Explanation of the Judge Hypothetical

A while back I combined 2 concepts in my mind

1. Judge philosophies are for the most part totally useless. Most of them read exactly the same “i’ll vote for anything if you explain it well etc”. Even the few that break from this mold are usually a series of opinions followed by “however, these are just my defaults, I will ignore them based on arguments in a debate”.

2. There doesn’t seem to be a better way to get the crucial information you need as a debater out of a judges head. Asking questions before the debate usually yields more of the same-  a bland, flavorless mush of information not helpful for you to adapt.

There had to be a better way. So I decided to come up with a hypothetical that would serve as a debate rorschach test. I tried to create a scenario that would be as balanced as possible so that people could then project onto it their views of debate.

Some issues I wanted to address included (among others)

-what constitutes an argument

-what emphasis is placed on evidence quality

-how big a part of the activity is research

-how do judges interpret/reward spin

-many judges tell debaters to call out bad/stupid arguments, will they put their money where their mouth is?

These are issues I think judges often aren’t entirely honest about in their JP’s.

I will use Bill as an example here. I use Bill not because I thought his comments were uniquely interesting, but because due to his writing on here and his comments on the podcasts there is a larger body of his work to draw on.

In his JP Bill says-

I have voted negative when the 2NR has gone for positions that I think are stupid—even once for Heidegger—but this is usually because the affirmative messed something up, not because the negative really “won”. On the other hand, I have often voted affirmative despite believing that the negative debated very well and demonstrated superior technical skills when they have gone for a stupid argument/strategy. If you rely on spin control and technical superiority to overcome the odious quality of your stale and generic 1NC strategies, I am a really bad judge for you.

Yet his posts about the hypothetical indicate he would vote neg and endorse the technical spin in a K debate.

He later writes-

2. I really don’t get the Heidegger argument. At all. You know how some judges are extremely frustrating because they won’t vote on a particular argument or genre of argument and you don’t find that out until after you’ve gone for it and lost? It’s like that, except I’m warning you ahead of time. I’ve actually voted negative once this year when the 2NR went for Heidegger: the 1AR spent about 15 seconds on it (the 1NR had taken it for five minutes) and I still almost voted aff on “calculative thought is inevitable and good beep beep beep”. I used to think the reason I couldn’t wrap my head around the Heidegger argument was because I just hadn’t seen someone competent extend it, but I’m still waiting and I’m not very optimistic. Unless you think you’ll be the first person to successfully convince me that identifying problems and solving them causes extinction (or *gasp* something worse!), you are encouraged to go for another position.

Bill no doubt has read more K literature, and more about Heidegger specifically, then the average high schooler trying to write a 2AC block to it. And yet here he indicates that it is possible he just can’t “wrap his head around it”, but believes a student debating in front of him should understand it.

I was honestly shocked when I read that Bill would vote neg because I think we have been on a few panels where a debate broke down very similar to the hypothetical (though obviously not this extreme) and Bill voted aff and I voted neg.

Similarly, if I was asked to wager how Herndon would vote based on judging with him and this from his JP:

I ultimately think that I am a pretty fair judge that falls somewhere in the middle in terms of K debates. I’d probably PREFER a politics throw down. However, I enjoy a discussion of postcolonialism and ontology as much as the next person. I think you should read whatever you want. Being good on an argument I dislike is better than being bad on an argument I like. Both sides should focus on the role of the ballot, how the impacts interact with one another, and why the world of the alt/aff is better in comparison. I will vote for the K and do so regularly – although i will often make jokes about being openly hostile towards it. If you give me a piece of Zizek or Baudrillard evidence you can expect me to scoff at it as I read it. If you aren’t explaining the K I will vote against you if it makes no sense. I think the neg has to work very hard for me to completely ignore the advantages to the aff. I default to comparing the philosophical and political implications to the aff.

I would have bet on him going neg. This is not to insult/denigrate the judging skills of either Herndon or Batterman. I will save the insults/denigration for Roy.

Roy starts out

As I’ve gotten older (maybe grumpier too) more things seem to frustrate me with the debates I judge. I’m not sure if some of the debating has transitioned (note that means become worse) or I’ve become a pickier critic. I feel like this may become more of a blog post then judge philosophy but I promise it’s a good read one way or another.

Roy, your promise was broken.

He later says:

2.) Key argument emphasis- The other speeches seldom slow down and emphasize key arguments, most of it is a random array of blitzing through arguments. I can count the number of times my kids and others have walked out of rooms saying we just got screwed XYZ judge just didn’t understand our argument. Are you really naïve / cocky / dumb enough to think that they didn’t get it? If you win the debate I promise I’ll vote for you, but if you don’t do the work to win the debate I won’t gift it to you.

3.) Even if statements. While you obviously always think your opponents arguments suck, I don’t necessarily always agree. Why don’t you tell me about how even if they win xyz crappy argument that you should still win because of ABC? This is why coaches want their kids to judge debates more. The perspective you gain from the back of the room helps you know how to sell your argument. Your goal is not just to be right, but to easily convince me of it. Decisions take much longer because this is missing from so many debates

5.) Evidence comparison anyone? It seems like since 2002 anything with a tag, cite, url and some text is considered evidence. Notice how “quals” is missing from that. Aside from the fact that evidence is usually so bad, its qualifications are often worse. Teams do not invest sufficient time into beating up people’s evidence. Where is it from? Who wrote it? Is that person qualified? When is it from? Does it have a warrant? Does It even say what its tagged? I am convinced a 2ar could beat up most politics disads by just indicting the evidence, mocking it for quality, and extending the aff. I will not do the work here for you. I will not read another team’s evidence and say because it was bad I won’t vote on it unless YOU TELL ME TO DO THIS. Maybe judges are to blame for accepting too much, but the relative non interventionist in me finds it reasonable that teams should have to point out their evidence is bad. While this might encourage people to cut bad “cards”, they will get their act together when they lose on bad evidence.

Obvi he votes neg…

I will stop for a moment here to discuss how I would vote. From 2001 until probably 2007 I would of voted neg without even thinking about it. 2007- now probably voted neg after some thought, perhaps a great deal of it. Now I am less sure.

You can obviously debate how well I constructed a hypothetical that is actually balanced, but I think if you read back through the comments knowing what I was trying to accomplish you can quickly see that everyone who comments (including me in my devils advocate posts) is injecting a LOT into the debate, and especially after their views are challenged they double down on their initial impressions and cast them as absolutes.

This is particularly evident in the “toulmin model” posts that just keep repeating the aff has not made “an argument”. This seems clearly false. They may not have “made an argument” about the substance of the K (though that is also debatable), they have clearly made an argument about how the judge should resolve competing claims when 1 is “spin” and 1 is “evidence”.

In this particular instance, one thing I tell kids all the time and that I have heard several of the posters in the thread tell students is that it is bad to just repeat your arguments and not clash with what the other team is saying. That is what the neg is doing here, repeating their ABC in each speech. The aff has already made their response to ABC, and read a piece of evidence on it. The aff then moved on to arguing about why you should prefer that piece of evidence over analytics from a debater. At the end of many debates judges are left to decide for themselves whether or not to prefer a piece of evidence or an argument from a debater. Several people I talked too about this all responded “yes” that it would be better for the neg to re-read or paraphrase parts of the evidence then it would be to give this 1AR. That seems totally insane, and to me is what is wrong with many debates. Teams who don’t understand their arguments “fake it” and then win, never being forced to actually go back and learn what they are talking about.

I think the obvious part that throws people off here is the aff admission that they don’t know what is going on/understand the arguments in the round. If that part of the 1AR had been removed, and the aff had just said “the block spin is garbage, prefer our card, it answers all their warrants” and then paraphrased parts of the card, I think many more people would have voted aff. And IMO that demonstrates how silly their “tolmin model” point is, it can be manipulated to feign understanding so easily that it serves no purpose.

The neg here has given “claim, warrant, evidence”, but based on all the cards in the debate (which is their evidence) and the aff’s card, it is wrong. They have misinterpreted their evidence. The aff is pointing this out, but can’t really explain why. How often does this happen in debates about the economy, climate science, or international relations theory? Based on the responses in this thread one would guess never. Based on my experience, quite frequently.

The last thing I will comment on for now is the people who have told me something like “if we just look at cards, why not just mail them in and skip the speaking”. This seems facially ridiculous. The aff has not said ‘evidence should always trump talking’. They have made a specific argument about the content of this debate, the team they are debating, and this particular argument. The neg FAILED to talk their way out of it- they didn’t respond to it in any way. If you really read this hypothetical and the conclusion you came to was voting aff means the death of speaking and the rise of the cult of evidence I am a little amazed. This, to me, seems like the weakest challenge of them all- if we place so much emphasis on speech should the neg not be required to SAY that the aff’s argument is ridiculous as you think it to be? Apparently not.

The reduction of the hypothetical to “spin vs evidence” is fatally flawed- both sides are using spin and evidence, just in different places.

11 thoughts on “Explanation of the Judge Hypothetical

  1. Ellis

    im way to tired to read this whole thing but i like it. most hypothetical posts are like "if the worst debate ever happens and you cant drop both teams, what happens?" this connects it to knowing your judge

  2. Bill Batterman

    I think this is a cool idea and I agree with your major premise. I think the reason that you’re surprised with some of the responses is because the hypothetical is perhaps too “extreme” while at the same time leaving too many details undiscussed.

    With regard to my perspective in particular, I think there are a couple of things at play:

    1. The hypothetical leaves undiscussed the question of how well the negative was communicating their argument. Did it make sense? Was their explanation consistent with their evidence? Fundamentally, *was their argument persuasive*?

    The quotes from my judging philosophy that you cited reflect that I place a lot of value on explanation and “truth”. If in the hypothetical, the affirmative was making an argument that the negative’s critique did not make sense or was not coherently explained, I’m very certain that I would vote affirmative (assuming I agreed with the aff’s characterization of the neg’s position, of course).

    In the actual hypothetical, however, the affirmative is not making this argument. They begin with “Look, we have no idea what the neg is saying,” but then move on to explain that the aff themselves also don’t know what they themselves are saying.

    The Heidegger example I think is illustrative: there are two ways to present the aff’s argument.

    A. Their argument doesn’t make sense — there is no coherent explanation of the link between identifying and solving problems and human extinction. Extend our Jarvis evidence — problem-solving theory is vital to address material harms and tangible security threats — this clearly outweighs “ontological violence” (whatever that means).

    B. We don’t understand what they’re saying, but extend our Jarvis card — we don’t know what it says but we are pretty sure it responds to their critique. You should read it after the debate and prefer it to their spin — the purpose of debate is to conduct in-depth research and you should reward us for having better research than the negative.

    In the first instance, the affirmative has explained an argument (even if its a simple one) and has challenged whether the negative has explained a coherent position. In the second instance, the affirmative has not explained an argument — they haven’t challenged whether the negative has explained a coherent position, they’ve only requested that the judge read their evidence and locate within it a response.

    I think I have summarized this belief appropriately in my judging philosophy:

    > Explanation is just as important for me at the TOC as it is at every other tournament. If you’ve been handed a new argument moments before the debate and instructed to “just read all the overviews — they answer everything”, don’t be shocked when I vote against you because you did not adequately develop and explain your argument. In fact, I think I am probably a pretty bad judge for teams that are planning on utilizing this style of preparation. If you don’t think that you will be able to effectively explain your arguments or you expect that the quality of your arguments will be much worse than usual in an attempt to catch other teams off-guard, you are probably better off preferring judges that will hold you to a lower standard.


    > I have been a part of several split decisions already this year and they have been helpful in isolating the points of departure that I have with other judges. The common theme that seems to crop up in very good or very close debates is that I place much more emphasis on the execution of *explanation* than I do on the execution of *technique*. The best way that I can describe this is that at the margins, my overall “feel” for the key issues in the debate outweighs my “map” (flow) of the micro-issues of the debate. For me, winning the preponderance of the micro-issues doesn’t necessarily mean that you have won the macro-issues; the last rebuttals that I have found most persuasive have focused more on what they thought the most important arguments were than on meticulously refuting the arguments in each cell of my flow spreadsheet. This doesn’t mean that I don’t value technique or (in particular) good evidence; I just have a slightly different opinion about what constitutes good technical skills as they are applied to the 2NR/2AR.

    2. You have presented two criticisms of my resolution of the hypothetical.

    A. “Yet his posts about the hypothetical indicate he would vote neg and endorse the technical spin in a K debate.”

    Is it really technical spin? Or is it just an explanation of their argument? You explained your position on this as follows:

    “The neg here has given “claim, warrant, evidence”, but based on all the cards in the debate (which is their evidence) and the aff’s card, it is wrong. They have misinterpreted their evidence. The aff is pointing this out, but can’t really explain why.”

    That’s not how I read/understood the hypothetical. If that’s true, I would (again, pending the questions in #1) vote aff.

    But in the hypothetical, you said:

    “You call for the neg cards and the 1 aff card. Upon reading the neg cards, you find that they do clearly make arguments A, B, and C and explain them well, just like the negative said.”

    So in the hypothetical, you said they explain ABC well and it is consistent with the evidence; now you’ve said the neg has misinterpreted their evidence. I think this is, again, a meaningful shift.

    You also said in the original hypothetical:

    “The card clearly identifies A, B, and C as arguments made by the neg author, and then deconstructs them in such a devastating way that you would bet your life that they are not only false, but that the opposite is true.”

    If we use the Heidegger example, let’s say that ABC is “problem-solving fails,” “problem-solving = extinction,” “meditative thought better”.

    Based on how you described the hypothetical, I viewed the aff card as likely saying “problem-solving good,” “problem-solving prevents extinction,” and “calculative thought better”.

    I think the minimum standard for getting credit for those arguments is to explicitly reference them: “our card says some stuff that answers their stuff” doesn’t cut it.

    “Our card says problem solving is good/effective and prevents extinction and that meditative thought is stupid/calculative thought is good — you should evaluate the arguments contained in our evidence to reward good research even if we can’t explain the nuances of Heideggarian philosophy, something that the neg has never coherently explained” = aff for sure.

    If that’s how you intended the hypothetical to be, then the reason you’re surprised at my response is purely because I did not interpret the hypothetical in the way that you intended.

    B. “Bill no doubt has read more K literature, and more about Heidegger specifically, then the average high schooler trying to write a 2AC block to it. And yet here he indicates that it is possible he just can’t “wrap his head around it”, but believes a student debating in front of him should understand it.”

    There is a huge difference between the approach taken in the hypothetical and the approach that I would find persuasive.

    A. The Hypothetical Approach — “I don’t get their argument, but here’s a card that answers it — not sure why, but read it please. Prefer our research because it’s better.”

    B. The Better (Batterman-friendly) Approach – “I don’t get their argument — it doesn’t make sense and has never been coherently explained. The burden is on THEM to explain a persuasive argument — if they haven’t exceeded that threshold, don’t reward them with a ballot.”

    The latter approach puts the onus on the negative to explain something intelligible. If the debaters can’t make heads or tails of the neg critique after doing their research, they should challenge the intelligibility of the neg’s argument and stick to responses that they *can* explain (like “solving problems is good” or “calculative thought is inevitable”).

    I know what the Heidegger argument *is*—I just don’t understand why it *makes sense*. I think this is a meaningful difference — you’re conflating the two.

    This, followed by the evidence extension above, would lead me to vote aff 100 times out of 100.

  3. JHines

    Thank you Bill for so cogently elaborating what I was trying to elucidate in the previous Hypothetical thread. There is a meaningful distinction to be made here between actually making an argument and relying upon the evidence to do that for you. Sure, if the neg’s explanation of their criticism never rises to the level of persuasive argument there would be no reason to endorse their position. But allowing teams to say we don’t know what we are saying and we certainly don’t get what they are saying but here is some great evidence we’re sure you can figure out for us is not a paradigm for evaluation I feel comfortable supporting. Maybe I’m too old and jaded by those years of Rhetorical Studies graduate school, but this seems like common sense to me.

  4. kevin sanchez

    i appreciate this re-explanation of the hypothetical and agree it's a more complicated question than i initially thought.

    i'd still insist that the affirmative probably hasn't presented 'evidence' proper, especially in a kritik round; they've presented a card which, to apply the residual legal framework, is more akin to 'testimony'. a knife found at the scene of the crime by the arresting officer – that's evidence. the investigating psychologist found the suspect to have sociopath tendencies – that's testimony. to mash the two types of claims together, in my view, still leads to muddled thinking.

    but i was wrong to suggest that the affirmative hasn't made an argument. they're making an unqualified appeal to authority while humbly admitting their ignorance of the subject matter. and i even grant that we shouldn't weigh this admission when assessing whether to prefer the card's argument over the negative's 'a, b, c'. the affirmative may as well have been joking, as when a debater says, 'extend our dropped mead evidence: now i don't understand it one bit, but he's a senior fellow at the council on foreign relations, and he says the impact is economic depression and nuclear war, so you lose'. maybe the debater understands the mead 'evidence' (or at least understands what he's claiming) and maybe they don't, but why re-explain the internal link scenario if the card was dropped? why not just extend the impacts and back up the particulars with the credentials of the immensely qualified author who is hashing them out?

    it's a sticky question. technically all the sentences in the affirmative's 'awesome card' were read in-round. the negative had ample time to dispute them. and the affirmative extended that card throughout the round, and said throughout that it answered on-point all the negative's arguments. and the negative has dropped the argument that cards should be preferred to analyticals from high school students (who we all know are biologically inferior to normal human beings).

    so i don't have a great answer. i'd merely point out that the key decision-point is whether you read that card at all. since the philosophy i advocate is to only read cards to resolve direct conflicts over what they say, i'm not reading that card after the round. so i don't get to hear all the on-point refutations therein unless the debater explains them to me. and since the affirmative has not done so, my decision is a little easier.

    for those who feel that by reading the original card the affirmative has 'entered it into evidence' (a position i've labeled as 'fetishistic' since it attributes fact-like qualities to what are essentially opinions, however educated), the decision is much more difficult. in reply, i, like hines and others, am openly wondering where the line is. because we all know that a whole other debate can be going on between two or three extended 'pieces of evidence', which, in kritik rounds at least, are often two or three pages long *each*. does a debater have merely to breath the words 'read this after the round' to thereby send the judge off on a scavenger hunt for warrants and on-point refutations? doesn't this test the quality of the blade and not the skill of the person wielding it? and, excuse my petty marxism here, doesn't that ultimately mean that those with the best (hired) researchers win out above those who actually make a persuasive case?

    thanks for the re-explanation though, and apologies if my first impression was a bit knee-jerk.

  5. kevin sanchez

    oh but batterman, does the relevant difference between that final (a) and (b) turn on whether the debater attributes their lack of understanding to their own ignorance or to their opponents' incoherence? …because that doesn't seem right. you seem to be saying 'always say it's the other team's fault and then i'll respect your argument'. what if the debater is agnostic on the question, as in: 'i don't know if it's just me, or if this is a bunch of cow manure …but this dude i'm quoting has read a lot more heidegger than both of us; he says you're 180-degrees wrong'?

  6. Bill Batterman

    @kevin sanchez

    I like the agnostic phrasing, too. And the appeal to authority ("this dude i'm quoting has read a lot more heidegger than both of us") can be extremely persuasive. There isn't a brightline… that I'll certainly admit. I'm a "feel" judge, and all of this depends on my "feel" of the particular debate and the arguments that the students are communicating.

    This, I think, is the trait that most distinguishes me from some other judges and is the reason Scott was surprised with my initial answer: I'm much more comfortable relying on my subjective interpretation of the back-and-forth that I'm watching than a lot of people whose primary aim is objectivity.

  7. Dan Hansen

    I'd like to hear thoughts on the "1" claim above:

    >Judge philosophies are for the most part totally useless. Most of them read exactly the >same “i’ll vote for anything if you explain it well etc”. Even the few that break from this >mold are usually a series of opinions followed by “however, these are just my defaults, I >will ignore them based on arguments in a debate”.

    This is the biggest struggle I face coaching students in a conservative style for national tournaments – the judges lie by pretending they have no biases or that all judges are the same when they say "do whatever." At the Iowa Midwest Novice Championship, I had a judge say his paradigm was "national style". That was the entire talk. My student asked to clarify and his reponse was "you should know what that means." Let me be bolder. Tabs is a lie. Every tabs judge in the world has biases; some are kind and tell you what they are but most default to the meaningless and helpless drivel that is quoted above. But it's not true. They say they will listen to anything, but it turns out you have to do it in a certain style or a certain format to win it. Often they mean run anything but run it in the way I recognize from judging X types of tournaments (local, national, Kansas-y, Texas-y, etc.).

    I will finish with the position that occasionally gets me in trouble here in Wisconsin and, I'm sure, a growing "reputation" at national tournaments: "Not only is 'the judge should adapt to the debate' not helpful, it is actually harmful to good debate." IF, and this admittedly only works if you accept this, the purpose of debate is to give students skills and prepare them for the "real world", then this idea that the audience adapts to the persuader is completely misguided. Never does this happen in life. The persuader's job is to find out what the audience thinks, what will convince them, and deliver that. It's a challenge, for sure. We have seemingly eliminated that challenge from debate with the common "Run whatever you want." We would do well to go back to a more diverse judging pool with admitted biases. Teach the kids to adapt by giving them meaningful, detailed paradigms and sticking to them. It has to stop being a badge of shame for paradigms to mean something again.

  8. CJ Clevenger

    @Dan Hansen

    I have to agree with you Dan. I have been struggling with ways to phrase my judging philosophy to make it useful to debaters for over a year now. The problem is that I seem to end up in the same place. The conundrum that I run into is where do I draw the line. It seems to me that the purpose of my judging philosophy is to help the students understand they way that I think about and frame the debate in order for them to be able to better persuade (and I use this term loosly) my ballot for them. I would love to tell students exactly what arguments specifically that I find persuasive against certain arguments, but the last thing I want to hear is my argument verbaitim from my judging philosophy in the 2AC. That responsibility lies with the debaters, so often times what is left is vagueness about how I see the debate that is obviously never completely acurate and the result is a misinterpretation.

    I attempt objectivity in my judging. Which by all admissions is basically impossible. I have argumentative theories that I lean towards. But at the sametime, it is still the job of the debaters to incorporate those into thier strategies and EXECUTE them. I place this issue soley at the feet of the debaters AND coaches (as I myself have been guilt as well before). Too many times debaters do not read or read and do not pay attention to what is available to them. I have seen too many teams ignore what a judges philosophy says. I think that this has lead to more judges writing less about what they think about debate in thier philosphies.

    This is not to say that we sould be ignoring what arguments that the debaters want to run, rather that there is a medium ground that can easily be established. This is a shorter version of my rant that I have had about the mythical divide between K and Policy debaters/judges. Debaters need to learn that while I might not prefer thier "style" of argumentation, that does not mean that I am not open to voting for it. Rather they should read my philosophy and understand how they can make thier argument a winnable one in front of me.

    Our philosophies as judges should not be law, rather they should be general manuals to the way that we as judges process information and arive at our decisions. My hope in writing mine (altough I often feel I fall short, something always seems to be lost in translation) is that it provides the basic information that a team needs to steer thier decisions. Mine seems to get longer every year but hopefully more precise. Additionally having student judge more debates does not help for a student to understand judges. It only allows them to understand judges who think like them. We all process information in our own ways often times arriving at the same conclusion, just from different perspectives. We have all been on that panel where after the debate an RFD is given and one judge says I voted the same way but saw the debate differently and arrived there differently. Rather than sending them out to judge we need to teach them HOW to judge.

    I know some of this is off tangent, but often times I feel the discussion of the divide of judges and debaters can not be divoriced from one another.

  9. Joey

    I came across this when reading the Prop. 8 decision:

    "Blankenhorn's mere recitation of text in evidence does not assist the court in understanding the evidence because reading, as much as hearing, "Is within the ability and experience of the trier of fact.""

    I don't know that the students are supposed to be experts in the same way that an expert witness is supposed to be an expert, but it makes for an interesting point of departure. (I also don't know that competitive debate necessarily cares much about a judicial decision model.)

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