The Evolution of Plans In Policy Debate, Part 6: Policy Testing, Planicality, and Hypothesis Planning

This is the sixth and final article in a series about the history of plans in policy debate. The first article explained the early history of plans, covering the 1910s to the 1960s. The second article discussed the era beginning in the late 1960s and ending in the mid-1980s. The third article covered one of the significant developments in the late-1970s and 1980s: extra-topicality. The fourth article documented the other major development of the 1980s and early 1990s: the topical, plan-inclusive counterplan, which shaped debate through the 2000s. The fifth article discussed the rise of “normal means” PICs and process counterplans during the 2000s and 2010s and documented the plan writing adjustments made in response to them. This article covers the current era of debate, including a discussion of planicality and the emergent “hypothesis planning” approach to plan writing and counterplan competition.

In his 1979 summary of the hypothesis testing paradigm, David Zarefsky wrote the following about plans:

1. The wording of the proposition receives increased importance; the specifics of the plan to implement the resolution are of less importance. For the terms of this paradigm, nothing is being adopted, so the mechanics of the plan are of relatively trivial significance. The function of a plan is to illustrate the principles embodied in the proposition, thereby focusing the argument upon those principles. But all debate about the plan itself is conditional, or hypothetical, in nature. Consequently, it may not always be necessary to present a plan—the principles of the proposition may be self-evident. If a plan is presented, it need not have the specificity of a piece of legislation, since it is not being submitted for adoption. Should some difficulty be discovered in one of the plan’s peripheral features, the plan could be amended, so long as the amended version still embodied the principles implicit in the proposition.

By contrast, the wording of the proposition is of central importance, since the proposition is the hypothesis being put to the test. Any different statement of a proposition assumes the character of an alternate hypothesis. In order for proposition x to withstand the challenge that alternate hypothesis y could account equally well for the phenomena being discussed, a specific defense must be made for proposition x—not just for “a change” or even for a direction in which change should proceed. Hence the genre of “justification” arguments is of special significance. For example, the proposition that the federal government should establish, finance, and administer programs to control air and water pollution fails if reason cannot be given for each of the three indicated actions, for action by the federal government, and for controls over both air and water pollution. To do less might call for an alternate proposition, but not the specific one at hand (Zarefsky 1972). Or, as Trapp summarizes, the key question for the judge is, “Does the affirmative case provide sufficient reason to affirm or justify all of the terms of the resolution?” (Trapp 1976).

In 2021, no high school or college national circuit policy debate judge would self-identify as a “hypo-tester:” no contemporary judge knowingly adopts the hypothesis testing paradigm when evaluating debates, and very few are probably even aware of its existence. But while hypothesis testing as a paradigm has completely fallen out of favor, hypothesis testing’s influence on 2010s and early 2020s debate is remarkable — and almost universally unnoticed.

In order to understand the emergence of “hypothesis planning” — the term I use to describe one of the most popular features of the current era of plan writing and counterplan debating — it is important to understand the origins of hypothesis testing in debate and its role in the “paradigm wars” of the 1970s. This requires a lengthy digression, but understanding these underlying theoretical issues is essential to understand contemporary debate practices.

In a 2004 article about the emerging policy vs. kritik divide, Roger Solt offered this succinct summary of the “paradigm wars” era:

Debate has long been fractured by what at the time were believed to be deep divisions. When I began debating at the very end of the 1960s, the stock issues approach, more rhetorical and more oriented towards the general public, was in the process of being displaced by policy making, a view of debate which was more analytical and more geared to expert audiences. In the early 1970s, hypothesis testing emerged as a challenge to the prevailing policy making orthodoxy. Gaming and tabula rasa perspectives came along a little later to offer their own slants on how debate should be done. Both of these paradigms helped to encourage the development of the “utopian counterplan” in the mid to late 1980s. At this point, the basic division seemed to be between those who believed policy realism to be an important aspect of debate and those who thought that debate should be more concerned with exploring “alternative futures.”

These different schools of thought were first labeled “paradigms” by David Zarefsky. Borrowing his language from Kuhn’s study of scientific revolutions, Zarefsky was suggesting that these various orientations within debate reflected fundamentally different philosophies or worldviews concerning the activity. This was an insightful way of describing debate’s divisions, and it served to structure the basic way in which we viewed debate theory for a couple of decades. The debated differences and disagreements seemed deep, even fundamental or “paradigmatic” at the time. But in retrospect, they have come to seem more like minor quarrels within an essentially unchallenged consensus.

As Solt notes, the clash between the policymaking (or policy systems) paradigm and the hypothesis-testing paradigm was the most important debate theory controversy of its day. In their retrospective on “NDT Debate in the 1970s,” Greg Rosenbaum and Charles Garvin summarize the disagreement as follows:

At an abstract level, 1970’s NDT debate saw the refinement of two schools of thought in how the activity evaluated affirmative and negative presentations. One school, perhaps best identified with David Zarefsky and his Northwestern colleagues, viewed debate as “hypothesis testing,” wherein the topic was seen as a statement of scientific hypothesis, the affirmative case presented a set of facts and research results to support the hypothesis and the negative presented facts and research to deny the hypothesis. At the end of a debate, the judges were charged with determining whether the research and argument supported the truth or falsity of the hypothesis, with a presumption of falsity. The other school, perhaps best identified with Jim Unger and his Georgetown colleagues, viewed debate as a contest between competing policy systems, one presented by the affirmative within the bounds of the topic’s limitations and the other presented by the negative, limited only by it not being within the bounds of the topic’s limitations. At the end of the debate, judges were to choose a winner based upon which policy system had been proven to be “better” on a comparative basis, without reference to notions of truth or falsity.

In the “standard” narrative (one that I have often repeated), the policymaking paradigm eventually prevailed. While some judges continued to self-identify as hypothesis testers even into the early-2000s, most judges considered themselves policymakers or — as Solt notes — games players or tabula rasa judges, a “meta-paradigm” that rejects the very idea that judges should adopt a particular judging paradigm, instead leaving paradigmatic issues up to debaters to hash out.

But while it is true that the policymaking paradigm has substantially shaped debate practices through the current day, so has the hypothesis-testing paradigm. And in the 2010s and early 2020s, the assumptions and argumentation norms of the hypothesis-testing paradigm are more influential than they have been at any time since the late 1970s. This has gone almost completely unnoticed.

Of the two major paradigms, the policymaking paradigm should be easier for contemporary debaters to understand. In their seminal 1980 article “The Logic of Policy Dispute,” Allan Lichtman and Daniel Rohrer described it as follows:

Resolutions of policy require competing advocates to debate the suggested adoption of a policy or plan of action. The practical outcome of a debate, of course, is not an actual policy, but an opinion about whether to affirm that a decision-maker should embrace the policy in question. This is a special kind of affirmation different, for example, from affirming the truth of a proposition of fact. Factual disputes pivot solely on assessments of probability or likelihood; an advocate defending an assertion of fact must demonstrate that his claim is more likely to be true than the competing claim of an opposing speaker. Policy disputes, however, tum on assessments of probability and value, both of which are relevant for determining the relative benefits to be gained from potential courses of action. An advocate upholding a resolution of policy strives to demonstrate that examination of both the likelihood and value of policy outcomes reveals that the proposed action is preferable to competing suggestions.

From the perspective of the policymaking paradigm, the judge is deciding the debate based on a comparison of policy systems. As Lichtman and Rohrer note, this is true even if the negative defends the status quo:

If policy comparison results in the affirmation of the debate resolution, judges should vote for the affirmative team. If not, they should vote negative. This process inherently requires a comparison of two or more policy systems to determine their relative merits. Policy resolutions are speech acts recommending courses of action that can be tested only by comparison to other possibilities. Negative teams cannot merely adopt the position sometimes known as “straight refutation”—a simple denial of arguments raised by the affirmative team. In order for comparison to take place it must defend one or more competitors to the policy system advocated by the affirmative. A program of action is affirmed because it is superior to all other proposed competitors and rejected because it is not as desirable as at least one other competing proposal. Inevitably the rejection of one policy means the adoption of another. Even doing nothing or suspending judgment is a form of action and thus a policy: at minimum, the suspension of judgment means continuing the present system, [end page 239] which is affirming a course of action, even if it does not necessarily foreclose accepting the resolution at a later time.

Therefore, for adherents of the policymaking paradigm, practical questions related to the affirmative plan’s solvency are very important:

Negative teams can, of course, argue that even if instituted, an affirmative proposal could not be effectively implemented or enforced. Although prohibited from alleging that decision-makers will repeal the affirmative plan (this would simply be a backdoor version of the illegitimate argument that the plan would not be adopted), negative teams can contend that the government will take action to undermine its intent (this is known as a “circumvention argument”) or that the government either will not or cannot enforce the proposal (this is known as an “enforcement argument”). By raising enforcement and circumvention arguments, advocates attempt to diminish the probability that the plan will achieve desirable outcomes even when adoption of the proposal is not an issue.

The details of affirmative plans and negative counterplans are thus particularly important for policymaking paradigm judges:

Similarly, if the negative team chooses not to defend the existing order, but to propose counterplans, it need not assume responsibility for demonstrating the political viability of those alternatives. As a reasonable means of opposing the debate resolution, the negative could claim that we “should” take another course of action instead. For example, some of those opposing adoption of civil rights legislation argued that the government should instead attempt to alleviate racial discrimination through a program of education and moral persuasion. Of course, counterplans are also subject to circumvention and enforcement arguments. Moreover, in order for adequate comparison of policy systems to take place, both teams must explain the details of their proposals. In sum, the same standards that apply to affirmative plans apply to negative counterplans; both logical rigor and competitive fairness are preserved.

This should be obvious to those who have studied plan texts from the 1970s. As I documented in part two of this series, the “super-plans” of this era ballooned to many hundreds of words, peaking with Georgetown’s 589-word plan in the final round of the 1977 National Debate Tournament.

But as this article’s opening quotation from Zarefsky makes clear, the hypothesis-testing paradigm posits a very different role for plans and counterplans in debate. “When the hypothesis-testing paradigm is applied to current forensic practice,” Zarefsky argued in that 1979 article, “several theoretical implications result. Six of these implications will be considered briefly.” They are as follows:

First, the resolution — not the plan — is the most important issue in the debate. For hypothesis testers, plans are optional; like the earliest plans from the first half of the 20th century, their only purpose is to help illuminate the general principles of the resolution. They are not advocacies, and the affirmative is not affirming only the plan (as an “example” of the resolution); they are affirming the resolution as a whole.

Second, presumption is always against the resolution. Because the resolution is treated as a hypothesis to be tested, the affirmative always has the burden of proof. From this perspective, Zarefsky explains, the negative’s role is to “test” the resolution, not to advocate a competing policy system:

2. Presumption is placed against the specific proposition being debated. This procedure, as described above, assures a rigorous test of the proposition. It differs significantly from the traditional approach, in which presumption is thought to lie naturally with the present system because of the risks inherent in change. [end page 19] The hypothesis-tester regards presumption as stipulated rather than natural. Moreover, he or she recognizes that there are risks in both change and stability and that neither change nor stability is a complete characterization of the normal state of affairs.

One might ask why rigor is served by placing presumption always against the proposition; indeed, it might seem that to do so is to fail to test rigorously the arguments advanced by the negative. But the negative is not proposing a thesis for adherence; its aim is only to negate. Rejecting the proposition does not preclude taking any other position. An alternate hypothesis may be proposed for testing, the original hypothesis may be refined and then reexamined, further study may be undertaken, and so forth. By contrast, to affirm the proposition is to make a personal commitment that it is probably true. Since rejection involves fewer risks than does acceptance, it is appropriate to locate presumption against the resolution. Such reasoning is analogous to that by which the scientist presumes the null hypothesis. Mueller et al. (1970) explain that “false rejection of the null hypothesis will lead to action that will not in itself provide a corrective for a wrong decision”.

It might seem that the hypothesis-tester’s placement of presumption involves a distinction without a difference, since it still rests initially with the negative. But the difference is that the negative cannot lose the presumption, except by concession or by advocacy of the proposition. As a consequence, hassles over the differences between major and minor repairs, or between repairs and counterplans, are avoided. So long as the negative opposes the proposition, it retains presumption.

Third, fiat is only a tool to facilitate testing the hypothesis, not a method of imagining actual plan (and counterplan) enactment. While disputes over the appropriate scope of affirmative and negative fiat are rampant among adherents of the policymaking paradigm, they are mostly irrelevant for hypothesis testers:  

3. “Fiat power” is but a figure of speech. In recent years, there has been much discussion of the role of “fiat power” in argument, especially as a device to overcome attitudinal barriers to the solution of a problem (Ling and Seltzer 1971; Cox 1975). According to one point of view, debate involves the “willing suspension of disbelief” so that, for the duration, the judge is regarded as a decision maker with the power to implement a decision. Much argument may ensue, therefore, about advantages deriving from a guarantee of action, from the presence of a clear mandate, and so on. In response it has been argued that such advantages are bogus because they derive from the existence of the fiat power rather than from the substantive merits of the proposition.

According to the hypotheses-testing paradigm, all such dispute is rendered moot. “Fiat power” is not treated as if it were real, because argument remains in the world of words and nothing is adopted. To speak of “fiat power” is only to talk, in a shorthand way, about what might be imagined to be the consequences if action contemplated by the proposition were taken. Assuming, for the purposes of argument, that actions were taken is a convenient way to consider their effects and implications. But it is a far different assumption to imagine that actions actually were taken.

Fourth, the affirmative must “justify” the general principles of the resolutional hypothesis against all alternative hypotheses introduced by the negative. If the negative proves any alternate hypothesis — or, to put it another way, if the affirmative fails to justify the resolution against every alternate hypothesis — the negative should win the debate. Zarefsky explains:

4. Case development emphasizes the generic defense of the proposition, and inherency becomes especially important. It would be a weak affirmative case which reported the facts (such as the number of deaths from highway accidents), assumed that the facts were coercive of action, and conveniently offered the proposition as an appropriate solution. The negative might respond to such a case with a long list of alternative possibilities for action which might be equally good. Since these options are analogous to alternate hypotheses, they would defeat the proposition unless the affirmative could undermine each of them individually—a difficult task, especially when time is limited. Instead, the affirmative should take as its point of departure not “the facts” but the proof requirements of the proposition. The principles implicit in the proposition would be defended; this defense then could envelop a large array of nonpropositional alternatives. On the proposition calling for a guaranteed annual income, for example, discretionary programs might be indicted on the grounds that they are necessarily arbitrary in their administration. Any discretionary program the negative might introduce (unless it could be shown specifically to be an exception) would fall prey to this indictment, whereas any nondiscretionary alternative, by definition, would incorporate the guarantee called for in the proposition. The generic defense of the proposition, which may be strategically the wisest choice in any case, becomes a necessity within the hypothesis-testing paradigm.

Fifth, all arguments about plans and counterplans are inherently conditional. For hypothesis testers, counterplans are merely “justification” arguments; like plans, Zarefsky argues, they need not be presented with specific details:

5. Counterplans are by nature conditional. Just as the affirmation of the proposition does not lead automatically to the adoption of a plan, so the rejection of the proposition does not constitute endorsement of some alternative. The function of the counterplan is to argue by example that the specific proposition under consideration has not been justified. How can proposition x be said to be warranted if alternative proposition y accounts for the data equally well? The counterplan, then, is merely the justification argument in a different form. And, like the justification argument, it always contains an implicit conditional: If it is necessary to take some action to deal with a problem, then the action contemplated by the proposition has not been shown to be warranted. As a consequence, to present a counterplan is not necessarily to concede that there is a need for a change. Nor—as explained above—does the presentation of a counterplan constitute a surrender of presumption (unless, of course, the counterplan affirms the proposition). And, since arguments about both the plan and the counterplan are conditional, the counterplan need not be presented with the specificity appropriate to legislation. All that is necessary is to claim that action based on principles incompatible with the principles of the proposition would be an equally appropriate way to deal with a given problem.

Sixth and finally, the role of the ballot is to answer a single, yes/no question: is the resolutional hypothesis probably true? As Zarefsky explains, this is very different from the policymaking paradigm’s “this-versus-that” decision:

6. Finally, the hypothesis-testing model directs that the judge make a yes-or-no decision, rather than a this-versus-that decision. The choice is not similar to the one the judge faces when voting for candidates for public office: “Which shall I choose, x or y?” Rather, the choice is similar to the one the judge faces when deciding whether to support a tax increase in the school district: “Shall I choose x, yes or no?” Only one hypothesis is being tested—the hypothesis that takes the form of the proposition at hand. To affirm the proposition is to commit oneself to its probable truth. To reject the proposition, however, is not necessarily to make any commitments with respect to alternatives. The decision to reject x need not imply the affirmation of y. Instead, the choice is between the central principles of the proposition and the universe of nonpropositional alternatives.

Contemporary debaters may notice similarities in their own theoretical assumptions and practices in both the policymaking paradigm and the hypothesis-testing paradigm. As noted earlier, neither paradigm really “won;” components from both paradigms survived and evolved over the ensuing decades, and contemporary debate retains many essential elements of both.

To understand how these paradigms developed from their original formulations through today — and therefore to understand “hypothesis planning” — it is helpful to review some of the specific battles from the era of the “paradigm wars.” In a wide-ranging critique of the hypothesis testing paradigm, for example, Thomas Hollihan took issue with Zarefsky’s endorsement of conditional argumentation:

A fundamental implication of the hypothesis testing paradigm is a recognition that all arguments can be considered conditionally. If presumption is against the specific proposition being debated, then the only negative objective is to deny, in any way conceivable, that the proposition is warranted. This strategic objective is especially apparent in the presentation of conditional counterplans. …

The hypothesis testing paradigm thus suggests that the negative can run a counterplan without sacrificing presumption, and moreover, they can jettison the counterplan if they wish. This is entailed since by choosing to argue a counterplan, they are not conceding that a change might be necessary, only suggesting a potential avenue for change which rests outside the proposition.

The negative’s task, according to this paradigm, is to deny the truth of the hypothesis. Therefore, they are free to use any conceivable means to deny the proposition. The negative is thus permitted to present contradictory arguments—the first negative can argue non-propositional alternatives at will without fear of preempting the second negative’s disadvantages. The second negative can present and evidence disadvantages of the horrifying effects of adopting the proposition and for any of the counterplans. Because all arguments are offered conditionally, negatives need not be concerned with the possibility that the disadvantages might negate their counterplan(s).

For Hollihan, the hypothesis-testing paradigm would incentivize negative teams to simultaneously introduce multiple, contradictory counterplans. In his view, this would result in shallow, uneducational debates. In this extended excerpt from his article, Hollihan describes a model of debate that should be eerily familiar to observers in the early 2020s:

I believe the hypothesis testers are sincere in the belief that the quality of debates will improve by having them model more closely modern science’s systematic methods of inquiry, yet in practice this paradigm has failed to achieve this goal. Negatives have taken quite literally the hypothesis tester’s notion that any argument which can deny the “probable truth” of the proposition is acceptable. Consequently, we have witnessed a proliferation of conditional arguments. Freed from the burden of presenting unified and coherent policy positions, negatives sometimes have run amok—concurrently arguing several conditional policy alternatives, [end page 174] and arguing none of them in any real detail. Not surprisingly, I propose that the quality of substantive argumentation has been undermined as debaters scramble to create and answer these conditional arguments.

Undoubtedly many advocates of hypothesis testing will object to my blaming their paradigm for the poor quality of academic debates—that is not what I am saying. I do not claim that hypothesis testing causes poor debating, but I do believe it has been accepted as a theoretical defense for practices which are tantamount to poor debating. Thus negatives who make extensive use of conditional arguments ground their strategy in an explanation of the basic precepts of hypothesis testing.

The rapid delivery “spread” attack preceded hypothesis testing as the vogue for contemporary academic debate. However, this paradigm has in some respects given debaters another motive for offering more arguments. The hypothesis testing negatives are rewarded for the number of arguments they can offer which might potentially deny the truth of the proposition. They are not necessarily rewarded for the quality of those arguments. Since the negatives are free to pick and choose what they wish to extend in rebuttals, they are not penalized for creating situations where many more arguments are presented in constructive speeches than can be covered in rebuttals. Hypothesis testing encourages argument without risk. Since debaters are not punished for making shallow, contradictory, poorly evidenced, or even ill-thought-out arguments, they feel encouraged to introduce every conceivable argument into the round. While this does not mean they will forego high quality arguments in order to make bad arguments, the hypothesis testing paradigm does increase the likelihood that negative debaters will “use the clock” as an ultimate negative strategy.

The affirmative is denied the option of selectively answering negative attacks. Harried affirmative speakers must respond to all negative arguments, even those argued conditionally, since they cannot know which arguments the negative will extend. The affirmative must also answer all the disadvantage and plan-meet-advantage arguments even if they are contradictory or if they apply to the counterplan. Debaters can, of course, indict the hypothesis testing paradigm which spawned all of these conditional arguments itself, but to attack only the theoretical basis for the arguments and not the arguments themselves is a very high risk strategy, a risk most debaters are understandably unwilling to take. I am not suggesting that hypothesis testing makes it impossible for affirmatives to win debates; this is obviously not the case. What has happened, however, is that both affirmative and negative teams have learned to develop many superficial arguments that can be supported quickly from conclusionary evidence; and as a result, debates have become less well suited for the analysis of complex issues.

The hypothesis testing paradigm also lessens the pressure on negative speakers to plan their strategies together. Second negatives need not even listen to the first negative speech when debating within this paradigm. Each speaker is permitted to read preplanned, briefed arguments oblivious to any concern for the contradictions which might occur between their arguments. As long as negatives do not introduce propositional counterplans, there are no constraints on their strategy. And of course, if they should lose the argument that their counterplans are non-topical, they can simply instruct the judge to drop the offending counterplan from the round without penalty. If there is no merit to having debaters prepare with colleagues, why have team debate?

Negative speakers have not been challenged to creativity in the construction of their conditional counterplans. The use of the “generic” counterplan and the “generic” disadvantage 19 is now so common that negatives can make the same arguments against an infinite number of affirmative cases. Thus one might hear in any given round two, three, or even more different yet generic counterplans suggesting respectively: alternative funding sources (i.e. foundations), alternative decision makers (i.e. fifty states acting in unison), or alternative means for enacting the resolution (i.e. Constitutional Conventions). This is not to suggest that these alternatives are not worthy of argument—they would all provide a myriad of important issues worthy of consideration. In fact, they raise so many important issues it is difficult to deal with any one of them in a short 72 minute debate; let alone two, three, or more. (In at least one round I know of, nine counterplans were offered). Often these counterplans are only mentioned in the constructive speeches and readily conceded by the negative in the rebuttals once the affirmative has taken the time to answer them. Meanwhile, other important issues which deserve the attention of the debaters, those issues centering on the actual warrant for a policy change suggested in the first affirmative speech, are given scant attention.

In a response, Zarefsky and fellow hypo-tester Bill Henderson strongly disagreed with Hollihan’s conclusions. First, they argued that “the spread” (the strategic introduction of as many arguments as possible within the constraints of a debater’s limited speech time) was unrelated to the selection of paradigms:

Hollihan attributes to hypothesis-testing a multitude of sins. Some of them, such as the development by the negative of “generic” counterplans and disadvantages, have nothing whatsoever to do with hypothesis-testing. These are strategic choices made by negative debaters in order to permit depth of analysis and research on a few issues which are central to the resolution. Since depth of argumentation is the alternative to the “spread,” it would appear that generic arguments promote what Hollihan wants. It is difficult to read this section of his essay without concluding that he hates the disease and also the hates the cure.

In other places, Hollihan’s assertions about the hypothesis-testing paradigm do not seem well founded. For example, he states that “the hypothesis testing negatives are rewarded for the number of arguments they can offer which might potentially deny the truth of the proposition. They are not necessarily rewarded for the quality of those arguments.”7 But, whatever paradigm one employs, so long as time is finite there is a tradeoff between number and depth of arguments. Rather than encouraging “argument without risk,” hypothesis-testing reminds the advocate that time spent in one way cannot be spent in another. The risk is always that one has chosen to develop weaker arguments rather than stronger ones. But there is nothing unique to hypothesis-testing about any of this. The same tradeoffs and risks are run by the policy-making negative which introduces seven disadvantages in the hope of carrying two, the counterwarrant negative which offers five counterwarrants in the hope of carrying three, or the affirmative which presents three independent advantages in the hope of carrying any.

Moreover, they argued that Hollihan misunderstood the hypothesis-testing paradigm’s contention that all arguments are conditional:

We come finally to the implication of hypothesis-testing which seems to bother Hollihan the most: “a recognition that all arguments can be considered conditionally.”10 That statement is not entirely correct. It is arguments about plans or counterplans that are considered conditionally, and it is not that these arguments can be considered conditionally but that they are by nature conditional. The events haven’t occurred; they are possibilities for the future. The argument won’t bring them about. Therefore, according to the hypothesis-testing paradigm, the question being addressed by the debate concerns belief, not action. The outcome of the debate is a judgment about whether a statement is probably true; it is not the taking of any action. The purpose of any discussion by either affirmative or negative of possible actions is to help us to imagine hypothetically how people might act in different situations. Sometimes such imagining helps to determine whether the statement is probably true.

If, for example, the objective described in the resolution is found desirable, and conditional argumentation establishes that there is no way to achieve the objective save by the agent identified in the resolution, then there is good reason to believe that the resolution is probably true. On the other hand, should conditional argumentation establish that the goal could be achieved equally well in some other way, then there would be no unique warrant for believing the resolution to be true, and hence no reason to run the risks of committing oneself to a belief that may turn out to be false. It is in this sense that Zarefsky suggested, in a passage Hollihan quotes, that “the function of the counterplan is to argue by example that the specific proposition under consideration has not been justified.”11

According to Zarefsky and Henderson, this theoretical framework for counterplans also has important implications for plans:

This view has several corollaries. One is that the conditional nature of plan arguments applies both to affirmative and negative. The hypothesis-testing paradigm offers no special dispensation to the negative; it also allows the affirmative, if it wishes, to concentrate on the central principles of the resolution rather than the mechanics of a specific plan. Second, from this perspective it makes no difference whether either team [end page 181] labels its plan argumentation as conditional; by the very nature of this species of argument it is conditional. And third, while this point of view neither encourages nor discourages the presentation of multiple conditional arguments (by either the affirmative or negative), it does not altogether rule out this strategy.12

For Zarefsky and Henderson, though, the fundamental problem with Hollihan’s critique was that it did not respond to the hypothesis-testing paradigm as such, but to the ad hoc introduction of hypothesis testing arguments into a debate guided by the policymaking paradigm. Again, this extended quotation should sound oddly familiar to contemporary debaters:

There is a basic disagreement at the outset. Referring to hypothesis-testing, Hollihan judges that “in practice this paradigm has failed to achieve this goal” of improving the quality of debate. In a parody of the scientific metaphor he similarly ends the essay with the judgment “that the data are in on the experiment.”14 Hollihan evidently thinks that hypothesis-testing has been tried in practice and found wanting; on the contrary, we are not sure that we have seen the paradigm really tried.

Hollihan’s alleged abuses are not results of, nor legitimized by, the hypothesis-testing paradigm. Virtually all are attempts by the negative to employ this or that offshoot of the paradigm, but to graft it onto a debate otherwise guided by the policy-making paradigm. Hence while Hollihan believes he is criticizing “practices which stem from the use of the paradigm in a manner entirely consistent with its basic precepts,”15 he is really attacking not the paradigm itself but a caricature of it.

It is interesting that Hollihan’s examples all come from the negative, although the hypothesis-testing paradigm offers direction to both affirmative and negative. Indeed, the affirmative case which is properly constructed according to this paradigm would eliminate what Hollihan regards as abusive use of multiple conditional arguments. To avoid generic counterplans suggesting alternative funding sources, alternative decision-makers, or alternative means for enacting the resolution is easy. Affirmatives defend the central principles implicit in the resolution.

Hollihan describes a debate in which one might hear “two, three, or even more different yet generic counterplans suggesting respectively: alternative funding sources (i.e., foundations), alternative decision-makers (i.e., fifty states acting in unison), or alternative means for [end page 182] enacting the resolution (i.e., Constitutional Conventions).”16 Now, what permits this morass is not the hypothesis-testing paradigm—it is the nature of the affirmative case. If the affirmative, instead of merely presenting “an example of the resolution,” had undertaken to defend the central principles implicit in the resolution, the problem would have been overcome.

If the resolution included reference to funding sources, decision makers, or means of enactment, the properly constructed affirmative already would have defended the options embodied in the resolution. The answer to questions such as “Why the federal government?” and “Why not foundations?” already would have been presented. Hence the negative would get nowhere by merely raising the questions. Any tendency for the negative to proliferate conditional arguments would be checked by the need to develop those arguments in enough depth to defeat the position the affirmative already had introduced.

Alternatively, it may be that the resolution does not specify funding sources, decision makers, or means of enactment. Then the affirmative easily could dismiss the negative’s conditional arguments. They are not responding to the resolution’s central principles. If the affirmative can cut through the thicket of these conditional arguments and refocus the debate on the resolution, much artificial debating can be eliminated. The nuts and bolts of legislation can be left to Congressmen with their specialized expertise, while debaters discuss the merits of resolutions. It may be worth noting that it is precisely the assumption that all plan argumentation is conditional, which permits the affirmative to dismiss arguments which do not address themselves directly to the resolution.

Zarefsky and Henderson offer several examples to demonstrate their point. Contrary to the prevailing plan writing norms of the era, which were informed by the assumptions and strategies of the policymaking paradigm, they counseled for shorter, more vague, less detailed plans:

Several examples from recent debate resolutions should be helpful here. The 1976-77 college topic was “Resolved: That the federal government should significantly strengthen the guarantee of consumer product safety required of manufacturers.” Whether that strengthening were a consequence of funding through general federal revenues or some other tax does not seem relevant to the core meaning of the resolution. However, the decision-makers (the federal government) are identified in the resolution. The affirmative case should therefore justify these decision-makers. If it does, it already will have answered negative questions about why other decision-makers are not used.

The 1982-83 high school topic is “Resolved: That the United States should significantly curtail its arms sales to other countries.” The affirmative case would need to justify action by the United States. Once it does so, it contains the answer to hypothetical negative alternatives which call on other agents to curtail sales instead. The selection of enforcement procedures, however, would not represent a core element within this resolution. Therefore, the affirmative could dismiss the attacks related to a specific enforcement mechanism as not germane to a decision for or against the resolution. Clearly, the attack might provide reasons to reject this or that particular action taken pursuant to the resolution, but not to the adoption or rejection of the resolution itself. (In other words, it is not inherent.)

The 1982-83 college topic is “Resolved: That all United States military [end page 183] intervention into the internal affairs of any foreign nation or nations in the Western Hemisphere should be prohibited.” Teams claiming benefits from non-intervention into Western Hemisphere affairs, and not providing much more than a restatement of the resolution as their “plan,” are conforming to a hypothesis-testing mode in this respect.17 They are concerned not so much with the details of a specific plan for a specific country as with establishing that the broad principle implicit in the resolution is probably true.

These examples should have more general applicability. We are suggesting that the antidote to the excessive proliferation of conditional arguments is to be found within the hypothesis-testing paradigm itself. The remedy is in more rigorous attention to affirmative case construction. Whereas Hollihan suggests that “those issues centering on the actual warrant for a policy change suggested in the first affirmative speech” are the ones which deserve the attention of the debaters,18 we would modify that statement to say that the issues implicit in the terms of the resolution are those to which attention should be paid. The hypothesis-testing paradigm, if anything, encourages more careful analysis of the resolution. To parody Hollihan, we would say that, since one of the primary goals of debate training is improving students’ ability to understand and analyze complex issues, this is in and of itself, a benefit.

In response, Hollihan dismissed the notion that hypothesis-testing in theory can be usefully separated from hypothesis-testing in practice. His point was that it didn’t matter whether arguments informed by hypothesis testing were consistent with the hypothesis-testing paradigm; they were making debates worse, and the hypothesis-testing paradigm was at fault. Ultimately, Hollihan’s position was that debates informed by hypothesis testing principles were less educational than debates informed by the policymaking paradigm:

My claim that it is reasonable and educationally useful for negatives to defend a policy and to do so consistently was dismissed by Zarefsky and Henderson as merely an “a priori stipulation.”14 They conceded that consistency was reasonable, but asserted that it is not necessarily the only, or even the most reasonable approach. They neglected to refute the arguments I offered to justify this approach as the most reasonable, however, notably: the wording of resolutions, the value of logical consistency, and the sophistication of research required. They also neglected to offer any reasons as to why hypothesis testing was equally beneficial from an educational perspective. They claimed my statement begged the question and assumed that hypothesis testing was inferior to policy making only because it was different. Obviously I provided reasons for my conclusion. They asserted theirs, and provided no specific arguments as to the merits of the hypothesis testing paradigm.

The underlying issue — whether debate is best served by relatively more in-depth debates between competing policy proposals — highlighted perhaps the essential difference between the policymaking and hypothesis-testing paradigms. Lichtman and Rohrer explained the argument in favor of their policymaking paradigm as follows:

First, Rowland contends that the policy-making model is unclear because it fails to indicate “whether the negative [end page 146] must defend a single policy system or may defend several systems.”9 Rowland’s quandary is readily resolved; policy comparison may involve any number of negative alternatives. As we noted in 1980, “A program of action is affirmed because it is superior to all other proposed competitors and rejected because it is not as desirable as at least one other competing proposal.”10

Rowland subsequently impugns the multiple policy option, arguing that it overloads the time capacity of debate by enticing negative teams to advance policy alternatives that cannot be adequately described or analyzed in a single debate.11 This argument has force, however, for the hypothesis testing model, not for the policy systems paradigm. Unlike the hypothesis testers, we neither arbitrarily grant a favorable presumption to every negative alternative nor permit substantive contradictions among counterplans. We also require sufficient development of counter-proposals for accurate policy comparison. In this context, the multiple policy option might actually serve to raise the standards of argumentation in academic debate. Negative advocates would be well advised to take the time necessary for presenting new policy systems only when their sustaining arguments are of high enough quality to offer compelling alternatives to affirmative cases.

In a later article, Lichtman identified the major functional differences between his policymaking paradigm and the hypothesis testing paradigm as they affected plans and counterplans. Two are most important for the current discussion.

First, he explained, the policymaking paradigm requires a higher burden of proof for counterplans:

Finally, our sanctioning of multiple policy options for negative advocates does not collapse the policy-making model into a version of the hypothesis-testing paradigm. The key distinctions between our position and hypothesis testing still exist. Unlike the hypothesis testers, we do not automatically grant a favorable presumption to whatever counterplan is proposed for debate. Harkening again to Lichtman, Garvin, and Corsi (1973): “The alternative counterplan approach does not affect [end page 148] debate presumptions. The negative is still obliged, for each counterplan, to prove its superiority to the affirmative policy system.” Thus, unlike its competitor, the policy-making model discourages the presentation of frivolous counterproposals designed to consume affirmative speaking time in an effort to overcome an arbitrary presumption which hypothesis testers grant to any negative system. Unlike the hypothesis testers, we require that each negative counterplan be presented in sufficient detail to permit comparison with affirmative policy systems. Hypothesis testers seemingly are open to accepting nothing more elaborate than a brief outline of speculative alternatives to the “null hypothesis” expressed by the debate resolution. An indictment of these flaws in the hypothesis testing model may have confused some into thinking that Lichtman and Rohrer’s formulation of policy systems debate forbids multiple policy options by negative advocates.

This echoes the earlier back-and-forth between Hollihan and Zarefsky and Henderson. For hypothesis-testers, policy details were largely irrelevant; for policymakers, they were an essential part of policy system comparison.  

Second, Lichtman argued, the two paradigms hold mutually exclusive conceptions of the relationship between the resolution and the affirmative plan. He explained the difference by disputing the theoretical validity of the counter-warrant strategy, something I briefly discussed in the fourth article in this series:

The error made by Paulsen and Rhodes in their analysis of counter-warrants is a fundamental one, little different from that made by the hypothesis testers in their attempt to fashion a general paradigm for debate. For Paulsen and Rhodes a debate resolution is akin to an empirical generalization about a class of items (e.g., the mean per-capita income for residents of the United States is $8,000 per year). Like an empirical generalization, moreover, a resolution is most accurately affirmed inductively through scrutiny of a sufficiently large number of representative examples. In this view the affirmative plan constitutes but a sample of one, the import of which can be overcome by the presentation of counter-examples that together constitute both a broader and more representative sample than the affirmative plan alone. According to Paulsen and Rhodes, “the negative could elect to ignore the affirmative presentation and attempt to delineate other, more significant areas which would deny the resolution … and by providing more than the affirmative, the negative would be showing that…the instances examined by the affirmative are certainly not sufficient in number to warrant the generalization.”

Unfortunately for proponents of the counter-warrant, a policy resolution is not an empirical generalization sustained by inductive inference. Its relationship to a particular affirmative plan is, in fact, deductive rather than inductive. It can be readily shown, for instance, that for certain classes of resolutions—namely those calling for adoption of a particular kind of program or policy—affirmation of any single realization of the resolution logically entails affirmation of the resolution irrespective of the evaluation of any other instances. Consider, for example, the resolution that “the federal government should adopt a program of public work for the unemployed.” In this instance, affirmation of any one such program would entail affirmation of the resolution, irrespective of the disposition of any other programs. A favorable verdict, for instance, on a program of repair, maintenance, and service work would mandate adoption of the resolution whether or not advocacy also sustains the efficacy of a program of heavy construction or one of digging and refilling ditches. The negative, in this case, could endlessly propose counter-warrants without advancing in the slightest its goal of opposing affirmation of the debate resolution.

At this point, we can then broadly describe the important differences between the policymaking paradigm and the hypothesis-testing paradigm.

For an adherent of the policymaking paradigm:

  1. Debates are comparisons between competing policy systems.
  2. The plan is the focus of the debate.
  3. The topical plan must be an example of the resolution.
  4. Proving the desirability of the topical plan deductively proves the desirability of the resolution.
  5. The negative may defend the status quo or an alternative policy system.
  6. In order to compare policy systems, plans and counterplans must be explained in detail.
  7. All arguments for or against a policy system must be logically consistent.
  8. Fiat is used to imagine the adoption of proposed policy systems in order to compare them.
  9. Presumption lies with the least change from the current policy system.
  10. The role of the ballot is to choose the better policy system: the affirmative’s or the negative’s.

For an adherent of the hypothesis-testing paradigm:

  1. Debates are scientific tests of the resolutional hypothesis.
  2. The general principles of the resolution are the focus of the debate, not any particular plan.
  3. Plans are examples of how the resolution could be adopted, not advocacies.
  4. Counterplans are “justification” arguments, not counter-advocacies.
  5. Fiat is a figure of speech, not the imagination of action actually taken.
  6. All arguments about plans and counterplans are inherently conditional.
  7. Presumption is always against the resolutional hypothesis.
  8. The negative’s role is to test the resolutional hypothesis; there is no requirement of logical consistency.
  9. The role of the ballot is to answer the yes/no question: is the resolutional hypothesis likely true?
  10. To win, the affirmative must disprove every alternate hypothesis.
  11. To win, the negative must prove only one alternate hypothesis.

As practiced in the late 2010s and early 2020s, policy debate generally shares some assumptions with the policymaking paradigm and others with the hypothesis-testing paradigm. While these assumptions are not universal — many are still the subject of ongoing theory debates — I think they can be summarized as follows.

From the policymaking paradigm, contemporary debate mostly shares the following assumptions:

  1. Debates are comparisons between competing policy systems.
  2. The plan is the focus of the debate.
  3. The topical plan must be an example of the resolution.
  4. Proving the desirability of the topical plan deductively proves the desirability of the resolution.
  5. The negative may defend the status quo or an alternative policy system.
  6. Fiat is used to imagine the adoption of proposed policy systems in order to compare them.
  7. Presumption lies with the least change from the current policy system.

And from the hypothesis-testing paradigm, contemporary debate mostly shares the following assumptions:

  1. Plans are examples of how the resolution could be adopted, not advocacies.
  2. Counterplans are “justification” arguments, not counter-advocacies.
  3. All arguments about plans and counterplans are inherently conditional.
  4. The negative’s role is to test the resolutional hypothesis; there is no requirement of logical consistency.

Some of these assumptions are difficult to reconcile with one another. Why, for instance, is the negative’s role to “test” the resolution if the plan is the focus of the debate? Similarly, why does presumption lie with the least change if the affirmative has the burden to “justify” each part of the resolution? And if debates are still comparisons between competing policy systems, why have the requirements for logical consistency and detailed explanations of proposed policies been set aside?

The answer lies in the way debate theory has evolved over the last 50 years. Beginning in the late 1980s and 1990s, the back-and-forth between competing paradigms gave way to a more ad hoc understanding of debate theory. With the rise of the games player, tabula rasa, and critic of argument paradigms, many judges decided that theoretical disputes should be left up to the debaters. Eventually, judges stopped self-identifying as adherents to any particular paradigm altogether; since the mid-2000s, “judge philosophy” has replaced “judge paradigm” as the common terminology for a judge’s preferences about debate. And unlike judge paradigms, judge philosophies don’t require internal coherence: they are an ever-changing, ad hoc set of beliefs and preferences about debate rather than a monolithic paradigm.

In the post-paradigm environment, debaters were allowed to experiment with strategies and theoretical arguments derived from different paradigms simultaneously. This resulted in the same phenomenon that Hollihan noticed and that Zarefsky and Henderson criticized in the 1970s — attempts by negative teams to “graft [hypo-testing arguments] onto a debate otherwise guided by the policy-making paradigm.”

During the late 1990s and 2000s, negative teams who otherwise accepted the assumptions of the policymaking paradigm deployed a number of arguments rooted in hypothesis testing: multiple conditional counterplans and kritik alternatives (alleged to provide the best “test” of the affirmative), “negation theory” (the argument that the negative’s only role is to negate the affirmative), performative contradictions (defended on the basis of negation theory and the idea that the negative has no burden of logical consistency), “justification”-style counterplan explanations (positing that the affirmative has failed to “justify” particular words in the resolution, and asserting that this is an important affirmative burden), and — later — resolution-based counterplans (relying on the logic of “justification” to argue that counterplans can compete based on the general principles of the resolution even though the plan remains the focus of the debate).

Importantly, these arguments were never defenses of the hypothesis-testing paradigm as such. Instead of treating the resolution as a scientific hypothesis to be tested, negatives accepted the policymaking paradigm’s understanding of debate as a comparison of policies. However, they imported the language of “testing” and applied it to policymaking.

While never identified this way, it is my opinion that this new, hybrid “policy testing” paradigm was the dominant paradigm of the 2000s and early 2010s. Instead of treating the resolution as a hypothesis to be tested, it treated the plan as a policy to be tested. This assumption informed many of the major theory controversies of the era, including disputes over conditionality, plan-inclusive and process counterplans, plan specification arguments (agent specification, overspecification, implementation specification, etc.), and even kritik frameworks (although this controversy is largely beyond the scope of this series).

In general, the policy testing paradigm retained the important burdens on the affirmative from the policymaking paradigm. At the same time, it lifted many of that paradigm’s burdens from the negative. In essence, the affirmative was now evaluated based on the policymaking paradigm, but the negative was evaluated (mostly) based on the hypothesis-testing paradigm. This was great for the negative; freed from the traditional burdens established by the policymaking paradigm, they “innovated” with broader 1NCs, more types of counterplans, logically inconsistent strategies, and a wanton disregard for most affirmative theory gripes. After all, their role was to “test” the affirmative’s policy, and tests are supposed to be hard.

This explains why, for example, an affirmative could lose to agent specification (with the judge deciding that the plan was insufficiently specific to enable in-depth policy comparison), but also lose going for “conditionality bad” (with the judge deciding that the negative needs to be able to introduce four contradictory counterplans in the 1NC in order to appropriately “test” the affirmative). These decisions weren’t contradictory; they simply reflected the different standards applied to affirmative and negative arguments.

Why did this policy testing paradigm emerge? It was not by anyone’s intentional design. Most likely, it is because it is generally more difficult to convince judges to disallow something than it is to convince them to allow it. Over time, negatives took advantage of this slight comparative advantage in ways that accumulated into a considerable side bias. It got much harder to be affirmative, and this remains the case today.

As always, though, the “losing” side of prevailing debate trends did not give up. Instead, they responded with strategic adjustments. As documented in the previous article in this series, one of the most important affirmative adjustments happened with plan writing. In order to reduce their vulnerability to the most popular counterplans — in the late-2000s and early-2010s, “normal means PICs” and process counterplans — affirmatives crafted plans with vague language, flexible mandates, and resolutional language.

This trend has only accelerated over the last few years. Consider, for example, the plan texts read in the elimination rounds of the 2020-2021 NDCA National Championship and Tournament of Champions. The topic was “Resolved: The United States federal government should enact substantial criminal justice reform in the United States in one or more of the following: forensic science, policing, sentencing.”

What observations can be made about this collection of NDCA and TOC elimination round plan texts?

1. Plan texts ranged in length from 17 words to 85 words. The average plan text length was 40 words; the median plan text was 33 words. For reference, the resolution was 26 words; the median plan text was slightly more than 25% longer than the resolution.

2. All 36 plans included the phrase “The United States federal government should;” none explicitly specified a particular branch of government as their actor.

3. Twenty-three plans (64%) included the phrase “The United States federal government should enact substantial criminal justice reform;” adding the three plans that included the phrase “establish substantial criminal justice reform,” a total of 26 plans (72%) included the phrase “substantial criminal justice reform.”

4. Twenty-six plans (72%) used the verb “enact.” The alternative verbs used were “abolish,” “prohibit,” “amend,” “establish,” “bar via criminal penalty,” and “reform.”

5. Eleven plans (30%) included the phrase “policing and/or sentencing” (or “sentencing and/or policing”); another used the phrase “policing and sentencing.” Overall, twenty-five plans (69%) included the word “policing,” sixteen (44%) included “sentencing,” and two (5%) included “forensic science.”

As this analysis demonstrates, the “state of the art” plan text in high school policy debate in 2021 tends to be relatively short and mirrors some or most of the resolution’s language. A common method of plan writing is to mirror the resolution’s wording and add a “by…” clarifying clause. These clauses sometimes specify a “direction” for the proposed policy; other times, they merely specify an area or issue without committing to any particular policy direction. Few (if any) plans include significant details clarifying their mandates, implementation, or enforcement.

These plan writing conventions have made it increasingly difficult for negatives to succeed using the same strategies and assumptions from the policy testing paradigm. One important development has been “planicality,” or the use of resolutional language in the plan to shield affirmatives from topicality arguments, topical PICs, and process counterplans. Instead of crafting a plan that is a topical example of the resolution, affirmatives have shifted to crafting “sub-resolutions.” These are still referred to as plans, but they are more similar to the plans of the early 20th century than to the plans defined by the policymaking paradigm.

In this way, affirmatives have (finally) found a way to use the assumptions and arguments of the hypothesis-testing paradigm to their advantage — something the negative has been doing for forty years. Of course, affirmatives have not fully embraced hypothesis testing: the requirement that they defend the whole resolutional hypothesis against every alternate hypothesis is (for obvious reasons) unappealing. Instead, they have imported part of the hypothesis-testing paradigm and reappropriated it within what I have called the policy testing paradigm.

This new paradigm is what I am calling hypothesis planning. In the same way that the policy testing paradigm incorporated elements of the hypothesis testing paradigm into the policymaking paradigm (mostly to the benefit of the negative), the hypothesis planning paradigm does the same — but mostly to the benefit of the affirmative.

It holds the following core assumptions:

  1. Debates are comparisons between competing policy systems.
  2. Plans are sub-resolutional examples of how the resolution could be adopted, not advocacies.
  3. The general principles of the sub-resolutional plan are the focus of the debate, not the details of any particular plan.
  4. Proving the desirability of the topical, sub-resolutional plan deductively proves the desirability of the resolution.
  5. All arguments about plans and counterplans are inherently conditional.

This most accurately describes the way that plans are now commonly conceptualized. Rather than specific advocacies, they are treated more like a resolution: as a set of many possible policies, none of which is necessarily advocated by the affirmative. I use the term “sub-resolution” to describe this type of plan because it allows us to re-imagine the hypothesis-testing paradigm for the 21st century. Consider the assumptions of the original hypothesis-testing paradigm, but replacing resolutional with sub-resolutional:

  1. Debates are scientific tests of the sub-resolutional hypothesis.
  2. The general principles of the topical sub-resolution are the focus of the debate, not any particular plan.
  3. Plans are examples of how the sub-resolution could be adopted, not advocacies.
  4. Counterplans are “justification” arguments, not counter-advocacies.
  5. Fiat is a figure of speech, not the imagination of action actually taken.
  6. All arguments about plans and counterplans are inherently conditional.
  7. Presumption is always against the sub-resolutional hypothesis.
  8. The negative’s role is to test the sub-resolutional hypothesis; there is no requirement of logical consistency.
  9. The role of the ballot is to answer the yes/no question: is the sub-resolutional hypothesis likely true?
  10. To win, the affirmative must disprove every alternative hypothesis.
  11. To win, the negative must prove only one alternative hypothesis.

With the exception of the language of “scientific” testing, this is a relatively accurate description of national circuit high school and college policy debate in 2021. It is certainly a more accurate reflection of contemporary debate practices than is the policymaking paradigm of the 1970s.

This has important implications for affirmative and negative ground. Interpreted as sub-resolutions, plans no longer carry the burden of detailed specification. More importantly, counterplans which claim to compete based on different mechanisms or methods of implementation aren’t competitive; they are just “other examples” of the sub-resolution (plan). And topicality is much more difficult for the negative to win; sub-resolutional planicality posits as the affirmative’s plan a facially topical subset of the resolution. However the negative interprets the contested words in the resolution, that’s what the sub-resolution (plan) “does,” means, or includes.

This new type of plan writing is extremely frustrating for negative teams. But it is the logical reaction to the set of hypothesis-testing-based arguments that negatives have been relying on for decades. Indeed, Zarefsky and Henderson anticipated this exact strategic maneuver way back in 1983. A quote from earlier is worth repeating:

Alternatively, it may be that the resolution does not specify funding sources, decision makers, or means of enactment. Then the affirmative easily could dismiss the negative’s conditional arguments. They are not responding to the resolution’s central principles. If the affirmative can cut through the thicket of these conditional arguments and refocus the debate on the resolution, much artificial debating can be eliminated. The nuts and bolts of legislation can be left to Congressmen with their specialized expertise, while debaters discuss the merits of resolutions.

But where Zarefsky and Henderson saw this as a reason to adopt the hypothesis-testing paradigm, the emergence of hypothesis planning is an even better outcome for the affirmative. Instead of wholly shifting from policymaking arguments to hypothesis testing arguments — and thereby granting the negative the abundant ground offered by that paradigm — affirmative teams have incorporated hypothesis testing principles into debate without accepting the burden to affirm the whole resolutional hypothesis. In the same way that policy testing was the best of both worlds for the negative, sub-resolutional hypothesis testing — hypothesis planning — is the best of both worlds for the affirmative.

In this new hypothesis planning era, negative teams will now be forced to make adjustments. Many of the strategies that succeeded during the policy testing era are losing their effectiveness against affirmatives that use planicality and sub-resolutional plan writing. In response, negatives might need to abandon some of their own hypothesis testing-informed strategies in order to advance a policymaking paradigm-based counter-strategy. Or perhaps they, too, can more fully embrace the assumptions of the hypothesis-testing paradigm in order to craft more strategic positions against these new sub-resolutional plans. The counter-warrant and hasty generalization may need to be revived, for example.

Whatever happens next, I hope that this series will help current and future debaters formulate better arguments about the perennial (and likely never-ending) disagreements about plans and their role in policy debate. As I noted in the first article in this series, these disagreements have existed since the very early days of the activity. As norms and strategies have shifted, new plan-related controversies have emerged. I hope this history — however incomplete — will help ground future controversies in their historical context. Generations of students and coaches have spent countless hours thinking about plans, and it would be a shame to forget the insights and innovations they came up with along the way. I hope this series did their ideas justice.

Works Cited

Hollihan, Thomas A. “Conditional Arguments and the Hypothesis Testing Paradigm: A Negative View.” Journal of the American Forensic Association, Volume 19, Issue 3, 1983, pp. 171-178.

Hollihan, Thomas A. “Conditional Arguments and the Hypothesis Testing Paradigm: A Negative Rebuttal.” Journal of the American Forensic Association, Volume 19, Issue 3, 1983, pp. 186-190.

Lichtman, Allan J. “Competing Models of the Debate Process.” Journal of the American Forensic Association, Volume 22, Issue 3, 1986, pp. 147-151.

Lichtman, Allan J. and Daniel M. Rohrer. “The Logic of Policy Dispute.” Journal of the American Forensic Association, Volume 16, Issue 4, 1980, pp. 236-247.

Lichtman, Allan J. and Daniel M. Rohrer. “Policy Dispute and Paradigm Evaluation: A Response to Rowland.” Journal of the American Forensic Association, Volume 18, Issue 3, 1982, pp. 145-150.

Solt, Roger E. “Debate’s Culture of Narcissism.” Contemporary Argumentation and Debate, Volume 25, 2004, pp. 43-44.

Zarefsky, David. “Argument as Hypothesis-Testing.” Advanced Debate (David A. Thomas, ed.), 1979.

Zarefsky, David and Bill Henderson. “Hypothesis-Testing in Theory and Practice.” Journal of the American Forensic Association, Volume 19, Issue 3, 1983, pp. 179-185.

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