Monthly Archives: November 2011

Debating Statistics

Statistics… suffice to say- not my strong suit. But one thing I know about debating them is that they are usually BS. The way I often teach students to think about statistics is that they are generally calculated in social sciences using a 95% confidence interval- which in shorthand is a way of saying “we are 95% sure this is correct” (obviously not the technical definition).

If we conduct 1,000 studies and publish the results, and 95% of them are likely to be correct, that means we will have 50 studies that are probably incorrect. These studies make up the oddball news items like “drinking soda makes you live longer” and other weird things you see that have “statistical” support.(Credit to Sklansky on this one)


Those 50 also probably make up a disproportionately large percentage of statistics used in debate. The reason is obvious- they are crazy and debaters gravitate towards crazy arguments. As people are taught more and more to rely on peer reviewed quality sources it should be remembered that just because something has some math behind it doesn’t necessarily mean its “true”.


In that vein here is an interesting link

At long last, regressions were run and… no result. No relationship between price shocks and conflict, even in the most generous scenarios. I shrugged and thought, “Well, so much for that.” My committee said, “Huh, what about that child soldiering project we told you not to do?” And off I went on my career as micro-conflict man.

In the meantime, lots of papers that did see an impact of economic shocks on conflict or instability did get published. The conventional wisdom grew: Rising incomes made the state more attractive to rebels as a prize, and falling incomes made it easier to recruit rebels. No matter that these two ideas ran in apparently opposite directions.

Meanwhile, I met other academics that had run the same regression as me. Famous ones you have probably heard of. Their reaction was the same as mine: “Oh, I found that result,” several said, “but I’m worried there’s nothing there because my data have problems, and the specification wasn’t quite right. So I left it out of the paper. I’ve been meaning to get back to that.”

Let’s follow a simple decision rule: run your regressions with inevitably imperfect data and models. If you get the theoretically predicted result (any of them), publish. If not, wait and look into your data and empirical strategy more.

The result? As in the natural sciences, most published research findings are probably false.



The Return of The 3NR Podcast

The long-awaited third season of the 3NR Podcast kicks off with a special guest edition featuring James Herndon (of Emory University) and Whit Whitmore (of the University of Michigan) alongside Scott Phillips. Topics covered include international fiat, impact turning new block impacts after link turning in the 2AC, and research practices/qualifications. The Contemporary Argumentation & Debate issue discussed in the podcast is available here.

Interested? Head over to and download the new episode. If you haven’t done so already, you can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

Consult Aff- AT: Lying Immoral


Who could object to that? Thou shalt not bear false witness. Tell the truth, and shame the Devil. Transparency, management-speak for honesty, is put forward as the answer to most of today’s ills. But the truth of the matter—honestly—is that this would lead to disaster, for lying is at the heart of civilisation.

Glenbrooks To Host Space Policy Forum

This year’s Glenbrooks will feature a free Space Policy Forum on Friday night. Tara Tate—Director of Debate at Glenbrook South and Co-Director of The Glenbrooks—announced the forum today:

The Glenbrooks is pleased to present, in conjunction with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics as well as the National Forensic League, a Space Policy Forum open to all and free of charge. The forum will be held on Friday, November 18th at 7pm in the Ravinia Room at the Hyatt Deerfield. This panel is a must-see for any policy debater or coach who is interested in expert advice on this year’s topic. Current members of the panel include:

  • Dr. Stanley G. Rosen, former Director of Strategic Development and Integration for Boeing Satellite Systems, now a consultant to the Tofler Associates. Dr. Rosen was also the coach of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s debate team in the 1970’s.
  • AIAA Public Policy, Space Portfolio Manager, Ross G. Bell. Ross will discuss the nature of space policy as it relates to the appropriations committees and other public policy implications.
  • Chelsey Robinson, Southern Illinois University. Chelsea will be speaking to the role of the life sciences in space exploration/development, both as a reality and as a consideration for debaters debating colonization and long-range exploration cases.

Additional forum members will be announced on the Glenbrooks Joy of Tournament web site. Please arrive a few minutes before 7pm to ensure that seating is available. The formal presentation will conclude with a Q/A opportunity for students and coaches to ask specific questions of the experts.

If you’ll be at the Glenbrooks, this is a must-see event.