Author Archives: Bill Batterman

Impact Description vs. Impact Comparison: A Better Way To Teach Impact Debating

Imagine that you’re in the market for a new car. You’re looking for a crossover, so you head to a Ford dealership and talk to a salesperson about a new Escape. She tells you that the Escape is a great car because it has great fuel economy, tons of interior space and leg room, and a powerful engine. It’s a pretty good sales pitch, but you want to be diligent and so you visit the nearby Honda dealership to check out a new CR-V. The salesperson tells you that the CR-V is a great car because it is extremely reliable, comes backed with an exceptional warranty, and gets great highway mileage. It’s another pretty good sales pitch. Wanting to make the right decision, you head back to the Ford dealership and ask the salesperson why you should buy the Escape instead of the CR-V. She reiterates that the Escape has great fuel economy, tons of interior space and leg room, and a powerful engine. But you already knew that; you want to know why the Escape is better than the CR-V. Disappointed, you return to the Honda dealership and ask the salesperson why you should buy the CR-V instead of the Escape. He reiterates that the CR-V is extremely reliable, comes backed with an exceptional warranty, and gets great highway mileage. Again, you are disappointed. You already knew that the CR-V was a good car, but you wanted to know why the CR-V was better than the Escape. Frustrated, you head home to read online reviews of the two models. While the sales associates did a good job of highlighting some of the best features of their respective models, they didn’t help you make the decision about which car to buy. For that, you were on your own.

The position you were left in is the same one that many judges are left in by debaters. Most students learn early in their careers that impact comparison wins debates. Judges love impact comparison because it helps them make decisions about the relative importance of different parts of a debate. As a judge, it is frustratingly difficult to make sense of debates without impact comparison. But much of what debaters consider impact comparison is really impact description. Instead of comparing the relative importance of each side’s impacts, debaters present sales pitches for their own impacts. While this is better than nothing, it outsources responsibility for comparison to the judge. Left with two competing sales pitches, they are on their own to decide which pitch is more believable. In the same way that good car salespersons convince potential buyers that their car is a better choice than their competitor’s car, good debaters convince judges that voting for their impact narrative is a better choice than voting for their opponent’s impact narrative. This requires comparison, not just description.

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Debate Like A Chef: The Philosophy of Mise-en-Place

Mise-en-place is the religion of all good line cooks. … As a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system. … The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it: you know where to find everything with your eyes closed, everything you need during the course of the shift is at the ready at arm’s reach, your defenses are employed. If you let your mise-en-place run down, get dirty and disorganized, you’ll quickly find yourself spinning in place and calling for back-up.

— Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

A recent National Public Radio story by Dan Charnas (“For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like A Chef”) describes the process and philosophy of mise-en-place (or “put in place”), a French phrase that means “to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.” Charnas suggests that “perhaps the principles of culinary organization can be extended to help even those of us who aren’t top chefs.”

For several years, I’ve used an analogy to mise-en-place to help communicate to students the importance of carefully preparing and organizing their debate materials. In the same way that an expert chef gathers and arranges the necessary ingredients before preparing a dish, an expert debater needs to gather and arrange the necessary materials before constructing a speech.

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Thoughts on the Proposed Resolutions for 2015-2016

The National Federation of High Schools has released descriptive paragraphs of the proposed resolutions for the 2015-2016 season in order “to promote extensive discussion by coaches and students over the next six weeks.” Below the fold, I offer my initial thoughts about the slate of potential topics. Keep in mind that it is still early in the process and these opinions are subject to evolution and change based on further research and discussion. If you have an opinion about one or more of the proposed topics, share it in the comments. 

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How To Never Clip Cards: A Guide For Debaters

Evidence misrepresentation has become a major issue in high school and college policy debate over the last few seasons. “Card clipping” — the act of misrepresenting the text of evidence that a debater orally presents during a speech — is a particularly pernicious form of academic dishonesty that has drawn the attention of state and national governing organizations. With new guidelines in the process of being implemented, it will be important for students to understand how to protect themselves from accusations of evidence misrepresentation. To that end, this article seeks to provide students with straightforward, actionable advice about how to avoid clipping cards.

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Site Moved To New Host

We have completed moving the site to a new hosting provider. There will be many bugs until all the kinks are worked out, but our existing content should now once again be available. We have also restored our results archive. The podcast and other content will be restored as soon as possible. The new setup should give us a fresh start and make it possible for us to publish new content. Please bear with us as we complete the transition.

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.

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.

Infrastructure and Immigration Final 2012-2013 Topic Candidates

The National Federation of High Schools has announced the final two topic candidates for the 2012-2013 season. Based on voting by states and national organizations, the candidates are infrastructure and immigration:

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its legal protection of economic migrants in the United States.