I am not writing this to convince you that a plan advocate is needed for your plan. I will assume you’ve read the first two links at the bottom of my post* before this, and are agreed: You need a plan advocate.
But Affirmatives aren’t the only ones that use advocates, are they? Hardly. The Negative can (and I would say should) have experts that recommend against the Affirmative plan as well. It’s extremely helpful to have an expert say exactly what you want them to say.
However, I must caution you all: Actually understand what the expert is saying. You might be surprised that there have been many instances of people (intentionally or not) using an “advocate” incorrectly in regards to their proposition, both Affirmative and Negative. I have been involved in at least 3 rounds already this year where the advocacy of the expert in question was a deciding factor in the round.
There are two main reasons I want to share with you as to why you should understand what the advocates say.
1) Ethics – You don’t go around misquoting people in our debate league (often). But when you say that Mr. Smith recommends your plan and he doesn’t, what is it that you’re actually doing? Hopefully, I don’t need to go into a spiel on ethics here.
2) Strategy – Do you want to win? Yes? Then don’t let yourself get caught with a recommendation that doesn’t exist. 😉
How exactly, does one understand what an expert is saying? This is the task of actually reading what the advocate himself says. It may require a little work getting the book or full journal, but it will be worth it. In a recent round, we were told that our plan advocate recommended an entirely different plan of action. Unfortunately, this contradiction came from a separate author, a reporter. We quickly took the judge to the actual article our man had written and outlined his proposal (which also happened to be the Affirmative plan). Stick to the source.
Once you’ve acquired the source material, read it. Read it to understand it. While you will likely cull several pieces of evidence from the material (I’ve returned many a library book with cards blocked in pencil), you want to understand even the inconsequential facts.** Understand the process that leads to the author’s conclusion, and then find that conclusion. Make sure that each argument you retrieve from the author is consistent with the conclusion.
Consistency is very important (just ask Peter). In another round, the Negative team began to make an argument against our case with a well-known author. Unfortunately, the team had made an entirely honest mistake when carding their attack: googlebooks only allows a limited preview. I, on the other hand, had been blocking the actual book the night before. In this specific instance, the argument made by the Negative was not supported by the author’s conclusion. In fact, that conclusion actually contradicted the argument the Negative was making. Not only did this tint the Negative’s credibility, but it very neatly silenced any more quotes from that author.
Another way to aid in determining an advocate’s credibility is to check study methodologies. My case happens to be rather scientific and I’ve taken out several different scientific studies already this year because of the study methodology. While not as common in non-science related fields, multiple studies will list their study methodology somewhere. Make sure it’s credible.
Now, I’m not saying that you must read the entire article or book from every single author you ever plan on citing (if you can, that would be good). What I am saying is be careful in your use of advocacy.
Affirmatives: learn from the rounds spoke of above. Double-check your advocacy. Over the summer, a few teams were especially fond of using a certain author in order to recommend their plan. Unfortunately, like above, they didn’t have access to the entire article. I was a little suspicious of the article, so I got a copy for myself. It turns out the author only recommended the plan if it was in conjunction with several other actors, actors the Affirmative didn’t include. Additionally, the advocate specifically said that the Affirmative plan would be a bad idea if it didn’t include those actors.
That’s probably the most blatant example of ignorance leading to some issues. And I hope it serves as the spur in your ribs to guide you to superior advocacy.
Additionally, if you find that Negatives are using one or more experts the majority of the time, understand them fairly intimately. I’m not saying call your local FBI field office and do a full background check on them, but you do need to read some of their literature and maybe even determine their educational or work experience background. My partner and I recently discovered that one of the main anti-advocates of our Affirmative plan didn’t actually have any technical experience in the field that Negatives claimed he had experience from. Checking up on your adversaries can yield very fruitful results for your refutation. I know debate is not war (mostly), but as the Chinese military genius Sun-Tzu said “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” I think the principle applies.
Negatives: Learn from the rounds spoke of above as well. I would place priority in the same order the Affirmative should: focus on the Affirmative advocates first, then on popular Negative experts. Nothing is more fun than turning advocates, or pointing out that an Affirmative’s expert doesn’t recommend their plan.
Now, I want to leave you with a note of caution. Please don’t go ballistic on experts and sources. I’m not advocating indictments galore. If you discover that an advocate isn’t actually an advocate, point this out. In most cases, I wouldn’t make it an ethical issue and get a team disqualified. In each of the times I’ve pointed this out, the Affirmative team was making an honest mistake and all of them have since scratched them from their advocacy pool. While researching quality is the burden of the team, I don’t care to evict a team over an honest mistake.
Relatedly, I don’t recommend indicting an advocate and moving on. An indictment is not a take-out, it is a set-up for the knockout punch. Cast a shadow over the credibility of the argument, then dismantle the argument specifically with counter advocacy. Complete disarmament will boost your credibility even as it collapses the opposition’s.
Go check up on your advocacy. Now.
[A couple of articles I referenced, and you should read]