Category Archives: Columns

Shortening Tournament Days: Simple Steps For Debaters And Judges

There is an ongoing discussion occurring in the college debate community about the length of tournaments and the need to balance competitive opportunities with a humane schedule. Many of the major college tournaments have moved to seven or even six rounds of preliminary competition in order to accommodate the substantially longer length of current debate rounds without forcing students and coaches/judges to endure a marathon schedule.

While this issue is not nearly as salient at the high school level, both debaters and judges could do substantially more to make the average day at a debate tournament more livable.

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Thoughts on the 100 speaker point system after St. Mark's

First I want to say that Tim Mahoney, Jason Peterson and everyone at St. Mark’s did an incredible job running this tournament.   The tournament did not run late, everyone had ample time for pre round prep and the tournament ran incredibly smooth.  If you have not been to St. Mark’s before you should consider adding it to your schedule of tournaments.

Having spent a little bit of time reviewing the packet and ballots (both available on for everyone to see) I think that overall the implementation of the 100 point system was a success.

St. Mark’s provided a scale to be used for assigning points.   The scale translated into the following.  Take the points you would have given a debater on the 30 point scale, subtract that number by 20 and multiply that result by 10.  So if I had wanted to give someone a 27,  27-20 = 7.  7 x 10 = 70.  Now obviously because the scale is larger you get to play around and say assign a 71 72, 73 etc.  The ballot also requested that you not give two debaters in the room the same exact speaker points; the goal of this was that in every single debate you should be able to differentiate in order who debated the best.

Looking at the ballots and the packet I got a good sense that this system is clearly superior to the current system of .5 increments.  The concern of widespread variance was solved for by the scale provided by the tournament.   You were more able to get a grasp of who debated better in any given debate (by forcing each debater to get separate points)  and you were able to better see the differences amongst a medium 27.5 debater and high 28.5 debater in a debate.

My biggest criticism of the system might be something that is more cosmetic then anything but speaks to relative point inflation.  The top 7 debaters at St. Marks averaged above a 90 (or over 29 in the 30 point system) in their 6 debates( looking at total points not even the high /low).  While I think that all of those top 7 speakers deserved their speaker awards (heck one of them was one of my kids) I’ve become concerned that there might be a psychological barrier associated with the 90 point mark.  I’m not sure if people feel comfortable having a high 28.5 be less than a 90 total points.  This in turn could cause points to creep back up into the 85-100 scale and lead us back to the same broken point system we currently use.  Because this is obviously the first high school tournament this is not a reason to dismiss this system and on balance just some food for thought about the system.

The way I see it we have 3 options

1.)    Stay with the current .5 increment 30 point system- to me this is the worst of the 3 options, this system is broken and has been for a while.  I suspect it will take tournaments a while to adjust I’m glad St. Mark’s started this move in HS.

2.)    Keep this point scale (the -20 x 7) at most major hs tournaments and hope it adjusts itself to normal ( I suspect it might)

3.)    Go to a decimal point system where you have 28.1, 28.2, 28.3.   While it doesn’t have the shock factor of seeing a 93 and 73 given out in the same debate it is functionally the same and might prevent 29.2 from being the average points of the top speaker at a tournament

If someone has an in depth position either way on the system and how it worked at St. Marks e-mail me and we’ll consider making it a feature post.  If you all liked / disliked it send me an email with a reason why and I’ll compile those into a long post to not totally clutter the comment section on the right.

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 100 speaker point system

I was looking at the St. Marks invitation on JOT and noticed that in honor of Ross Smith (RIP Ross) that the St. Marks tournament would be moving to the 100 speaker point system for its tournament in 2 weeks.    In a podcast and probably in some other diatribes I’ve been known to go on I’ve discussed some of my concerns with the 100 speaker point system.

Let me make this clear I am strongly in support of a more expansive speaker point scale. I think there are differences between 28s, and 28.5s and the current system does not allow a judge to differentiate between the quality of those speeches. My fear with this scale is that in a 6 round tournament (which is the norm in hs) this system has the potential to “mess up” who clears and speaker awards in general.    I feel like the community does need to do a couple of things to make this work (not just for this tournament but to transition away from the 30 point scale in general).

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K overviews- Do's and Dont's

A good K overview should be like a good movie trailer- it should give me as the judge some idea of what is coming but still leave enough to keep me interested. Bad movie trailers either tell too much (and reveal all the funny lines in the movie) or give you no idea what is going on in the movie- and K overviews usually do one of those 2 things as well. Formulating a good overview is like having a good haircut- it frames the rest of the things you are going to do and establishes expectations. Its a place where you don’t need to be bound by having evidence or even rational thought- you are free to express yourself artistically and tell your own story. Sounds easy right?

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Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

– Winston Churchill

I’m sure that everyone at some point during their time in a history class has heard the Churchill quote used to discuss the importance of learning from past mistakes and moving on.   While the quote might seem lame or cliché since we’ve heard it so many times before, the moral of the quote is true: if we fail to evaluate or reflect on the past we are destined to repeat these errors.

Now that I’m done with my quote of the day what does any of this have to do with debate?   A lot really;  Most of this post will deal with how what happens right after a debate round and when you get home from a tournament can have a larger effect on your development as a debater (and win / loss of course) then whether or not you have the newest health care cards from today or not.   While some of you all do some of these things well incorporating all of these tips to your debate routine will drastically improve your learning curve.

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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.

Ryan Ricard: "You are about to be hit by a bus"

Ryan Ricard–author of the excellent debate blog Lucy does some ‘splaining–has posted a wonderful article about the dilemma that we all face as high school debate coaches.

The more I coach debate and talk to others in the activity, the more I come face-to-face with a disconcerting reality. You, me and everyone else who coaches debate is about to be hit by a bus.

By “A bus” I mean any one of the long list of eventualities that could suddenly force you out of the activity. Between new jobs, grad school, law school, funding cuts, and even the actual miniature human beings that are in the care and protection of some of us, our lives as debate coaches is short. Even for the lucky ones of us who are able to make debate part of our “day job,” our activity is subject to forces far out of our control.

In some ways we as a community are victims of our own success. As we give students the tools to advance in debate, we also open up access to far-off schools, high-power careers, and the kind of fulfilling life that is incompatible with coaching debate. Of course this is a natural process, the very reason that we are willing to do so much for the activity in the first place. It’s a good problem to have.

Unfortunately, it means we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction. we can’t ignore this reality, and absent some major changes to the public education system we can’t make it go away.

The conclusion that I’m becoming convinced of is that we need to embrace it. We need to embrace the bus that is careening toward us and do everything we can to help the activity before it hits us. I’m not entirely sure what this means yet, but there are already a few things that I’ve started to see differently about debate.

I don’t really have anything to add… Ryan nailed it. Read the whole article.