Some Notes on Impacts

I’m somewhat baffled by many of the debates I see lately (as well as with the decisions of other judges when I listen to them) with the strange focus on terminal impacts, both in what percentage of time is spent debating them, and then even after a lot of time is spent arguing defense to them with how large of a “risk” judges assign them. Especially with people who I have had conversations with about how to debate or adjudicate impacts who when they are then in a debate seem to disregard/not employ the views they had previously expressed.

So below the break are some thoughts on what is going wrong in these debates and in the deciding of said debates.

1. 99.9% of impacts are at best, 1 in 4. Mead, Khalilzad, Spicer, etc- none of these cards make an absolute claim “any economic decline = extinction”. This is for obvious reason- to do so would be stupid. Most authors use words like “could” or “may” to indicate that this is one possibility, albeit one they may think is likely. I can’t think of a popular impact card off the top of my head that I would say does not fit in this category. So when I hear a card like this read in a debate, I generally think to myself “1 in 4”. This is not the worst thing that can happen to your impact- in fact, a reasonable discussion of impacts is a lot easier to sound convincing on than a ridiculous one.

2. Treating terminal impacts as automatically 1 in 4 encourages more discussion of the link and internal link. This can be shown mathematically. If you assume a mead card means extinction every time, then reducing the risk of the link to 50% makes the chance of the disad overall 50%. If, however, you assume 1 in 4, than 1/2 the link = 1/8th the risk of the disad. The way debates seem to work now is you must spend a lot of time reading impact defense cards that state the obvious “not every economic decline causes war” in order to reduce the risk of the impact marginally- if you don’t, the fact that the neg has a “conceded extinction impact” means its “try or die for them” so no matter how high a percentage of your case you win, its irrelevant(for consistency I will continue to discuss as if you were aff vs a da but the same thing applies in reverse). Discussing the link and internal link is superior to debating the impact:

A. The link is the portion most related to the topic and the plan- what we are supposed to be learning about

B. Debating hegemony vs the economy divorced from a discussion of the links into those impacts is shallow and generally a waste of time. Usually each team has 1 poorly warranted laundry list impact card, and then 1 defense card that is reasonable and points out “not always” or “rarely”, an argument you don’t really need a piece of evidence for.

3. The disad turns the case is the most overrated argument in debate. I wrote a post a while ago about the difference between the “disad” turns the case and “war” turns the case and said that the disad turning the case was useful, war turns the case is not. I was wrong, they are both basically useless unless dropped. What I mean by that is I cannot remember the last time I judged a debate or heard a judge discuss a round where they decided the disad turned the case despite the aff team not dropping that argument. The reason for this is simple- most of the times its a real stretch. Failure to pass the KORUS-FTA hurts US trade leadership, which undermines the WTO, which prevents IPR protections… instability in Afghanistan. The KORUS-FTA has nothing to do with Afghanistan. Any time you spend arguing it turns the case would be better spent

A. winning your own impact

B. Attacking the case solvency

4. Link defense beats impact offense every time. Over the last year or so I have judged quite a few debates where the neg went for a single disad and some case arguments, and in the process of doing so they read 4-10 impacts to their disad, and the aff read a ton of cards reading impact defense to all of them. If the neg reads 5 add on impacts in the block, you are much more likely to win reading your 4-6 response cards on a single link defense argument and crushing on it than you are trying to keep up with all their impacts. There are at least 3 reasons for this

A. Collapse- the neg can kick any impact you have good defense on at no cost to themselves strategically, wasting your 1AR time

B. Timewise the 1AR cannot keep up tit for tat with every argument from the block- spending a ton of time on impact defense means your other arguments on the line by line will suffer, increasing the overall “risk” of the disad the neg will win. When the neg wins a very large risk of the link and has 10 impacts, no matter how mitigated they are, the impact defense is usually irrelevant unless you win an overwhelming amount of case.

C. Most impact defense is stupid in that it is a 1 sentence card that states something obvious, especially impact defense cards read in the 1AR.

5. Impact defense is the worst way to deal with affirmatives that have a lot of advantages. This should be obvious- its too big of a time investment to win too little. When an aff reads a ridiculous internal link to warming and then 20 warming impacts, just go for no internal link. The further back the chain of events you attack the more impacts you take out- its that simple. This is why you should be going for counterplans more – because counterplans are basically kick ass internal link answers. They force the aff to either zero in on a few things the CP doesn’t solve or lose.

6. Magnitude comparisons are useless unless there is actually a difference in magnitude -i.e. either your card is much better, the other team truly has a regional only conflict (with no escalation /extinction impact), or you read a card like “BW use o/w nuke war” and they only have nuke war impacts. This is because in the average debate I see each team has read 3+ extinction impacts by the final rebuttals. To make magnitude relevant you need to combine it with your impact defense, which is essentially then a probability argument- how likely is something to cause extinction- not “our extinction is bigger”.

14 thoughts on “Some Notes on Impacts

  1. Kathryn Kernoff

    I strongly agree. Most debates I judge involve too much impact comparison and not enough link/internal link resolution. The biggest difference between the case and the DA is usually the probability, which is won on the line-by-line, not the overview.

    I'd also like to add that timeframe comparisons are usually either trivial or conflate the timing of the link with the timing of the impact. The fact that the vote on SKFTA will happen soon doesn't mean global trade will collapse soon. Timeframe is sometimes worth pointing out when there's a dramatic difference, such as a global warming impact, but even then it's important to realize that it's really just a probability argument and other probability-reducing arguments may have a higher payoff.

  2. Tim Alderete

    This is the Truest (Most True?) thing ever written on Debate. I agreed with every single sentence. Especially "Discussing the link and internal link is superior to debating the impact" and "The disad turns the case is the most overrated argument in debate" and "Magnitude comparisons are useless unless there is actually a difference in magnitude …. which is essentially then a probability argument" and "You should be going for counterplans more." I fist pumped when I read that last one. It was better than Aliens times Dropbox times FMac.

  3. Brody

    It may be difficult and a bit silly to win Korea free trade makes Afghan instability inevitable, but It is much easier to win, say, Korea FTA k2 economy, access GDP based advantages, or k2 Korea relations, access Korea aff impacts, or k2 trade leadership, which is k2 access soft power and heg based impacts. Its also helpful to have a DA turns the case arg against critical teams rolling with Berube and throwing a lot of criticisms of the util impact calculus around in the 2AC.

    I also think Impact offense (or internal link offense) is better than link defense – Link defense on the SKFTA DA will probably win you a certain decrease in the risk that the plan causes economic decline, but an econ add-on probably moves the direction arrow on plans economic effect to a much greater degree.

    I think of impacts like a game of monopoly. A strategy is to block your opponent from having all of one color. In debate it would be blocking your opponent from having all the internal links to one impact. The team that access an impact that is unique to their advocacy tends to come out ahead .

    1. Ross Garrett

      You do not justify why the person with the unique internal link should come out ahead. As the article makes clear (and I agree) the relative probability of a link or internal link SHOULD be the largest determining factor for which side is winning a high risk impact.

      In your example let's say the neg KORUS DA has the only internal link to the economy, however, the link to the DA is mitigated AND the aff is winning a large risk of solving instability in Afghanistan. It is easy to explain why the AFF will win, the risk of the advantage is a lot more probable than the risk of your "unique internal link or impact".

      Secondly, you also don't address the idea that by answering the link the affirmative effectively mitigates every single unique impact the negative reads. You also don't address how a 1AR would effectively be able to deploy your strategy and honestly the 1AR is where great affirmative teams start to differentiate themselves.

      1. Brody

        Im not saying mitigating the link is useless. Im saying you get more traction with offense (Which i never imagined being a controversial statement)

        Neg KORUS DA access the economy, they have a unique and likely probable impact assuming the aff spends a majority of the final rebuttal just arguing if the plan is popular or not. the Aff is ALSO WINNING a unique and probable impact, because they also have a unique afghan instability impact. The debate is a toss up from the facts you give. Does the neg win more of a risk the plan is unpopular than the aff has won a risk of their advantage?

        If the aff argues failure to pass the plan will collapse the economy, and failure to pass the plan will cause afghan instability, it substantially changes how much of a risk the aff has to win in order to justify an aff ballot. If the aff says plan is popular, its key to the economy, and it prevents afghan instability, then the risk of the case the aff has to win is even smaller.

        I dont think it's wrong to answer the link, you obviously change the direction arrow as much if you internal link turn with an add-on.

        By the way, if your 2AC is so shallow the neg has enough time to ANSWER all your arguments, read 5 Impact add-ons, and sufficiently answer the case advantages, so you dont win full risk of a SQ DA, then the problem goes back to the 2AC strat, not 1AR having coverage issues.

  4. Ellis

    Question/scenario: impact A is high probability, not extinction. Impact B is lower probability (like Mead, author says it "may" happen) but absolutely an existential risk. How do you deal with the "extinction inevitable blah blah blah" rant that team B will use?

  5. Crowe

    Agreed. Three random things:

    1. I find myself in the same position judging. I've said before that in most debates (over %90), I feel like I'm comparing competing small risks. Often, on panels, I hear other judges comparing very large or near certain risks in the same debate I saw.

    2. I might take it to another extreme: sometimes I think a relatively POOR analytical link defense argument is even better than good or GREAT evidenced impact defense (if it's a forced choice between the two, which it's often not). Another reason that JUST reading impact defense not only does almost NOTHING positive, but is probably detrimental, is that if a team goes to an environment advantage and ONLY reads four or five "environment is resilient" cards, that team has artificially inflated the link and internal link chain of the advantage. They have basically already dropped all of the warrants that would be used to overcome the impact defense in the first place. Every step of the advantage but the impact seems so "true" at that point that, in a weird twist of fate, the impact seems more likely to occur than it should.

    3. Sounds a little simple and old-school, but I would excuse good "alternate causality" style arguments from the list of "bad impact defense." But again, like Kathryn says, those are really just probability arguments anyway, and oftentimes don't need evidence (or it's better for strategic reasons not to waste time reading evidence).

  6. Brian Rubaie

    While all debate arguments age, I’ve thought recently that impact assessments are areas where future debaters might laugh at us. Debaters who thoroughly contemplate and assess risks will be trend-setters, and this post is a very helpful set of practical advice towards advancing that goal.

    I wanted to add one more of my favorite quotes on the matter;

    “[S]omeone once told me that I “don’t think in terms of risk,” and I partially agree, at least in so far as most people understand the term. I abhor attempts to quantify debate arguments (30% risk of link; 45% risk of a solvency deficit); I don’t think we should conflate truth and tech under the heading of “risk.”

    Here’s another way of putting it: risk only applies to the likelihood of something actually happening in the world (e.g. the “risk of escalation” of a war is low because of deterrence), not to the likelihood of an argument being won or being true (e.g. there cannot be a “risk of a solvency deficit” because of a certain argument. There either is or is not a deficit; it is only the impact of that deficit that is resolved through risk.

    There cannot be a “risk of a link”; there either is or is not a link – the ‘risk’ is how large or small it is, when connected with an impact.

    This might seem like a semantic distinction, but I don’t think so. Arguments in a given debate must be resolved in favor of one team. Arguments are either won or lost; risk helps determine the relative importance of a won-or-lost argument in the context of the rest of the debate.

    Why does this matter? What you might think is “defense” is often sufficient in my mind to defeat an argument.” — Tripp Rebrovick, Harvard debate

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