Category Archives: Instruction & Commentary

Researching The NATO Emerging Technology Topic: Recommended Congressional Research Service Reports

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is Congress’s think tank: a policy research institute housed within the Library of Congress that produces non-partisan reports for members of Congress and their staff members.

The research produced by the CRS is extremely valuable for debaters. Their reports are an excellent source of issue briefings that can help students quickly get up to speed on a policy issue. They are also a useful source for topicality, inherency, “normal means,” and other descriptive (“factual”) evidence. Think of them like Wikipedia entries, but written for a policy audience and with more depth and details. (Not surprisingly, many CRS researchers are former debaters.)

When learning and researching a new topic, CRS is always one of the first sources I consult. I was reminded of this today when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted on her Instagram story about the importance and value of CRS reports:

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Analyzing The NATO Topic Using Justification Burdens: Strategic Considerations and An Affirmative Case Selection Checklist

In sharing David Cheshier’s 1981 article “Justification vs. The Counterplan,” I noted the continuing importance of the justification argument in contemporary debates about counterplan theory. If you haven’t yet read Cheshier’s article, I suggest doing so before continuing.

More broadly, I think the concept of the justification argument provides a valuable tool for analyzing a debate topic and generating research ideas for affirmative and negative arguments. In this post, I will use the concept of the justification argument to break down the 2022-2023 high school policy debate topic:

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its security cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in one or more of the following areas: artificial intelligence, biotechnology, cybersecurity.

When using this method to analyze a resolution, one starts by identifying each of the affirmative’s “justification burdens” as derived from the resolution’s wording. In other words, what does the affirmative need to “justify” in order to make their prima facie case for the resolution? When making this list, it is helpful to pose the burdens as questions: has the affirmative justified the need for XYZ?

For the NATO topic, there are five main justification burdens that the affirmative must arguably meet. For each burden, I will briefly explain the issues that it raises, the negative strategies it invites, and the strategic considerations the affirmative should therefore consider when selecting and designing their cases. For simplicity’s sake, these five burdens are presented in the order that they appear in the resolution.

After identifying and discussing these burdens, I have also provided a checklist that can be used to vet affirmative case ideas. I hope that students and coaches find this helpful as they begin their summer research.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Cheshier on Justification Arguments

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.

In tracking the transition from what I called the “policy testing” paradigm of the late 1990s and 2000s to the currently predominant “hypothesis planning” paradigm that first emerged in the 2010s, I noted the importance of the view — derived originally from the hypothesis testing paradigm of the 1970s — that counterplans are merely “justification arguments,” not counter-advocacies. As described by David Zarefsky, the leading theorist of the hypothesis testing paradigm, the counterplan “is merely the justification argument in a different form.”

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National Circuit High School Policy Debate Participation is Cratering

Since the beginning of the season, it has been obvious to me that participation in high school policy debate has declined. Anecdotally, tournament fields have been noticeably smaller and fewer schools have been actively competing. I’ve been concerned about this for months, but I thought maybe it was mostly an issue with the tournaments I’ve been (virtually) attending. While some tournaments might be smaller, I hoped that others might have grown and offset the difference. Has overall participation really declined? And if so, by how much?

I decided to find out. Based on my research, the answers are “yes” and “by a lot.” Participation in policy debate has declined significantly from 2020 to 2021. And it has declined even more significantly from 2019 to 2021.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Hingstman on Topicality and the “Division of Ground” Standard

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.

Dr. David Hingstman recently retired after a long and distinguished coaching career. In this post, I will share one of my favorite of his many scholarly articles: a 1985 conference paper explaining a “division of ground” framework for understanding and debating topicality.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Pfau on Negative Strategy and Distinguishing Between Case and Plan Responses

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 reading old(er) debate theory scholarship, one immediately notices the ubiquity of labels and jargon. This kind of specialized language has been common in debate for a long time, but it is interesting how many previously-ubiquitous terms have completely fallen out of the debate lexicon. Sometimes, this is for the best; older terms can become outdated because of changes in popular debate practices. But other times, I think we would benefit from revisiting and rejuvenating old terms.

One example of the latter is the distinction between negative case and plan arguments. This distinction between “case side” and “plan side” used to be an important part of the “Debate 101” curriculum. Negative debaters were taught that case responses minimized or disproved the harms, significance, and inherency of the affirmative’s case while plan responses minimized or disproved the affirmative plan’s workability and solvency and identified disadvantages to its adoption.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Glass on Neg-Neg Theory

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.

In February 2012, David Glass wrote an article in Rostrum proposing a new concept called “Neg-Neg Theory.” A play on the Plan-Plan Theory of the early 1990s, it challenged the assumption that the affirmative team must affirm the resolution: “rather than the affirmative being obligated to defend the resolution, the affirmative could take the initiative of proving the resolution to be incorrect or false.” Glass then attempted to lay out the corresponding affirmative and negative burdens that would be established if the affirmative opted to take a negative approach to the resolution.

I don’t recall much reaction to Glass’s article at the time. While an increasing number of affirmative teams kritiked or impact turned topicality during this era, I don’t remember any that cited Glass directly. Unavailable online, the article was then functionally memory-holed for the rest of the decade.

After a long hiatus, Glass’s article returned to The Discourse during the 2019-2020 season when a few affirmative teams began directly citing it to support a counter-interpretation against topicality and framework arguments. I believe but can’t confirm that Westwood was the first to do so.

In this post, I will explain and critique Glass’s Neg-Neg Theory. I will also share the full text of his article so that students can more easily read, study, and debate it.

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Recommended Podcast Episode: Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò on Deference Epistemology and Standpoint Epistemology

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

Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò is a philosophy professor at Georgetown. He recently wrote two provocative articles about the concept of deference epistemology and its relationship to standpoint epistemology: “Identity Politics and Elite Capture” (in the Boston Review) and “Being-in-the-Room Privilege: Elite Capture and Epistemic Deference” (in The Philosopher). Both have significant potential applications to popular debate arguments; Jenny Zhang explicitly made that connection in a Gawker article. Táíwò is also working on a book-length version of these articles; its title is Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (And Everything Else) and it will be published by Haymarket Books in mid-2022.

Cards from Táíwò’s articles are already being cited in debates, and I expect that they will become increasingly popular going forward. To help students understand how to defend and answer Táíwò’s arguments, I recommend two podcast episodes: “Identity, Power, and Speech with Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò” from The Dig and “Constructing New Rooms with Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò” from The End of Sport.

The former episode is a long, in-depth conversation about Táíwò’s articles. Daniel Denvir is a talented interviewer, and his questions give Táíwò an opportunity to unpack, explain, and expand his position. Listening to this conversation will help students better understand the concepts and arguments in Táíwò’s work.

In the latter episode, hosts Nathan Kalman-Lamb, Johanna Mellis, and Derek Silva ask Táíwò to apply his arguments to sports. The conversation begins with a basic introduction to the idea of racial capitalism and then moves to a discussion of elite capture and how it plays out inside and outside of sports, including in last year’s WNBA and NBA player protests and in Colin Kaepernick’s exclusion from the NFL. Then, Táíwò offers a succinct explanation of what he means by the concept of deference epistemology, how it differs from standpoint epistemology, and how it might be applied to college football during the pandemic. Sports fans will find this episode particularly helpful for understanding Táíwò’s arguments, but I think it will be helpful even for students who aren’t familiar with the specific details of the sports examples.

If You Want A Glimpse At The Issues Of Tomorrow, Listen To A High School Debate Today: Revisiting Two 2018 Debates About Vaccine Mandates

One of my favorite things about being a long-time debate coach is the exposure it has given me to a wide range of public policy controversies. Jim Fleissner delivered a speech about this at the Barkley Forum Coaches Luncheon in 1995 that that I really like; I republished it here in 2010.

One of Fleissner’s points is that “an often neglected facet of [debate coaches’] teaching” is “the substantial body of knowledge acquired by your students.” As part of that argument, he makes this observation:

How many times have you heard a news report about some startling new development, only to realize that you heard about it years ago in debate? For example, the first time I encountered the notion that there were forces that might cause the collapse of the Soviet Union resulting in dangerous regional instability was in a high school debate over a decade ago. Silly academic dream-world arguments? I say if you want a glimpse at the issues of 2005, listen to a high school debate today.

For me, watching the ongoing fights over COVID-19 vaccine mandates has been the latest example of this feeling that debate anticipated the news. This can sometimes be unsettling or confounding, but it can also be inspirational and rewarding. In a sense, it can confirm that what we’re learning matters and that our research is successfully grappling with difficult controversies. I’ve been thinking a lot about two rounds in particular, and I thought others might find this reflection interesting.

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Burden of Rejoinder, Bonus Episode: Topicality on the Water Resources Protection Topic

In this short bonus episode of The 3NR’s new podcast, Bill Batterman and Brian Manuel discuss their early thoughts about topicality on this year’s water resources protection topic. Does “protection” provide a meaningful limit? How can the resolution be interpreted to exclude “effects topical” cases? We’ll revisit these and other topicality questions in the future, but we wanted to share our early impressions after the first few regular season tournaments.

This episode was recorded during the same session that we recorded episode one. Our second full-length episode will be shared soon. You should now be able to subscribe to Burden of Rejoinder in your favorite podcast application. If we missed a podcast directory or if you would like to suggest an episode topic, send us an email at