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Monday, April 16, 2012

Adjudications tips and rants from Sharmila

Since adjudication-related FB notes are in vogue ... :)

by Sharmila Parmanand on Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 3:53pm ·
So maybe I have been to too many tournaments or I just have a massive procrastination problem, but I experienced an irresistible urge to rant about adjudication-related pet peeves and the sandtraps adjudicators fall into, and I figure these voices in my head will not go away until I indulge them. Obviously, if these things seem like common sense to you, then pat yourself on the back and go do something else. Here goes:

1. The status quo is not an argument. Saying X should happen because that is how it's done in the status quo is not an argument. The status quo isn't an adequate defense of ... the status quo! This is purely descriptive, not analytical, material. Debates are about reimagining the world, and that includes an assessment of why the status quo is right.

2. Liberal-sounding arguments are not trump cards. Given the liberal bias of most debaters, our cognitive scripts may be more immediately compatible with ideas such as 'the right to free speech' or 'the right to know', but in debates, these rights themselves are up for discussion. The burden is not only on one side to demonstrate that the right to free speech/to know does not exist/should be curtailed in a particular situation; a converse burden exists on the other side as well to demonstrate why such rights need to be upheld in the same situation.

3. Quality over quantity. There will never be a perfect policy or a perfect ethical position (duh, that's why it's a debate!), but teams should be evaluated on how they engaged with the best arguments/rebuttals in the debate, not on how many arguments or rebuttals they raised per se.  If a team launches a large number of (mostly nitpicky) rebuttals, but does not address the strongest material of the other side, they may still be in trouble. Also, different teams may win different issues in the debate (especially in BP) - which issues were the most important, and by how much did they win/lose the issues they did?

4. Role fulfillment and technicalities matter.  Duh. Obviously, they do. Otherwise, we'd just sit around and have a nice conversation over coffee. Teams have to be evaluated based on how well they worked within the a given structure and given 'rules of the game' (which is why we dislike Opposition Whips who raise new arguments, closing teams that shaft their opening teams, or speakers who speak for ten minutes). Technical flaws, however, should be viewed relative to each other in a debate, and not entirely distinct from the quality of arguments and issues raised.

5. No one has to solve the root of the problem. There is almost never a single root of the problem for any problem. Besides, a model cannot be expected be expected to solve everything (especially in a seven-minute speech and with limited prep time!). Teams just have to prove that the situation is better/not as bad in their world/under their model. Hold all teams to those equal burdens.

6. Pay attention to mutually exclusive ideas. Teams don't have to disagree on every single thing in the debate. Where they agree on common goals, or the need for a certain degree of punishment or protection for certain actors, or share mechanisms in their policies, the debate should shift to more mutually exclusive grounds. For example, both teams in a debate about requiring parental consent for minors undergoing an abortion are likely to want to protect minors, and hence, arguments about why the protection of minors is important become less relevant, while arguments about which policy better protects them become the decisive issues of the debate.

7. Don't ignore points of information! POIs are not there for decoration. They are an integral part of the BP and Asians formats because they increase dynamism in debates. Pay attention to them when comparing teams (especially diagonals in BP), or when assessing team strategy. Refer to good/bad POIs/responses to POIs in your feedback.

8. Generic comments are meaningless. Shortcuts such as "this argument was better-analysed" or "this rebuttal was more persuasive" are meaningless unless you explain why or how.

9. Team feedback on judges is a double-edged sword. Feedback on adjudicators by debaters is an essential source of information for adjudication cores to assess their judging pool. It must definitely be taken seriously by all parties. The flip side, however (yes, I am going to name the elephant in the room!), is that when judges are evaluated on and compete against each other purely on the basis of adjudicator feedback, a variety of perverse incentives are created. Teams start thinking they need to be convinced BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT that they lost debates, when in fact judges and teams need to meet each other halfway. The feedback system becomes a straitjacket on judges who now opt to sugarcoat their comments to avoid pissing off teams. Instead of saying, "this is a ridiculous argument for X, Y, and Z reasons", a judge is now forced to call it "promising" or "slightly underdeveloped". Unfortunately, teams need to hear the harsh truth to get better. Debate is a competition, not a mutual admiration society.10. You are an average reasonable college student, not a monkey. Even if arguments are not responded to, you do not automatically believe them, hook, line, and sinker. You are meant to subject them to a reasonability test - i.e. are there logical links, no glaring factual errors, plausible evidence, analysis, etc., etc. This is not unacceptable intervention. This is using your brain.

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