Monthly Archives: September 2021

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Seaver on Trans-Topical Argument and Evidence Recycling

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

For many years during the 2000s and early 2010s, the National Debate Coaches Association published an “NDCA Coaches Corner” column in the Rostrum. Picking up where David Cheshier’s late-1990s and early-2000s column left off, volunteer member coaches took turns writing articles about a variety of theory and coaching issues. More than a decade later, these articles are fascinating to revisit.

In this post, I will share Frank Seaver’s 2007 Coaches Corner article about argument and evidence recycling between topics. Written a few years before the transition to paperless debate, Seaver’s article criticizes the national policy debate circuit’s tendency to reuse the same arguments year after year even when the recycled arguments are not core issues in the scholarly literature about the new topic.

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Six Lessons Debaters Can Learn From AOC’s Cross-Examination of Mark Zuckerberg

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an excellent cross-examiner. Most congressional hearings are mind-numbingly boring, but AOC’s ability to dismantle witnesses has generated many productive and entertaining exchanges. Debaters can learn a lot about effective cross-examination by studying her strategies and techniques.

One powerful example of AOC’s prowess as a cross-examiner that I have often shared with debaters occurred during a House Financial Services Committee Hearing on October 23, 2019. In just five minutes, AOC effectively posed a series of challenging questions that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg struggled to competently answer. Their exchange received a lot of media attention and likely contributed to Facebook’s decision a few months later to amend its political advertising policy.

Below the fold, I will identify six lessons that debaters can learn from this cross-examination. Before continuing, I suggest that you watch (or re-watch) the video of AOC’s exchange with Zuckerberg; it is embedded below. A transcript of the hearing is also available; the relevant section begins with “The gentlewoman from New York, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, is recognized for five minutes.” If you aren’t familiar with the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, it might also be helpful to read this Vox explainer (or at least click through this short Wired piece).

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Burden of Rejoinder, Episode 1: Answering Process CPs

In the first episode of The 3NR’s new podcast, co-hosts Bill Batterman and Brian Manuel discuss process counterplans (like the popular National Governors Association/Uncooperative Federalism Counterplan) and offer a few tips for how affirmative teams can better answer them. The following sources are referenced during the episode:

Trufanov, Anthony. “Stupid CP’s are Stupid.” Debate Musings, 2020.

Ulrich, Walter. “The Legitimacy of the Counter Procedure Counterplan.” Journal of the American Forensic Association, Volume 23, Issue 3, Winter 1987, pp. 166-168.

Watson, Carly. “This Argument Ends the Process Counterplan.” MSU Debate Blog, 2021. (Find in page: “This Argument Ends”)

New episodes of Burden of Rejoinder will be released approximately twice per month. To ask Bill and Brian a question or to suggest an episode topic, email

Recommended Podcast Episode: Bracewell Environmental Law Monitor on WOTUS

Podcasts are an excellent educational resource for debaters. I will occasionally recommend specific episodes that debaters might find particularly helpful.

I recently wrote about the Arizona District Court’s WOTUS decision and what it means for the water resources protection topic. Students looking for a deeper dive into the subject should check out two recent episodes of the Bracewell Environmental Law Monitor podcast. The first (from September 15th) is a very wonky discussion of WOTUS, its history, its current status, and its future. It is a conversation between three Bracewell attorneys: Daniel Pope, Ann Navaro, and Brittany Pemberton. Its target audience is lawyers and other professionals in industries affected by WOTUS, but I think debaters will appreciate its depth.

The second episode is a five minute update from later that day. In it, Pope explains the EPA’s announcement that it will no longer be enforcing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. At the time the earlier episode was recorded, this had not yet been determined.

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Conliff on Counter-Advantages

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

When digging through old debate theory scholarship, I often find remarkable consistency across eras. While theories evolve, many foundational issues have remained perennial controversies for several decades (or longer). I have already shared many articles in this series that demonstrate this surprising consistency.

While these are enlightening articles to revisit and study, I also enjoy uncovering articles that propose novel theories that never caught on and that have been lost to history. Here, I will share one example: an article proposing a position called the “counter-advantage.”

Published in 1993 in Debate Issues, the article was written by Charles Conliff, a Miami University of Ohio college debater. As far as I can tell, it has never been made available online; there is no reference to it on Google.

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The Arizona District Court’s WOTUS Ruling and What It Means For The Water Resources Protection Debate Topic

A few weeks ago, you probably saw headlines like “Federal Judge Strikes Down Trump Rule Governing Water Pollution” (in the New York Times), “Federal judge throws out Trump administration rule allowing the draining and filling of streams, marshes and wetlands” (in the Washington Post), “Judge Ditches Trump’s Dirty Water Rule” (from Earthjustice), and “Ruling Threatens Progress Made in Clean Water Efforts” (from the American Farm Bureau Federation).

I think most debaters immediately recognized that this was an important development, but figuring out exactly what happened and what it means for the high school debate topic has been very confusing. A Colorado Politics headline put it best: “Waters of the US: just what the heck is going on?“.

Below the fold, I will attempt to explain the District Court’s decision, the background information you need to know to understand it, and how it will affect affirmative and negative arguments on this year’s water resources protection topic.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Hynes on Counterplan Competition

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I recently revisited Debating Counterplans: Modern Theory and Practice. Written in 1987 by University of Louisville Director of Debate Tim Hynes, this short book offers a valuable intellectual history of the counterplan as it had developed from the early 1970s through the late 1980s. As far as I know, it is not currently available online; this post (and future posts in this series) will remedy that.

The first chapter that I will share is the fourth chapter of the book: “Counterplan Competition.” In it, Hynes explains the origins and “modern” (1980s) developments of counterplan competition including the six potential standards for determining competition: Mutual Exclusivity, Net Benefits, Redundancy, Philosophical Competitiveness, Resource Competitiveness, and Artificial Competitiveness. After describing each standard (including its strengths and weaknesses), Hynes concludes with a discussion of the two major affirmative strategies that had been developed to disprove counterplan competition: extra-competitiveness and permutations.

At the time, standards for competition had not yet been fully settled; Hynes was describing a set of theoretical concepts that were still in flux. In retrospect, his analysis was quite prescient: Hynes accurately identified the mutual exclusivity and net-benefits standards for determining competition as the strongest, and he correctly predicted (citing Solt) that other standards would eventually be subsumed by the net-benefits standard.

In my view, contemporary students would benefit greatly from reading this history of counterplan competition — especially given how many debates in 2021 are decided by counterplan competition arguments. It is one thing to understand that counterplans compete based on mutual exclusivity or net-benefits because your debate coach or summer institute instructor told you so. It is quite another to understand why these standards were established and how and why affirmative teams developed responses like extra-competitiveness and (proto-) permutations. Students that understand the intellectual origins of these arguments from decades ago will be much better prepared to intelligently debate the extremely complicated counterplan competition issues that dominate today’s tournaments.

The full text of “Counterplan Competition” is below.

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A Hard Job That Keeps Getting Harder: The Reasons Why Debate Coaches Quit Are The Same Today As They Were In 1965

Debate coaching is a difficult job that has become even more difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last March, coaches were forced to scramble to salvage the rest of the debate season after schools and large parts of the economy were shut down. They figured out how to teach and coach and judge online, taught students to compete online, and struggled to sustain their debate programs amidst often severe budget cuts.

Now debate coaches have been forced to figure out what to do next. Some are back in in-person classrooms with inconsistent (or non-existent) masking and social distancing policies. Others are still teaching and coaching online. Some are bouncing back and forth between the two. When will in-person tournaments return? Some already have, but no one in a position of public health authority is making that decision. Coaches are mostly on their own to decide what is safe and how to continue coaching debate during an ongoing pandemic. And all of this responsibility has been added on top of their “regular” jobs as teachers or professionals in other fields.

It’s overwhelming. Anecdotally, many coaches have decided to give up on debate either temporarily or for good. Others have significantly scaled back their involvement. Coaching shortages were already a pervasive problem before the pandemic. Now, the outlook for the debate coaching profession seems grim. How many coaches will quit before the pandemic is finally “over”? How many debate programs will permanently end because they were unable to recruit and retain a committed coach?

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Ranking The Five Proposed High School Policy Debate Topics for 2022-2023

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) recently released the slate of potential policy debate topics for the 2022-2023 season. They were developed in early August at the NFHS Policy Debate Topic Selection Meeting in Milwaukee. The NFHS describes the selection process as follows:

Forty-seven delegates from 19 states, the National Speech and Debate Association, the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues, the National Catholic Forensic League and the National Debate Coaches Association attended the NFHS Policy Debate Topic Selection Meeting August 6-8, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ten topic reports were presented by authors who, for the past 8+ months, researched each topic area.

State delegates and participants deliberated for three days to determine the final five topic areas: Global Climate Change, Global Geo-Political Crisis: Emerging Technologies, Global Health Security, Russia, and Treaties.

Serving on the 2021 Wording Committee were: Nicole Cornish, Texas (Chairperson); Dustin Rimmey, Kansas; Jennifer LeSieur, Oregon; Colton Gilbert, Arkansas; Sam Normington, Washington; Eric Oddo, Illinois; and Colleen Mooney, Pennsylvania.

Balloting for the 2022-23 national high school debate topic will take place in a two-fold process. During the months of September and October, coaches and students will have the opportunity to discuss the five selected problem areas. The first ballot will narrow the topics to two. A second ballot will be distributed to determine the final topic. Each state, the NSDA, the NAUDL, NCFL and the NDCA will conduct voting in November and December to determine the favored topic area. In January, the NFHS will announce the 2022-23 national high school debate topic and resolution. It will be posted on the NFHS website on the Speech, Debate, Theatre page and sent to state associations and affiliate members.

Identifying problem areas and crafting resolutions is extremely difficult. Because the policy debate topic is adopted nationally, it must meet the needs of diverse constituencies. Developing a topic that creates student interest and promotes high-quality debates for both “classic”-style circuits who rely on lay judges and national circuit-style circuits who rely on professional judges is nearly impossible.

Unsurprisingly, then, gripes abound every year when the slate of potential topics is announced. Many debaters and coaches go even farther, arguing that the entire topic selection process is broken beyond repair and must be immediately overhauled. While some reforms might indeed be beneficial, it is hard to believe that any topic selection system could ever achieve widespread (much less universal) support. There are hundreds of issues that merit selection as a national debate topic, but only one issue is selected for each season. Inevitably, this will disappoint more people than it pleases.

Given this challenge, I think the topic process actually tends to work remarkably well. I am grateful for the (mostly unpaid) labor that so many coaches provide throughout the process. Without their hard work producing well-researched topic papers and carefully crafted resolutional wordings, our topics would be significantly worse.

Below the fold, I will offer a few preliminary thoughts about each of the 2022-2023 proposed topics.

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