perhaps a very small minority at that. So here I would like to outline my case briefly.

1. Time sensitive- to me, an argument is time sensitive if it either

A. Makes some sort of “now key” argument about a particular set of circumstances- so “now key time for disarm” from 1982 is obviously dated and probably not applicable

B. Is about uniqueness- generally most uniqueness arguments are pretty time sensitive. Some uniqueness arguments about structure, like say US federalism, are obviously much less sensitive than the economy because they don’t fluctuate as rapidly. But for the most part, it is hard to see reading a 30 year old uniqueness argument.

C. Something has changed since the time of writing to make the date relevant. This one is self explanatory I think.

So if a card is not about one of those 3 things, the date (to me) seems much less relevant than its quality, or the qualifications of its author.

2. Primary vs Secondary sources (cue clark)- I think it is obviously better from a scholarly viewpoint to have the original source material than have it quoted by another party. This should be pretty incontestable so I will leave it at that.

3. Heat of the moment- many of the best cards come from a time when there was a vibrant debate back and forth going on in academia. In my mind, it is more educational to go back and read these debates then it is to cut a card from someone else who has done that legwork for you and who may or may not be misinterpreting/misreporting things.

4. Theory- examples of theory cards can obviously be things like “realism inevitable”, but also things like “economic decline causes war”. A card with a good theory or a good data set should be preferred over a op ed card from yesterday in my mind.

One thing that I think trips people up is the idea of causality. For example, lets take the economy. Most people who have done academic studies on the relationship between economic decline and militarized interstate disputes do not come to the conclusion “all economic declines cause war”. If they think there is a relationship between the 2, it is never definite. There are strengths of causality, and some people do argue economic growth is the most important factor contributing to peace. In debate however, no one would read an unbelievable card from 1972 about a statistical analysis proving that. Their reasoning is that since there have been numerous recessions since then, that card would be “empirically denied”. This argument is flawed for a few reasons

A. It assumes the authors are saying “X causes Y” everytime

B. It mistakenly assumes that a more recent card is somehow immune to this empirical argument.

Debaters are forced into relying on simplistic “x always causes y” arguments because that is the kind of argument they see presented by other teams. If the other team says “hegemony stops all wars ever” regardless of how patently false that is you will have a tough time outweighing it with “economic decline sometimes contributes to conflict”. Unless, that is, you combine your impact argument with some intelligent defense and explanation of why the other team’s impact is not absolute.

Recognition of what your evidence is saying and explaining it properly does not weaken your argument, in my opinion, it instead makes you looking light years more intelligent and reasonable then your opponent.

2 thoughts on “Evidence Age- Like Fine Wine…

  1. VJ

    Is there anything really unique about the A and the B? It seems to me that the C "something has changed" is the only reason A or B are true.

  2. Faber

    Strongly agree. Rule of thumb for date being relevant – there must be some reason, usually an intervening event, that the author of the older card would no longer make the claims being made in the card. IE, if we asked that author today, that author would conclude closer to the claims of the newer evidence (written by someone else) than to the claims of the old evidence that s/he originally wrote.
    Otherwise, the argument should be 'their author is a hack who would say this even if it were false', or it just isn't important.

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