Disclosure Discussion: What Constitutes A "New Aff"?

At post-season tournaments, the frequency with which teams break new affirmatives increases exponentially. Unfortunately, this can be a recipe for pre-round misunderstandings and even confrontations—especially when combined with the heightened level of stress that generally accompanies debates at these tournaments. Like baseball, debate is full of unwritten rules—norms that the community generally agrees upon but which are not codified or universally understood. When an individual feels that a peer has violated one of these rules, they are often deeply offended. But what are the unwritten rules regarding disclosure of new affirmatives? And perhaps as importantly, what should they be? This post is an invitation for coaches and debaters to discuss “new aff” norms in advance of this year’s post-season tournaments. Some starting points for the discussion—including hypothetical scenarios—are below the fold.

  • What constitutes a “new affirmative” for the purposes of pre-round disclosure? In what situations should the affirmative disclose that they are reading a new version of an existing case as opposed to an entirely new case?

  • What constitutes a “new plan” for the purposes of disclosure? Should minor modifications be disclosed before the round even if the exact text of the plan has not been read before? Is it legitimate for teams to make minor changes to their plan in order to avoid pre-round disclosure?

  • What constitutes a “new advantage” for the purposes of disclosure? Must the thesis of the advantage change or is it enough that the impact or internal link is changed?

  • Why do we care so much? Has pre-round disclosure moved beyond “courtesy” to “obligation”? Or should it? Are we right or wrong to exempt new affirmatives (and/or new plans and advantages) from our typical expectations regarding pre-round disclosure? What can be done to minimize the frequency of misunderstandings and disagreements regarding the best practices for pre-round disclosure?

The following hypotheticals may provide helpful “test cases” to guide the discussion; they are not intended to be specific to any particular team, so please don’t be offended if I mentioned a case you or your team has been reading.

Hypothetical A: What Constitutes A New Affirmative?

  1. A team has been reading a Food Stamps affirmative that has the United States federal government increase funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; it claims a hegemony advantage and an economy advantage. The team decides to read an affirmative that removes the quality assurance requirements from SNAP and claims a racism/inequality advantage. Should the affirmative disclose that they are reading a “new aff”? If not, what should they disclose? Should they mention that it is a “new aff” but that it is about SNAP? Would “new aff—including a new plan and new advantage(s), but it’s still about SNAP” be appropriate?

  2. Same scenario, but the affirmative decides to read only an economy advantage. The internal link, however, is different than the previous version: instead of arguing that increasing funding for SNAP provides an economic stimulus, they now plan to argue that removing the quality assurance requirements shores up state budgets and spurs investment in urban, minority neighborhoods. Should the affirmative disclose that they are reading a “new aff”? If not, what should they disclose?

  3. A team has been reading an unemployment insurance affirmative that has the United States federal government extend and expand unemployment benefits for workers that have been laid off during the past two years; it claims a free trade advantage and an economy advantage. The team decides to read an affirmative that provides health insurance for unemployed workers instead of extending/expanding unemployment benefits but still claims a free trade advantage and an economy advantage; the thesis of both advantages remains the same but the solvency cards are changed to reflect the new plan. Should the affirmative disclose that they are reading a “new aff”? Should they mention that it is a “new aff” but that it claims the same free trade and economy advantages?

  4. Same situation, but the team decides to read a plan that provides “all necessary social services” to unemployed workers and claims a critical globalization advantage. The thesis of the advantage is similar to the existing free trade advantage: both argue that the plan deters protectionist populism from gaining traction, thereby ensuring the continuation of free trade, but the impact to the globalization advantage focuses on third world poverty whereas the free trade advantage focused on the possibility of trade wars sparking great power conflict. Should the affirmative disclose that they are reading a new affirmative? If not, what should they disclose? Is this the “same aff” with a “new plan” and the free trade advantage with “a new impact”?

Hypothetical B: What Constitutes A New Plan?

  1. A team has been reading an abortion affirmative that has the Supreme Court rule on equal protection grounds that restrictions on Medicaid funding of abortions is unconstitutional; it claims a patriarchy advantage. The team decides to alter their plan text to no longer specify equal protection grounds. Should the new, modified plan be disclosed before the round? If not, what should the affirmative disclose? Is it appropriate to say “it will be our abortion affirmative with the existing patriarchy advantage, but we have changed the plan text”?

  2. Same situation, but this time the affirmative changes the plan to say “topical portions of Medicaid” instead of just “Medicaid”—nothing else in the 1AC is changed. Should the new, modified plan be disclosed before the round? If not, what should the affirmative disclose?

  3. Same situation, but this time the affirmative changes the plan to say “The judicial branch” instead of “The Supreme Court”—nothing else in the 1AC is changed. Should the new, modified plan be disclosed before the round? If not, what should the affirmative disclose?

Hypothetical C: What Constitutes A New Advantage?

  1. A team has been reading an immigration Medicaid affirmative that has the Supreme Court rule that Medicaid eligibility restrictions based on citizenship status are unconstitutional; it claims a judicial independence advantage and a bioterrorism advantage. The team decides to change the impact to their judicial independence advantage: instead of arguing that U.S. judicial independence is modeled by Iraq and that Iraqi judicial independence prevents a Middle East war, they plan to argue that U.S. judicial independence is modeled by South Korea and that South Korean judicial independence prevents a Korean war. Should they disclose that they are reading the bioterrorism advantage and a new advantage? Or should they disclose that they are reading the bioterrorism advantage and the judicial independence advantage, but with a different impact scenario?

  2. Same situation, but this time the affirmative plans to read a soft power advantage instead of their bioterrorism advantage. There are two impacts to soft power: bioterrorism and hegemony. Should the affirmative disclose that they are reading the judicial independence advantage and a new advantage? Are they obligated to mention that they are still reading a bioterrorism impact, even though the internal link has been changed?

Feel free to respond to one or more hypotheticals or to pose additional ones.

12 thoughts on “Disclosure Discussion: What Constitutes A "New Aff"?

  1. Nick Khatri

    Hypothetical A:

    1. I think just saying "new aff" is fine in this case. The two affs do different things, even if they deal with the same program. If the new aff both increased SNAP funding and removed quality assurance requirements then I think the team should disclose that it is the same aff but they have added a plank to the plan and are reading a new advantage.

    2. Again I think the plan does something sufficiently different from the old aff that just disclosing "new aff" is fine. The fact that the new aff has an advantage in common with the old aff doesn't matter.

    3. If they change what social service they give people then it's probably a new aff.

    4. It depends. Is "all necessary social services" a totally new mechanism with different solvency evidence? If it is then I think it's a new aff, but if it's just a cosmetic change to the plan text then they should disclose the new plan text and say that they are reading a new version of the trade advantage with a different impact.

    Hypothetical B:

    1. I think they should disclose that it is the same aff but they've changed the grounds they rule on. I think that changing their grounds is a substantial enough change that they don't have to disclose it. It changes their solvency mechanism, what counterplans/case args can be run against them, a lot of their potential add ons and probably more.

    2. In this case I think the aff should disclose the new plan text. Nothing about their aff has changed other than how they answer some Ts.

    3. Again, they should disclose the new plan text.

    Hypothetical C:

    1. They should disclose that they are reading a new impact to the judicial independence advantage. It is not a new advantage.

    2. I think this is clearly a new advantage and the fact that it shares an impact isn't relevant. If I was in this situation and the neg team explicitly asked me "will you still claim any bioterrorism impacts?" I would probably say yes, but I don't think teams would be obligated to.

  2. Roy Levkovitz Post author

    These are good questions especially since in the heat of the elims tensions get high, answers get short and people err towards under-disclosing.

    Hypothetical A- This is clearly the hardest of the ones to resolve, I take it some people will disagree with me on these, but hey its ok for them to be wrong. I haven't been present at the NDT for the last 2 years but it would be interesting to look at those years and the Treaties Topic and Europe topic for answers to how to disclose these affirmatives. If a team was reading CTBT, if their new aff was a different version of CTBT they would disclose it as "new version of ctbt"

    To answer the examples specifically

    1.) This might be the toughest one, I can see both sides of the coin being acceptable. I've actually edited my initial thoughts on this as I've reconsidered the question. I think new affirmative is acceptable since the nature of what the plan does is very different in those instances. At the same time, saying different version of food stamps does not necessarily give away too much of the edge.
    2.) Either new affirmative or new version of food stamps with different advantage(s). Having the same terminal impact does not constitute the same advantage. You could even say some of the terminal impacts might be the same, but I don't think its required
    3.) This one is also tricky since health care can be / is a benefit of unemployment insurance. I might say its a type of unemployment benefits affirmative which has a different plan then our old affirmative
    4.) Probably like #3, In this instance the advantages are quite different despite having one of the same internal links.
    In all 4 of these I think these answers are sufficient responses to avoid some post round "you lied" type confrontations.

    Hypothetical 2-
    1.) Yes. Abortion aff with patriarchy advantage and there is a plan modification. The plan modification does not need to be disclosed before the debate, the team just needs to alert the others of the change.
    2.) and 3.) are just changes in the plan that do not need to be disclosed pre round.

    Hypothetical 3-
    1.) Bioterrorism and a new impact to the judicial independence advantage. The only thing being subbed out is the terminal impact, since everything else is the same its not new, its a new IJ scenario. Note this is different from the food stamps example because in those instances the internal link had changed but the terminal impact remained the same.
    2.) New adv and IJ

  3. Reed

    This discussion prompts the question-is a new aff really just a "legal" way of getting around disclosure norms? We almost all feel obligated, and probably feel it breeds better debate to disclose, yet what is running a new aff, sustainable or unsustainable, but to NOT have to disclose? You work within the normative guidelines to find the one "loophole" to disclosure rules which allows debaters to not have to disclose, and thus circumvent in-depth research and force debates to the margins. Maybe not, I understand disclosure is in place of your opponent hunting down info on stuff already read/done, which is not the case here, but still, what is the main purpose of a new aff?

  4. antonucci

    This entire discussion is moot. Everything, including cards, should be disclosed in advance. Period.

    Legalistic hypothetical wrangling on this just reinforces the core point – partial disclosure norms have become silly, because, at its root, half-disclosure's an unsustainable compromise between an impulse to improve debate and an impulse to withhold information to privilege those who can purchase more intellectual property.

    All of the answers to this question will be unreadably wishy-washy. They're peppered with "maybe" "depends" "sort of" and "I don't know" – in a word, punting. In my mind, that exposes practice that's become unbearably disconnected from its larger goals. No one really knows, because the real goals of withholding can't really be openly articulated.

    The system never made sense in the first place. At some point, the community has to choose between its commitment to overall debate and its commitment to maintaining the hierarchies established by differential access to abstracted labor outputs.

    In this context, failure to choose is also a choice.

  5. Robert

    I think that all of this confusion can be solved by the traditional process – give the team your plan text that you will be reading that round and answer any relevant questions they have about your aff that you have read in the past. I feel like the plan text can solve a lot of confusion via PICs and actors. I don't think a team should have to disclose information about things they have not read before, because it decreases the incentive to break new arguments and use the element of surprise. If the aff discloses everything before the round, it gives the neg an unfair side bias – they already have had time to cut answers to your already-run arguments, but to give them time to answer arguments you have not made is ridiculous.

  6. Holden

    @ Robert:
    The situations above are calling into question what constitutes something you've read before. There can be somewhat similar advantages so its asking where do you draw the line.

  7. antonucci

    @ robert: "answer any relevant questions they have"

    Back in my day, we had this thing called cross-x…you know, in the round. Has that become "awkward staring at dysfunctional paperless team" time instead?

    "side bias"

    I might have presumed too much context. I'm a strong advocate for a permanent norm of full disclosure, in which all evidence read in a debate should be uploaded to a common database. Both teams are thus either reading from the common pool or cheating. Several people smarter than me have advocated such a system as well.

    I view this system as a less stupid version of disclosure. Instead of answering a hostile ten minute cross-x from five coaches, everything would have to be uploaded, and you could tell your opponent to check the wiki if they have questions.

    Disclosure under such circumstances would be far less of a "scouting substitute" – its current fairly halfassed function – and more of a pure courtesy.

  8. Layne Kirshon

    things that change the mandate of the plan can be claimed as "new" i.e. no longer equal protection, so the aff should say still abortion aff w/X advs but different plantext and mechanism

    changing "provide weatherization to low income communities" to "provide weatherization in low income communities" is not new. at worst, if you're scared of a word pic then at least say it will be a new plantext (give the neg the old 1 and don't show the new 1) but say it doesn't make any significant change besides minor wording modification

  9. Tom Tom

    The following is both a tangent off of Antonucci's post and also stems from a conversation I had with a friend.

    Another hypothetical which I think is especially revealing in how disclosure currently functions is what happens when one team breaks an aff which another team has already read.

    First hypothetical: Team A reads a Head Start aff. Team B is going to read for the first time a different Head Start aff.

    I think it's safe to say that everyone but advocates of full disclosure would agree that it is not at all required for Team B to disclose the contents of their new aff prior to reading it.

    I think the situation gets more interesting though when we consider another hypothetical.

    Second hypothetical: Team A reads a Head Start aff. Team B is preparing to read for the first time the exact same Head Start aff as Team A. Same plan text, same advantages, same 1AC.

    My gut reaction to this is that while under current norms this should be considered breaking new, a lot of the reasons for supporting the withholding of information fall apart in the face of this hypothetical.

    My thoughts on this hypothetical really are peppered with "maybes" and "I don't knows." It feels weird to let a team "break new" when they are reading the exact same aff another team already read, but it also feels weird (at least under the current system of disclosure) to require disclosure of arguments on the basis that other teams have already read them.

    In the case of this hypothetical, allowing teams to "break new" does not encourage innovation, hard work, or additional research, which are the usual justifications for giving this strategic advantage, when this advantage is given to a team who reads another team's aff. In fact, it does the opposite by giving a strategic advantage for cutting corners (not that there is anything wrong with using cites on the wiki as a practice in itself).

    However, it is also worth noting that while it certainly cannot be considered innovative or original for a team to break another team's aff, team B is not going to win any rounds without investing significant research of their own in the form of 2AC blocks and determining how best to develop the aff in the rebuttals.

    But the right to declare "breaking new" as a way to avoid disclosure is not given to teams that just put a lot of work into writing new 2AC blocks or improve how they explain their aff in the rebuttals.

    At the very least, this hypothetical represents to me a disconnect between what (beneficial) practices "breaking new" claims to promote and where those (beneficial) practices actually take place in the research process.

  10. David Petersen

    @ antonucci or anyone else who might know where I can find a blog/more information on the topic of a database to be updated before tournaments. I’m sure this question would be answered there but would you also advocate open source as well.

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