Category Archives: Judging

An Updated Speaker Point Scale Based On 2015-2016 Results

Since it was changed from half-points to tenth-points (a process that began in the 2010-2011 season before becoming standardized in 2011-2012), the speaker point scale in high school policy debate has dramatically evolved. It is helpful to systematically review point distributions to ensure that students, coaches, and especially judges are aware of the actually-existing scale. To figure out what speaker points mean in today’s scale, I analyzed points from several major national tournaments held during the 2015-2016 school year: Greenhill, St. Mark’s, Michigan, Glenbrooks, Blake, MBA, and Emory. I confirmed that the results of this survey accurately reflected the speaker point scale at the recently-concluded NDCA National Championships. Below the fold, I will provide a summary of the results as well as a descriptive speaker point scale that judges might consider using to align their points with the evolving norms.

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Judge Philosophy Guidelines

As the season begins, there are many people who will begin judging for the first time. There are also many people who realize they are terrible judges and want to improve. As such, people will be writing and posting new judge philosophies. I wanted to try and put together a guide for people approaching this task to help guide them through the process. These insights are gleaned from my years in debate looking at judge philosophies and from many revisions to my own philosophy and the effects I saw it have on debates I judged.

I will update this post a few times before Greenhill, but a few people asked me about it so I wanted to get the bare bones out there.

Updated 9-14

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UTNIF Blog: Revisiting the Rowland-Ulrich Debate

Sean Tiffee—a Ph.D. candidate in Rhetoric and Language Studies and an Assistant Debate Coach at the University of Texas—has written an interesting post on the UTNIF blog about the role of argumentation in debate.

I made the decision to make my blog post about argumentation for two seemingly contradictory reasons. First, debate evolves at a pace that is simply staggering. The ninth grade debaters of today will be the ones shaping our activity in under a decade. As we all know, debate is a time intensive and life encompassing activity. While there are certainly coaches who have committed their lives to the activity, more and more seem to hit their early to mid 30s and decide they don’t want to lose every weekend for a minimal stipend, which leaves the activity in the hands of 20-somethings. A large-scale commitment of high school debaters to focus on argumentation today means that high school and college debate looks a whole lot different in less than 10 years. Second, as fast as our activity can change, we attempt to innovate among calcified thought. Some of these debates have already been had, they say, and there’s no point in going over them again. I disagree. While some of these debates have been had, it can be a good idea to revisit them with fresh eyes and the benefit of hindsight. In particular, I’d like to revisit a portion of a debate that took place in the Fall 1984 edition of The Journal of the American Forensic Association between Robert Rowland and Walter Ulrich. I know this is old school, but hear me out. Further, in the interest of full disclosure, I intend to cherry pick from these articles in an effort to initiate discussion and encourage you to seek out and read these relatively short articles yourself.

While I do not have the JAFA Rowland and Ulrich articles in my collection, I can share a few related articles that might be of interest to readers:

If anyone has access to the fall 1984 issue of JAFA, please let me know.


Interested in opinions from judges or debaters.

A while ago the nooch and I had a brief discussion on here about judges intervening in cx when one team is clearly giving a long drawn out BS answer (which nooch dubbed the filibuster)

A few other instances I have been observing semi frequently have me wondering whether or not judges should be exercising a heavier hand in what goes on in the debate.

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Explanation of the Judge Hypothetical

A while back I combined 2 concepts in my mind

1. Judge philosophies are for the most part totally useless. Most of them read exactly the same “i’ll vote for anything if you explain it well etc”. Even the few that break from this mold are usually a series of opinions followed by “however, these are just my defaults, I will ignore them based on arguments in a debate”.

2. There doesn’t seem to be a better way to get the crucial information you need as a debater out of a judges head. Asking questions before the debate usually yields more of the same-  a bland, flavorless mush of information not helpful for you to adapt.

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Judging Hypothetical

Team A is negative. They read a very complex and sophisticated kritik, that all comes from 1 author. Team B is affirmative, and in the 2AC they read 5 or 6 sort of stock K answers and then a card just tagged “Neg loses”, that goes on for about a minute.

In response to this card the neg says a lot of spin that sounds very good about why this piece of evidence is wrong and doesn’t understand what their K is about.

The 1AR goes only to this piece of evidence and says the following:
“Look, we have no idea what the neg is saying. However, we have a card that is soo good it will make you crap your pants. Not only is it directly responding to what they are saying, it specifically indicts their author and goes through point by point every argument in the 2NC overview and refutes it. I would explain the warrants, but quite frankly, I don’t get it. However, we debated this K at the last tournament and didn’t understand it then either. We spent a whole month researching answers and after reading 20+ books on the subject we found this amazing card. The neg may sound good, but ultimately every argument in the 2NC in response to this card is unevidenced, made up on the spot drivel from a high school student- it may sound good, but there is no real substance behind it. The purpose of the judge is to decide what arguments were the best- we have by far read the best arguments, in order to vote negative you have to decide that we should lose even though we made the best argument, simply because we didn’t understand it. This defeats the whole purpose of a research based activity and punishes us for spending time reading about the topic instead of about obscure philosophy”.

The 2NR Says (amongst other things) the following:

“Their evidence misses the boat- our K makes three key arguments, which are A, B, and C. This indict doesn’t respond to thee arguments because of …..” And then gives a long winded explanation.

Is this debate winnable for the aff at this point in your mind?

Assume the 2AR says more of the same the 1AR said.

You call for the neg cards and the 1 aff card. Upon reading the neg cards, you find that they do clearly make arguments A, B, and C and explain them well, just like the negative said.

Now you look at the aff card. You actually crap your pants. Never before in your life have you seen an on point response that is this good. The card clearly identifies A, B, and C as arguments made by the neg author, and then deconstructs them in such a devastating way that you would bet your life that they are not only false, but that the opposite is true. Assume the neg cards nor the aff card speaks to the “spin” placed on the evidence by the negative.

How do you vote and why?

Judge Intervention and the Supreme Court

Another link from Alderete, this time about the nature of judging. Summation quote:

Under such circumstances, justices can no more be neutral umpires—in Chief Justice John Roberts’ famous formulation—than they can be dispassionate microcomputers. You can be the greatest reader of text in the world and the most profound diviner of linguistic meaning, but it still won’t help you in any but the handful of very easy cases, which, as Souter correctly observed, “do not usually come to court, or at least the Supreme Court.” That is precisely why, he added, “the fair-reading model has only a tenuous connection to reality.” It describes a nonexistent universe in which all cases are easy and all the constitutional directives are perfectly clear.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Rostrum Response

In the last 6 months or so there have been quite a  few articles in the Rostrum attacking fast, national circuit policy debate. I was going to write a response for the NDCA coaches corner but in the interim several other response pieces were posted, so having my thunder stolen I decided to write something else. Below is some of what I wrote in a rough draft for the article.

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