Category Archives: Guest Contributions

Announcing The 2011 Women's Debate Institute

There are too few women in debate. There is no shortage of potential explanations for this phenomenon-lack of female role models, difficulty in a confrontational learning environment, sexism in society, lower speaker points or even male students in the activity. While many have attempted to pinpoint the causes, there is a group I’ve been working with for several years that attempts to correct the imbalance between men and women in debate.

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Making Our Voices Heard: Public Discourse and High School Debate

When going through some old materials as part of an ongoing effort to construct an institutional history of the National Debate Coaches Association, I came across the following short piece from Alan Coverstone. The longtime debate coach at Montgomery Bell Academy, Coverstone wrote this article for the NDCA Newsletter in April of 2003. It is reprinted below the fold with the permission of the author.

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Chain Reaction: The 1995 Barkley Forum Coaches Luncheon Keynote Speech

While doing some electronic housekeeping I came across a wonderful article from the December 1999 issue of the National Forensic League’s Rostrum magazine. A written version of the speech delivered by Jim Fleissner at the Barkley Forum Coaches Luncheon in 1995, it is a poignant and compelling affirmation of the value of high school policy debate and a testament to the importance of those who teach and coach it. With another season winding down, it is a good time to reflect on the amazing power of our activity to transform lives. The full text of Fleissner’s speech is below the fold.

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Chaudoin Method Applied to Carroll Evidence

Another post from Stephen about the card at hand

Let’s apply the Chaudoin method to the Carroll evidence that has been heralded as the bringer of death for Consult:

Before doing that, let’s observe that this “piece of evidence” fails the old debate test of “claim + warrant = argument.”  I feel like a novice saying this, but, there’s no warrant in that card.  Also note that this is really unfair to Jamie because we’re talking about a footnote, not his actual argument.  I blame the author of the post for this silliness in the first place.

1)      Do the predictions logically flow from the assumptions:


This footnote seems to conflate “allowing a veto” with “subservience of foreign policy to the whims of other countries.”  It also seems to ignore the potential for the US to decide when to consult and when not to consult.

2)      Are real world data consistent with these predictions?


This footnote doesn’t mention any, so this is really a nonstarter anyways, but we could easily think of some pretty prominent examples where allowing other countries to veto foreign policy would have saved us some serious mockery.  Had the US actually consulted the UN on Iraq II, Jon Stewart would be out of a job.

3)      What are some more rigorous academic arguments related to the subject? (Khalilzad and a Friedman rant/op ed don’t count).

–          We might check out articles by Chapman and Reiter, or Chapman alone that are about the rally round the flag effect and international effects of consultation.  We might develop a better notion of “cooperation” by reading Carrubba’s “Courts and Compliance in International Institutions” etc.  Ikenberry’s “After Victory” is about hegemons “smoothing” their power trends by binding themselves to particular institutions.

Here’s another quick way to apply the Chaudoin method.  Ask: “Does the piece of ‘evidence’ I’m reading have all the depth of a Fox News transcript or does it actually make an argument?”

Debate “Evidence” and Evaluating Theories

This is a post written by my former college debate partner Stephen Chaudoin (Emory alum 2006) Phd Candidate in the Department of Politics at Princeton University.


In academia, the term “evidence” means “observations about the world that may or may not be consistent with the hypothesis they’re designed to test.”  In debate, the term “evidence” means “some shit somebody got published.”

Observe the difference…

Professor: “I think that X causes Y and as evidence I have measured X and found it to be correlated with this measurement of Y.”

Debater: “I think that X causes Y and as evidence I present to you this article from Foreign Affairs that says ‘X causes Y.”

It isn’t hard to tell which one I think is actual evidence and which one is paraphrasing someone else’s publication that may or may not contain evidence.

It isn’t accidental that debaters use the second interpretation as opposed to the first one:

Reason 1 (not debate’s fault):  Debate is about prediction.  “I think if you do policy X then Y will result in the future.”  It is not about empirically testing hypotheses.  “In the past, did policy X tend to result in Y or Z?”  It is hard to predict the future and doing so with empirics necessitates certain assumptions that may or may not be “true.”  This is a fundamental problem that is not debate’s fault because assumptions aren’t testable.

Reason 2 (sorta debate’s fault, but not really):  The core principles of debate do not lend themselves well to in depth evaluation of evidence or to in depth research sources.  In 8 minutes, I can probably summarize the theory and evidence in a Foreign Affairs article.  (Actually, I could probably explain the entire volume with “none and none” but I digress).  I would be hard pressed to do the same with American Economic Review article.  Google scholar some and see if I’m wrong.  I could give you the tagline like “Risk aversion explains behavior in a first price auction laboratory settings better than prospect theory” but I would not be able to cover the theories involved or the evidence, at least not so that you could reach the same point on the research frontier as the article.

I won’t say speed or emphasis on taglines are bad.  They most certainly are not.  Conciseness and organization are just as important as depth.  (I vaguely remember some cards about speed and memory, irony much?)  But realize that the setup of debate ensures a ceiling on the quality of evidence debate.

Reason 3 (probably debate’s fault):  I’m going to assume the 3NR is at the frontier of debate thought both because I know (two of) the authors and because it seems pretty darn astute.  Bill, I’m sure you rock; we just haven’t met.  But even the frontier minds emphasize only one half of theory testing: logical consistency.

A theory can be evaluated in (at least) two ways:

1) Logical consistency:  I start with these assumptions.  I derive this prediction.  Logical consistency asks “does this prediction logically follow from these assumptions?”

This is the one that debate focuses on almost entirely, probably because we all possess good logic skills and that’s part of why we selected ourselves into the activity.

2) Empirical consistency: Are real world data consistent or inconsistent with the hypotheses derived from the theory?

There are two words to look at, “data” and “consistency.”  Bill and Paul’s responses to Roy’s Toulmin revision get at this nicely.  “Data” refers to observations from the world used to measure a certain concept.  “Consistency” refers to the way in which you think about sets of observations to determine whether or not they are consistent with a theory.  Some potential objections are “the researcher didn’t measure something correctly,” “the researcher did not account for this other thing,” etc.

Two easy solutions:

  1. Focus on implementing the Chaudoin method (I don’t know who Toulmin was, but he has the word “tool” built in and he’s probably old and won’t care if I steal his method’s spotlight.)  After reading evidence as a debater or judge, ask “does the claim follow logically from the assumptions used to generate it?”  Next, ask “how convincing are the empirics used to test this theory?”  I would be willing to bet that 50% of debate “evidence” fails the first test and 95% fails the second.
  2. Cut longer cards.  You don’t gotta read it in the round, but the judge probably will afterwards.
  3. Read journals that are more academic:  Google something like “political science journal rankings” for a list of the top political science ones (APSR, AJPS, IO, etc) or do the same for economics (AER, QJE, JPE, etc) or for any other relevant disciplines from sociology to biology.

Implementing the Chaudoin method will win you 50-60 more rounds next year.

Full disclosure: I debated competitively for a long time before moving on to a PhD program in Political Science.  I study empirical methods and game theory which for sure affects my opinions on this subject as well.

Also, I’m trying to get Roy to put me on as a guest writer on the 3NR, so maybe commenters should back me up.

The Success of Women in Debate: Are We Slipping?

I decided to write this because I noticed a consistent theme in many of my conversations and thoughts this weekend at the Kentucky tournament. I want to go ahead and dismiss some of the excuses before I continue any further. Yes, there are examples of women who have achieved success in recent history and who are successful today. My point is not that there aren’t any; it is rather that there are too few. I guess the best way to describe my feelings on this issue is confusion. I don’t understand why this issue has to keep coming up. I know the solutions aren’t perfect, but we’ve at least sketched out some reasonable steps that everyone should be taking to improve the situation (make debate a less hostile environment and work to build and preserve self-esteem and confidence). I guess I have a two part question. Is it that these methods are no longer as effective, or have we just stopped doing them enough?

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Special Edition Podcast: How To Debate The Capitalism Critique

The capitalism critique is once again a popular generic negative strategy. Want to improve your ability to debate it on both the affirmative and negative? This special 3NR podcast features a discussion about the capitalism critique between Scott Phillips and guest contributor Malcolm Gordon. Topics discussed include:

* the differences between versions of the critique
* affirmative link turn strategies
* the “ethics” impact
* impacts and impact framing
* how to explain the alternative

You can download the podcast directly (right click to save) or subscribe to our feed with iTunes to receive each podcast as it is released. Please feel free to post questions and comments.

Firefox Add ons- From Gulakov

Hey everyone, if you liked using this and have any questions/suggestions/troubles, you can email me at or AIM me at cloudheat16.

Here’s what I use that’s directly related to online research.

fasterfox – makes webpages “endless”, so you don’t have to click “Page 2″ in some news articles or search results, you just keep scrolling; also lets you search google right from the url bar: the dropdown combines your visited sites history with the top results from google right as you type, so you never even have to visit google. make sure you disable “Auto Copy Selected” (for compatibility with Debate Copy) and maybe disable that annoying text popup bubble

evernote – lets you clip and save notes of anything. you should install both the software program and the addon. in the program options, you can assign a hotkey like F6 and that will clip either the selected text or the website to your notebook. I use it to organize literally everything I find; you can search, organize, or go back to original source later.

feedly – it makes RSS simple. subscribe to your favorite websites and it gives you a daily digest. I think it’s organized better than Google Reader

pdf download – you can set it to either ask you to download & open the PDF or load it as text in your browser.

LibX – puts links in Google Scholar results to my university library; you can also reload a page of a commercial database you find through google- like sagepub or jstor- through your university proxy. you should download it from your university website. use the addon “Menu Editor” to remove the annoying context menu entries it adds

readitlater – saves webpages for offline viewing. you can set it to automatically backup everything you add to it. I don’t use it anymore, but when I went places without reliable internet access I used it to backup the online caselist and maybe a few articles.


If you are an IE or Chrome user and would like to use the Save Google Books feature, right click on any bookmark, select “Properties” or “Edit”, and change the URL to the code below. Press it while on a Google Books page to open a popup with the page image at the highest resolution possible.

Fiat, Math, and Political Process Disadvantages

There are a couple of interesting threads on that discuss the theoretical underpinnings of political process disadvantages. In particular, Ankur Sarodia has developed a mathematical model that seeks to demonstrate that certain political process disadvantages are not legitimate considerations when determining whether the affirmative plan should be enacted. In this guest post, Dylan Keenan—debate coach at Emory University and the Westminster Schools—provides a rebuttal to the Sarodia model.

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The U.S. Constitution's "Speech or Debate" Clause


Bracewell & Giuliani partner Scott H. Segal dropped some weighty material during last Sunday’s closing session of the National Debate Development Conference (NDCC) held at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. Segal, former Emory debater and now one of the Beltway’s top “Hired Guns” cued conferees’ attention to the “Speech or Debate” clause of the U.S. Constitution:

Article I, Section 6: “The Senators and Representatives […] shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.”

Segal announced plans for the NDCC alumni networking working group to lead an effort aiming to establish a “Speech and Debate Caucus” in the U.S. Congress, beginning first with surveys of members, proceeding to formal enactment of the caucus. This represents an exciting development for American academic debate communities, something that would give us a formal political presence in the nation’s leading deliberative body. What exactly might this mean? Segal hinted at the possibility that a Speech and Debate Caucus would be positioned to advocate for Urban Debate League funding, and press to restore the federal government research assistance program, where in previous years the Government Printing Office would publish a detailed sourcebook on that year’s high school and college debate topics.

But this could be just the tip of the iceberg. Segal also referenced an important U.S. Supreme Court case, Gravel v. United States (408 U.S. 606, 1972). Here, the Court broadened the scope of the Speech or Debate Clause by extending its coverage to legislative aides (not just members of Congress):

PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Defendant senator filed motions to quash subpoenas in a grand jury criminal investigation, asserting that requiring witnesses to testify violated his privilege under the Speech or Debate Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, ß 6, cl. 1. The United States Court of Appeals for the First District affirmed the district court’s denial of the motions but modified the protective order. Plaintiff United States appealed.

OVERVIEW: The U.S. petitioned for certiorari challenging the ruling that aides and other persons could not be questioned with respect to legislative acts and that an aide to a member of Congress had a common-law privilege not to testify before a grand jury with respect to private publication of materials introduced into a subcommittee record. The senator also petitioned for certiorari seeking reversal of the court of appeals’ decision insofar as it held private publication unprotected by the Speech or Debate Clause and asserting that the protective order of the court of appeals too narrowly protected against inquiries that a grand jury could direct to third parties. The Court held that the Speech or Debate Clause applied not only to a member but also to his aides insofar as the conduct of the latter was a protected legislative act if performed by the member himself, but did not protect illegal conduct. The Court noted that the courts had extended the privilege to matters beyond pure speech or debate in either house, but only when necessary to prevent indirect impairment of such deliberations. The Court vacated the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

OUTCOME: The Court vacated the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded the matter to the court of appeals for revision of the protective order in accordance with the Court’s opinion.

Consider some implications of the “indirect impairment” doctrine established here. Does this doctrine mean that any person or organization taking actions that indirectly impair speech or debate in the U.S. Congress are potentially violating the U.S. Constitution? How far would this extend? What forms of injunctive relief might be available? Such questions are certainly ripe for research and reflection. While these are fascinating abstract issues, a more concrete aspect of the issue involves a resolution adopted later in the day at the NDDC conference:

The NDDC endorses the establishment of a U.S. Congressional Speech and Debate caucus and encourages that caucus to foster debate research and scholarship, including the publication of a CRS topic area packet, and support of a participatory design process oriented toward refinement and development of an open source digital debate archive.

This resolution reflects NDDC conferees’ sense that a digital debate archive (facilitating a transition to paperless debate and generation of “authority 3.0” metrics) should be built with open source code, using a participatory design process. These objectives may conflict with other plans soon to be unveiled, as rumors circulated during the NDDC conference that a commercial entity may be on the brink of releasing proprietary software designed to deliver archive functionality to academic debate communities. It is likely that such a commercial venture would feature “Big Design Up Front” development, conforming to the “Waterfall model” of software engineering.

It is perhaps even the case that patent protections held by the corporation commercially marketing digital debate archive software could establish a legal basis for exclusivity, potentially blocking development of the participatory design process called for in the NDCC resolution. To date, commercial debate ventures utilizing electronic archiving (e.g. Planet Debate, Evazon) have not advanced aggressive exclusivity claims to quash open source efforts that might infringe on its patents. But this day may be coming soon, especially if a new profit-driven commercial entity enters the playing field. Members of the academic debate community would do well to start deliberations regarding this contingency, which would likely shape the trajectory of speech and debate in contexts far beyond the U.S. Congress for years to come.

[Cross-posted on eDebate]