Tag Archives: research

Reading Author Qualifications Aloud: A Response To The Critics

Several readers provided thoughtful commentary about my recent essay about evidence analysis, “Nudging Evidence Analysis In The Right Direction: The Case For Reading Author Qualifications Aloud In High School Policy Debate.” This post is an attempt to further develop the arguments advanced in the initial article while addressing the concerns of critics.

1. Normalizing the verbal citation of author qualifications will “nudge” the debate process in the direction of the development of new “metrics of scholarly authority.”

Much of the feedback regarding the article has centered around the competitive outcome of this change in the norm about evidence citation: how will debates about qualifications be resolved?, what qualifications will be preferred?, etc. This largely misses the point: the function of this change in norm is to emphasize the importance of these discussions and encourage debaters and judges to address them explicitly.

Nick Bubb highlighted many of the issues in a thoughtful comment:

[M]any people perceive authors’ opinions to be a politically motivated response to a given issue, rather than an independent evaluation of the truth. … For example, do we minimize Howard Dean’s opinion on health care reform because he’s a democrat and advocates for health care reform? Or do we prefer his analysis because he knows the policy? Or minimize his opinion because he stands to gain politically from the enactment of health care reform? Or do we prefer his opinion because he’s a doctor? What about his opinion on the political implications of health care policy? There are fair arguments to be made on all of these questions, but the structure for interpreting who is qualified to speak to the truth of a given issue is difficult. Certainly some individuals are more qualified than others, but how can we answer that question? If you are to believe some aspects of a hermeneutical process, authors’ qualifications are really their biases and we as the listener have biases for/against their experiences. We can be jaded and dismiss them or we can listen to their reasoning. But which action corresponds with finding the truth? The answer can’t be as simple as to listen to everything, because that degrades back into the problems you’re attempting to address: the prevalence of questionable evidence quality.

There’s also something odd about needing qualifications to speak to an issue. You don’t need a degree from Harvard to talk about poverty. A narrative from a poor person may be equally as powerful. I suppose the “qualifications” can change depending on the context, but then what do qualifications mean?

[A]s a judge, I wouldn’t know how to handle comparative claims. Do I prefer evidence from an economics professor about poverty policy or is it more important to listen to the people that the policy affects?

This is exactly my point: these issues are difficult, but they are also important. In a world where students are exposed to ever-expanding volumes of information, learning to intelligently separate the good from the bad is essential to informed citizenship.

I do not pretend to know the answers to the questions that Nick has posed. I can offer no mechanism for cleanly separating the intellectual wheat from the chaff. But the current model we have adopted in debate is certainly subject to criticism: “if it’s published, it’s evidence” has absolved us of our responsibility to take these issues of scholarly credibility seriously and of teaching students to intelligently navigate through the maze of information at their fingertips.

Effectively determining whom to believe—and more importantly, why to believe them—is arguably the most essential life skill that debate can teach. Perhaps better than any other activity, debate can effectively train students to think critically—to question others’ arguments and to evaluate their claims with skepticism. Working through the complicated business of analyzing sources and comparing qualifications is part and parcel of this facet of debate pedagogy.

The current norm—evidence should be verbally cited only by author’s last name and date of publication—hamstrings our ability to emphasize this aspect of critical thinking and in fact actively undermines it by framing the issue of qualification as separate from instead of intrinsic to the evidence itself.

As I argued in the article, this effect occurs at two levels:

  1. Excluding qualifications from verbal presentation implicitly de-values their importance when considering the quality of a piece of evidence. If the author(s)’ qualifications are not important enough to read aloud, after all, how important can they really be? …

  2. Requiring students to locate the qualifications of a given piece of evidence “privately”—during speech or prep time—prevents the judge from considering qualifications as part of their initial understanding of the evidence as it is being presented.

Shifting the norm to require verbal citation of author qualifications uniquely addresses these concerns.

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Nudging Evidence Analysis In The Right Direction: The Case For Reading Author Qualifications Aloud In High School Policy Debate

The State of Evidence Evaluation In Debate

The recent discussions of evidence quality in high school policy debate have highlighted the need for debaters, coaches, and judges to revisit the prevailing assumptions about the proper role of cited material in our activity. While a drastic shift in the community’s approach to the evaluation of evidence remains exceedingly unlikely, there is an emerging consensus among debate educators that improving this facet of our pedagogy is both possible and necessary.

What is the problem? In short, the explosion of content enabled by new media has shattered traditional constraints on what constitutes “published” scholarship. While debaters in past decades were limited in their research to published books, journals/magazines, and newspapers, the debaters of today have access to a nearly limitless stream of information—all at their fingertips, and searchable in ways never before thought possible. As Gordon Mitchell describes in “Debate and authority 3.0,” the resulting information abundance has created a need for new ways of separating the good from the bad.

Publication, previously a one-to-many transaction, has become a many-to-many enterprise unfolding across a complex latticework of internetworked digital nodes. Now weblogs, e-books, online journals, and print-on-demand book production and delivery systems make it possible for a whole new population of prospective authors to publish material in what Michael Jensen (2008), National Academy of Sciences Director of Strategic Web Communications, calls an “era of content democracy and abundance.”

In content abundance, the key challenge for readers and referees has less to do with finding scarce information, and more to do with sorting wheat from the proverbial chaff (the ever-burgeoning surplus of digital material available online). The pressing nature of this information-overload challenge has spurred invention of what Jensen (2007) calls “new metrics of scholarly authority” – essentially, new ways of measuring the credibility and gravitas of knowledge producers in a digital world of content abundance.

Policy debate’s “metrics of scholarly authority” have developed slowly—changes in dominant assumptions about what constitutes “good evidence” have occurred over decades based on the organic back-and-forth of the contest round. At the high school level, the influence of summer debate institutes and the trickle-down from intercollegiate competition have played a major part in this evolution. While regional differences remain, the vast majority of those that participate in policy debate on the “national circuit” hold remarkably similar views about what makes a piece of evidence “good”. Indeed, the dominant conception of “good evidence” has become so normalized that it is often framed as self-evident: good evidence “speaks for itself”.

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Friday Mail Bag v2


I’m sorry this won’t be as comprehensive as the other posts have been, I’ve been kind of sick but these are important questions that deserve to be addressed.   I will make the 1ar question a separate post this weekend.

At the beginning of every camp they start with a lecture on how to do research. Is there any information you can add or build on from these introduction lectures that usually cover “here is why templates are good, here is how to use google and lexis etc.” What are the keys to transition from a novice to a debater cutting files worthy of reading in competitive out rounds? 

You’re already pretty smart if you agree the generic use a template camp lecture is kind of dull.  The template is vital and lexis is really important but knowing how to produce UNIQUE files requires alot more work.  I think your question needs to be divided into 2 parts.  1.) How to do better research  2.) How to make files better.  I think those are two important issues I will address the first mostly in this post, I might save the second for a later one

On a Meta Level, Be thorough- “Roy, I can’t find anything on XYZ, please find it for me” I hear this all the time at camp from kids who spend 15 mins looking for something use some crappy search terms and give up.  Debate is hard, doing good research is hard, so if you can’t find something quickly rather then give up ask yourself if you really have worked hard enough.  Some of the best articles I’ve found on stuff have been on page 63 of google results.  I could have given up 5 or 10 pages in, but I kept slugging through the stuff till I found what I needed.

Things you all don’t use enough but should

1.) footnotes- this seems simple enough yet its hardly utilized.  If you find articles relevant to your research see who the author quotes or references, they will likely either be people who write supporting articles, or articles to the contrary both of which is effective.  If you don’t scour through those you are letting valuable stuff go to waste.  This will be particularly important if people use law reviews extensively this year because those are littered with citations and references

2.) look up people quoted or mentioned in cards you do find.  The PR newwire impact people read to accidental launch impacts discusses a study released from the New England Journal of Medicine a much more well respected source that analyzes nuclear war, disaster response and prepardness.  If you had initially cut that card you would be wise to then go to the New England Journal of Medicine and cut that article too.   If an article talks about someone within it google them see what they write about that can be of use.  

3.) google authors, names of articles etc.  If an expert is well respected they will be discussed by others in the field, or cited by them.  

4.) Email authors with questions on where to look for stuff / resources.  There was a science editor for Reason Magazine this year that I emailed numerous times asking him about stuff he had written and other places and people who shared similar opinions to him to get more info.  They might not always reply but sometimes it can be of use.

5.) familiarize yourself with databases well.  JSTOR, EBSCO, Ejournals at a University, Factiva, CIAO, Stinet, Proquest, and questia are amongst some of the better ones.  Learn how to search them effectively and navigate through that.  I think alot of people even if they are on the right track aren’t efficient enough. 

6.) Start big and consolidate-  I heard a story about some novice debaters researching econ updates and one of them said they did this search into google news “US economy low” .  Obviously you want to mix up your terminology.  You won’t always find cards about political capital, but it might be labeled political clout, clout, influence etc.  When researching you want to start off with big over arching searches that produce lots of results, and as you continue and are more on track you can get into more specific search terms.  A search like “obama w/15 “political capital” w/5 “agenda” w/10 “LOST or Law of the sea” is likely to yield less results then a vaguer search like “obama w/25 “Political capital” or “clout” or “influence” or “bully pulpit” or “agenda” AND LOST or Law of the sea” etc.  

This is just a preliminary I will add more to this before camp begins

Mailbag Friday v1


I recently switched speaker positions to the 2N. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on what you think is a solid strategy to approach the many choices a 2N has to make concerning what arguments to go for (both in the block and in the 2NR). I have had only one semester experience, but find myself always second guessing and wishing I went a different route in the block and 2NR.”

Thanks for the question.  I think ALL 2ns definitely have this issue.  Part of your question shows a basic flaw in the ways 2ns think.  You ask about the block and the 2nr, but what about the 1nc.  My big point with my kids is this “Do you have winnable options.”  A lot of the negative problems stems from constructing poor 1ncs which either make the strategy very apparent to the other team or just limit your options in general.

For example if you have in the 1nc T, generic K, states, politics and business confidence and little or no case, a smart 2ac should realize that biz con isn’t a net benefit to the CP and that since you have little or no case args you can’t go for the biz con da and win.  This makes the block significantly harder because now they’ve spent more time on the other potential worlds etc etc.

Tip 1- make sure you have a couple of viable worlds in the 1nc for the block to collapse down too and that they make sense.  Investing time in the case is always good, it makes a DA and Case viable, it also makes it easier to defeat solvency deficits to counterplans if you can minimize what it is the aff actually solves for.

Tip 2- Re-evaluate during and right after the 2ac what is viable and what isn’t.  Did they just make 40 args on politics?  Well maybe we aren’t going for politics.  Make sure your block keeps the same mindset as in the 1nc.  Does what I’m extending serve some utility.  Will it scare the 1ar?  Will it get a good time tradeoff?   Does it work as a strategy in general.  This is really situational but you need to ask yourself what kind of block and 2nr do I need to give for us to win the debate.  Is this 1ar so fast that if I collapse to just states and politics they’ll make the 2nr hell for me?  Or are my cards on this stuff just so so, which means I need to make the block big to deflect attention from that?  Conversely you could decide your best chance of winning is to lock it down on an issue and make the whole block the K.  You have a good idea of who you’re debating and what you’re up against.   Assume you also aren’t going to fully cover because no 2nc has ever taken up 4-5 sheets of paper and actually covered well.

Tip 3- Take prep time before the cx of the 2ac.  Talk to your 1nr about what they are going to be going for, that way you both are on the same page on stuff, too many times people wait till the cx is over the 1nr looks at the partner whose hectic and is like “so what am I taking?” the response is usually mumbled and just blah.  Those 20 seconds of prep time are valuable.

Tip 4-Have good blocks for the 2nc, this will let you spend some time deciding what you want to go for and what is viable, the less time you spend running around looking for stuff the more calm and clear headed you can be for deciding what to go for in the 2nc and 2nr.

Tip 5- Trust the 1nr.  The 1nr is to quote the movie swingers “The (wo)man behind the (wo)man.”  A great 1nr makes the block soo much better and your 2nr significantly easier.  Its usually easy to predict cocky 2ns 2nr strategy, take what was in the 2nc and assume its going to be in the 2nr.  This is a serious mistake.  The 1nr easily has 12-15 mins of prep time to get their speech ready, it should be awesome.  Giving them an important issue is key because they can read your opponents ev, indict it, do all the things that are really difficult to do in the 2nc.  To often they are relegated to theory etc.  This is un-strategic not just for the reason above, but if the 1nr gets theory etc and the aff has no plan on going for theory they get to use the 1nr to prep their 1ar.   If you “sandbag” some of the important stuff in the block to the 1nr the 1ar has less time to prepare for it etc.

Tip 6-Don’t take any shortcuts- Obviously if something cheap shot ish is messed up you can extend it, but when you look for easy ways to win the debate that’s when you usually make a mistake and give up the round.

Mastering tips 1,2,5 will get you significantly more neg wins and help you get to the next level where you can work on refining those skills and some more advanced techniques.

What would your advice be to a graduating senior who will be debating next year in college? What are the biggest hurdles that they will have to overcome? What can they do during the summer to make the transition easier and to improve their skills? What are some of the most common misconceptions that incoming college freshmen have about college debate? If you had it to do over again, how would you improve your transition from high school to college debate?”

This is actually a really good question, and I think alot of college frosh flake out, quit or get discouraged because of the transition to college and their inability to adapt.

The biggest hurdle to deal with is this LEARN TO LOSE.  YOU WILL LOSE A LOT OF DEBATES AND THAT IS OK!!!.  Too many good HS debaters show up to college after a season of late elims and expect that they will shock the world in college.  You won’t, you’re not expected to and most importantly THATS OK.  The reason (as someone whose recruited kids to go to Emory before) that I like kids who aren’t super super successful is because they are often hungry for wins and will not get discouraged by losses.    4-4 is good for a college frosh, make something like that your goal.  You will not be top speaker, you won’t be past the octos (if you make it to the doubles or past it) at any big tournament (GSU, KY, Harv, Wake, Texas, NDT) but you aren’t expected too be either.  You have 4 years to do your best, this first year is a year of adjustment to a life away from home, much tougher academics and better debaters, if you set unreasonable expectations you won’t meet them and will likely get too discouraged to rebound well.  LOSING IS OK say it out loud again.

Everyone decent in college is proficient in debate.  If you are debating a real good 4-4 team or 5-3 or better team they can do the tech well.  In HS a team can run through a tournament “out techning” everyone.  At the highest levels of college debating the debates are decided on in depth knowledge of the literature and its explanation.  There are very few “tech” wins at the top level.  If you just coached a HS team to be tech they could be a quarters team, that alone is insufficient in college, which means older kids with more on the line are going to know more then you.   You will also be on the brunt end of some Jedi tricks learn from those mistakes.  Much of college debates are decided on evidence, so without good business you’re going to be in bad shape.

In that transition from the elite level of HS debating to bottom of the totem poll in college will also come other issues. 1.) people for the most part don’t know who you are, whatever rep you had will vanish for the most part which means you need to build connections with judges because over 4 years you can understand those people and know how to debate in front of them. I would love every debate I ever have to be in front of Jarrod Atchison, John Turner and Kevin Hamrick. I learned what they liked and executed that. 2.) you will probably get the freshman treatment from some judges, a close debate might not go your way, some 27.5 bombs might get dropped etc. Take those in stride. I’m not saying its legitimate or fair but its part of the maturation process. You will one day maybe benefit from that.

There’s a simple formula for college debate: Hard work à Success. It might take time but it works. You are not likely to be the best debater on your team, learn from your elders, I learned so much from the older kids at emory, even just sitting back at team meetings listening to them watching them in the elims when I wasn’t there. There is soo much more to debate then just the arguments. How you compose yourself, prep for the debate, prep for the tournament. All of these are small things that lead to big picture success. If the people aren’t particularly hard working then don’t emulate them. Some people have lots of talent but don’t apply themselves, learn from the good influences not the bad (Frat parties and getting high do not make a good tourney prep)

I think what I did for work my freshman year is not the norm, I got to work with 2 emory coaches for the summer at a debate camp and spent time doing topic work, since most people don’t do that here’s what I suggest. 1.) contact your coach(es) and take on assignments, it shows you are interested in working and want to be part of the team 2.) read all the edebate posts on the topic. I will concede most are shitty, but you all don’t know the people well enough to employ your own filter, at this point you are hunting for info. 3.) talk to teammates and get their input, think smart 4.) do some of the stuff from my schools out for summer, read theory articles rewrite those blocks, etc. Debaters of this generation are so very lucky to have all these resources available to them. I would have killed for a strong cross-x or 3nr type place to really read and understand stuff.

Finally I’ll be honest high level college debate is hard and time consuming. It comes at the expense of a lot of other stuff. You must be good at time management to keep your grades and social life available. But if you think you can win the NDT and do all of the college stuff stop right now, it’s just not possible. If you debate for a big team which isn’t solely dependent on you for ev try other stuff out (just realize this will compromise your debate success). In the end debate is a great activity but do not let it dictate how you view or judge yourself. Winning tournaments and speaker awards is nice but make sure you have some balance with grades and other stuff too

Learning From Your Elders: How To Find and Use Published Scholarship To Improve Your Theory Debating

Policy debate is a specialized activity with a unique vocabulary and a rich history. Its evolution has been shaped in large part by the broader developments in argumentation and rhetoric that have taken place in the academic field of communication. For many years, this connection between contest round debating and the academy from whence it spawned was made explicit by the frequent publication of scholarly articles about debate theory and praxis. Communication scholars, many of whom served as directors of the nation’s leading debate programs, contributed to the development of the activity by authoring texts about the major issues faced by competitors, coaches, and judges.

While the heyday of academic scholarship about competitive debate has passed, its voluminous legacy remains a vibrant source of inspiration and knowledge for contemporary students. Tapping into this rich history of debate scholarship is a fruitful way for students to deepen their comprehension of key theoretical issues while improving their overall ability to debate them effectively in contest rounds.

This article provides advice for students wishing to leverage debate theory research toward improvements in their debating. First, it provides an overview of the sources accessible to most debaters. Second, it provides a list of suggestions for making use of these articles. It is my hope that this article will give interested students the basic guidance they need to dive head first into the world of academic debate scholarship.

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The Cult of Evidence and the Importance of Source Quality

The discussion of new affirmatives and Scott’s most recent post about the SPS article controversy intersect at the issue of how we are teaching students to evaluate evidence. I will write more about this over the coming days, but I wanted to chime in with a few thoughts about this meta-issue before discussing more about new affirmatives or about the SPS article controversy in particular.

My agreement with Roy’s initial post was not intended as an indictment of new affirmatives. Instead, I think the proliferation of poor-quality new affirmatives at season-ending tournaments reveals something important about the state of our activity. In particular, the following questions come to mind:

  1. What does it say about the way we are teaching our students that breaking new affirmatives is seen as so strategic at end-of-the-year championships? Why is it that students feel that they have a better chance of winning when they break even a poor-quality new affirmative than they do when reading one of their existing affirmatives?

  2. Does this represent a positive or negative trend? What should we be doing to nudge the competitive advantage toward a style of debate that rewards engagement with the topic literature and the opposition’s arguments more than evasion and trickery?

I don’t think it was Roy’s intention to “call out” those teams that consistently broke new affirmatives at this year’s TOC or to discourage teams from reading new affirmatives in the future. As I have written, there are certainly strategic benefits to breaking new cases and it is good to encourage students to invest the effort required to write a new case and prepare to defend it.

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Aesthetics of Debate

First,  let me clarify cause it seems as if this being taken to an extreme.  At no point did I say do not read new affs.  I advanced a nuanced difference between one shot affs with lower quality evidence versus the merits of breaking a strong new aff.  If you are confused about the difference well… figure it out.

Secondly, I think Scott and Rajesh’s posts both deal with the purely competitive aspect of debate and less with the merits of having good debate, this leads to….

Lastly- the fact that some teams do not have good strategies does not mean that others do not.  I feel like some people read pretty good strategies on various affs and discussions post the toc revealed others had decent strats vs affirmatives they did not debate.

Debate as an Aesthetic (Yes K people I’m familiar with a big word too)

Debate is a competitive activity, but so is playing Chess, Checkers, Uno, Apples to Apples and Monopoly.  The reason people choose debate is because it is something that is both fun to do and has a competitive outlet.  Would people debate if there were no winners or losers and no awards? Probably alot less… I cannot deny that the competition is what keeps manyof us intrigued and involved in this activity.  BUT the reason you see people coaching and involved in this activity for so long is because there is something special about this activity that differentiates it from other competitive things.   The reason I discussed at 2 different points the debate between Bellarmine and Westminster in the finals is because that is what good debate should be.  Its not just about protecting your house, its about having great debates not just in the biggest rounds of the year but every debate should have some greatness in it.

The slippery slope is this if we focus too much and solely on the competitive (breaking unsustainable affs or disads we know are truly false) without regard for the implications this has to the activity what will become of the activity? If debate becomes a race to the ridiculous with bad evidence being produced by the aff and neg we lose what is great about this activity.

I’ve been in debate for around 11 years now and have seen drastic changes in this activity, some good others not so good.  This activity has seen people poop in a bag, pie someone in the face, a coach drop his pants,  a transition away from the norms of contemporary debate for whatever reason they chose and the advancement of more critical arguments instead of just policy arguments, and finally…. the Internet.

We are at as critical juncture for this activity, the ability to access anything on the internet has meant that we can literally get a hold of anything on the internet good, bad , stupid, fake, credible, or no qualifications at all.  Within the framework of competitive success or maybe even external to it ask yourself this when you cut cards and produce files.   Am I doing something that betters this activity?  It used to be that the worst thing one would cut is an Op-ed and cite it as a newspaper that has drastically changed.  It is now our burden to protect this activity.

Balancing the educati0n vs competitive aspects of this activity is something we all struggle with.  I’m not sure there is an answer or perfect balance but it is something we need to think about when we decide what arguments to produce or read.  What you do has trickle down effects onto others.  Much of this one shot aff stuff started in college and trickled down to high school.

Some of you all will say BS Roy you are one of the most competitive people I know.  That is probably true.  I am not lecturing as someone who is high and mighty superior to you all (while its possible that is true in some instances) but my time as a coach has led me to changing how I approach debate related issues.

To those who believe Scott is gonna bash this post, he cannot he has already conceded. Scott: i dont think ive ever heard u say u yelled at ur kids for not learning, lots of yelling over losingme: well they arent learning not to loseScott: ahahahahah touche ok that comeback was pretty good, i concede