Category Archives: Evidence/Research

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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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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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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How To Research Topicality: Suggested Sources and Search Terms

Topicality research is difficult. Because topicality is a semantic issue, the type of supporting evidence required is different than the evidence debaters typically offer in support of their other positions.

For one thing, it is often from “reference” sources: dictionaries, encyclopedias, “explainer” websites and articles, background sections in journal articles, etc. These are not good sources of evidence for most other debate arguments; their purpose is generally to document “facts,” not to argue in favor of a particular position or perspective. For the same reason, these reference sources also tend to describe the context of a controversy without taking a position on it.

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Topicality “Protection,” the Oregon Statewide Planning Goals, and the Legal Fight Over the Bradwood LNG Terminal

The fate of the 2021-2022 high school policy debate resolution likely hinges on the definition of the word “protection.” If it is defined narrowly, the topic has the potential to be much better than skeptics (and fans of the runner-up Russia topic) had initially assumed. If it is defined broadly, this season will be a frustrating slog. Unless “protection” establishes a meaningful limit on topical plan mechanisms, students will struggle to research and prepare for all of the many, disparate policy proposals that could, by effect, “protect” water resources.

One of the most promising topicality interpretations of “protection” is based on a protracted legal battle in Oregon over the construction of an LNG terminal. It defines “protection” of water resources as policies that “save or shield [them] from loss, destruction, or injury or for future intended use.” There’s a lot more to it, but this is a limiting interpretation that could, if it prevails, keep the water resources topic relatively manageable.

To understand this evidence, it is important to understand the context of the legal fight over the Bradwood terminal. This requires more background information than one might initially realize. In this article, I will share what I have learned about the Bradwood terminal, the Oregon Statewide Planning Goals, and the decisions of Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals and Court of Appeals. This is wonky stuff, but I think it is important for students to understand it. And at the end, I’ll share some A+ topicality cards.

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Debate in the Age of Deepfakes: Revisiting the Presumption of Credibility for Published Evidence

Adam Rawnsley broke a story today at The Daily Beast that should prompt serious reflection by debaters and debate coaches. It highlights a disturbing trend in the information ecosystems we depend on for the evidence that shapes our debates. In light of these revelations, it’s important for debate teachers and coaches to individually and collectively revisit our norms about what constitutes “credible evidence.”

So, what’s going on? Titled “Right-Wing Media Outlets Duped by a Middle East Propaganda Campaign,” Rawnsley’s article reveals a sophisticated conspiracy by an unknown actor that included “a network of at least 19 fake personas that has spent the past year placing more than 90 opinion pieces in 46 different publications. The articles heaped praise on the United Arab Emirates and advocated for a tougher approach to Qatar, Turkey, Iran and its proxy groups in Iraq and Lebanon.”

The type of articles that this network publishes are exactly what debaters are often looking for: relatively short, direct, strongly-worded works of political advocacy from apparently-qualified expert commentators. The authors seem real: they have photos, Twitter accounts, and bios, and most have been published in legitimate (sometimes even well-respected) news sources. If you were to come across one of these articles while doing debate research, you would have no qualms about cutting it. I know, because I unwittingly cut at least one article from this network. I’m sure others have, too.

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How To Become A Citizen-Expert On NSA Surveillance: A Guide For Debaters

One of the most intriguing things about the surveillance topic is that there are a relatively small number of experts on this subject area. Because the Snowden revelations are only a few years old and new information about NSA programs continues to surface, diligent (and ongoing) research is required to stay up-to-date and well-informed. To understand these complicated issues also requires competency in a wide range of disciplines—including a background in information technology and the Internet, constitutional law, and security policy.

While preparing for this topic, debaters have the opportunity to become true subject area experts with wide-ranging and thorough knowledge of the NSA’s surveillance programs, the legal challenges being mounted against them, and the breadth of policy and legal arguments marshaled for and against them in Congress and the courts. To fully participate in an informed democratic debate about surveillance policy, citizens need deep content knowledge about the issues involved. Thankfully, the opportunity to become a citizen-expert in NSA surveillance policies is open to any debater willing to invest the time and effort to do so.

But how? Where should one start? Below the fold, a five-step guide is offered to help students dive in to the NSA surveillance debate. Working through this material won’t be easy, of course. But for the dedicated student, following this blueprint will provide the deep background knowledge needed to fully delve into the intimidatingly broad and complex surveillance policy literature base.

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Using Twitter To Research The Surveillance Topic

Like podcasts, Twitter is an excellent indirect research tool for debaters. While tweets should rarely if ever be directly quoted as evidence in contest rounds, Twitter can be used as an important part of a student’s overall research process. By finding the right accounts to follow, debaters can leverage experts to guide their research for them by drawing attention to important events (like court decisions or congressional hearings), linking to insightful content (books, articles, interviews, videos, podcasts, etc.), and engaging in a continuous, interactive commentary about topic-related issues. For the surveillance topic, there are many “must follow” accounts that will greatly aid students in their preparation. Below the fold is a list of fifteen Twitter users debaters should follow for surveillance-related content.

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Using Podcasts To Become A Better Debater

Debaters in the current generation have access to a staggering array of information. As preparation begins for next year’s surveillance topic, one underexploited resource available to debaters is the podcast. Because domestic surveillance has been part of the national conversation for several years, there are many useful podcast episodes dedicated to topics that students will be debating next fall. This article will offer suggestions for how to use podcasts as part of a student’s debate preparation. It will also provide an introductory list of links to helpful episodes about the surveillance topic.

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Opening tournament prep

There are many factors that go into how you should prep for the beginning of the year: the size of your squad, how much time you have, what tournament you are going to etc. For the purpose of this series I will assume the following:

 

1. Your squad has 2-4 people (coaches or debaters) who can reliably be counted on to produce useful debate work

2. You will be making your debut at Greenhill or a similar large TOC tournament

3. You have a decent chance of making it to the doubles (4-2 record or better)

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