Here’s a serious post…
I’m coming to judge some rounds at nationals again this year. Last year I sent some excellent debaters packing to their car for full articles after the round. Here are a couple tips in preparing for nationals… which can be a dangerous place when it comes to evidence.
1. Follow the highest standards. Realize that everyone has DIFFERENT standards. Your judges are going to be from a wide variety of debate backgrounds. Especially parents in regions that have unofficial “rules” you need to look out for, but also ex-debaters, lawyers, coaches, me. What standard should you prepare for? Easy: the highest one.
2. Have longer cards. I know that with some of the evidence problems we have seen, several college debaters I know that will be judging at nationals are more inclined to ask for key evidence after rounds. At Ethos this is why we have more lengthy cards — so the context is always clear (good from both an argument perspective AND an ethical perspective). Last year at nationals I judged a team in outrounds whose 1AC literally sounded like this: “Harm 2 is ‘costs billions,’ that’s ‘costs billions,’. According to a 2009 article in the New York Times “this will cost billions””. Did I ask for that evidence? OF COURSE. You can’t have the word “this” as the starting line of a half-sentence quote from an article for which title you didn’t even read me… I have absolutely zero verification that the article was referring to the aff case, much less the lack of persuasive power from a card without warrants. The warrants issue is a topic for another post and not an ethics violation, it just isn’t persuasive, but “this” without a referent is shady stuff. Moral of story: have the complete quote on hand in-context. [for curious people: I did not vote against the team for this reason… I merely was unpersuaded by that piece of evidence. The negative team had powerless arguments and I voted aff anyhow]
3. Do the judge’s work for them — point out evidence issues, without calling them ethics violations. What bothers me as a judge is when I’m listening to cards and the negative team clearly isn’t. Just because you have a brief ready to go and a canned strategy is NOT a good reason to not be in the round and use some quick thinking skills. You need to listen closely to what evidence says and indicate to your judge that you are listening to the same thing that s/he is hearing. Doesn’t mean you call any issues an ethics violation — that usually has no weight to the judge. I will make up their own mind about ethics, you just point out what happened: “My opponent’s evidence used the word ‘this,’ but it wasn’t clear what ‘this’ was. It could’ve been a more nuanced version of their case, or what not, so it should not be counted towards their position.” Once you start saying “and it is unethical, so vote against them”, you open up a can of worms that can hold up tournaments, make family feuds, and ultimately probably doesn’t affect the judge other than to make one wish he weren’t judging.
4. Don’t take advantage of seemingly gray areas. Judges are able to ask for evidence at the end of the round. They are only supposed to look at what WAS READ and not be persuaded even by the rest of the context in the quote, the part of the citation that wasn’t read, and especially not other quotes on the same page. DO NOT offer me evidence at the end of the round — or any other judges either. Judges ask for evidence; it is unfair to put evidence in front of their face. It’s unfair to your opponents and it is you trying to influence the round outside of the time limits. Some judges will ping you mighty for it, your opponents and opponents parents will notice and be upset, and you might end up in a brouhaha. Last year there was a round where both teams were contesting evidence about an argument that didn’t even matter (some small disadvantage) because of other bigger issues, which both teams were saying were bigger issues (100% solvency takeout). At the end of the round I said “I’d like to see some evidence–” and before I could say what, one of the debaters told ME what it was (they were wrong). When I asked for evidence that was related to the big issue, but not what they were nattering at each other over, they were upset and both teams kept saying “don’t you want to see THIS piece”. Acting like that is not professional and shows that it is way too much about the “competition” to you and that you have little respect for your judge.
Finally, IF YOU ARE A PARENT READING THIS:
5. Don’t hold others to standards that don’t exist. I realize NCFCA is already bad about this, for example in IEs holding people to “academic standards” far beyond any college or professional publishing organization, but that does not give you license to… well… be a cop. For example, “they didn’t quote the complete paragraph!” might shock some people, but there’s no “rule” against quoting only key lines. In fact, in the professional world, many public speakers merely paraphrase and refer to ideas that other smart people say. Some students model their presentations off of what they see in the professional world and are doing just fine. Here there are no “rules” so much as (we commonly feature on this blog), a need to use your brain. Did omitting half of a sentence change the meaning of the quote? No? Then ok. Did leaving out some items from a list given in a study change the conclusions for the items that were read? No. Then ok. Is the student telling you information from a chart that isn’t “in paragraph form”, but is definitely there, the other team can see it, etc? Yes. Then ok.
By all means, start casting stones 😉 that’s what the comments section is for. This is a tough subject and not exactly enjoyable to tackle.
[Photo Attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22280677@N07/ / CC BY-ND 2.0]
A very timely article…
My #1 rule concerning evidence ethics is give the other team the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be the bad cop who looses friends and harms your reputation by making anything less than a fully supported accusation concerning evidence ethics. Also, don’t be quick to jump to conclusions. State the facts but let the Judge make the call on evidence fabrication.
That said I would encourage judges and coaches to be pro-active about actual fraud, especially this year. Sure, omitting material (with notation), not reading parts of the complete paragraph (assuming you are faithful to the original intent), or communicating the material on a chart (as long as you orally note it’s your summary not quoted evidence) is perfectly okay. However, as a Christian league we have a duty to ethical evidence use. Laundering evidence dates, disguising analysis as evidence, or omitting material (especially harmful material) without notation is highly unethical but sadly very common. Recklessness or carelessness is not an excuse. You are personally responsible for the evidence you use. My estimate is 40% of cases at nats contain one of the above examples of serious fabrication and 90% of cases contain some level of evidence misconduct (i.e. omitting material without notation when it does not alter the intent, starting a card mid-sentence capitalizing the first letter and not noting that with ellipses, etc.). I would encourage anyone judging at Nats to call for three random cards from both teams and verify those cards. We cannot afford to let the NCFCA develop a bad reputation on evidence ethics. This problem (and based on a significant sample of nationally qualified cases I’ve reviewed it is a huge problem) has to be nipped in the bud.
Several types of fabrication that I’m seeing this year:
First is “evidence disguised as analysis.” Basically debaters write some analysis after the end of card and after 50 copy-n-pastes and three months later that debater generated analysis becomes part of the material inside the quotation marks. Maybe that card gets traded to three teams that fail to verify it and like a virus every team in a region suddenly has a fabricated card in the 1AC. Many evidence problems are the result of recklessness instead of malicious intent (nevertheless to borrow from the law, recklessness can be criminal and with evidence ethics recklessness is not an excuse). I would recommend that all participants at nationals verify the cards in their 1ACs and Neg. files at this point in the year. Maybe you didn’t intentionally put a fabricated card in your case but I would suggest that there is a 40% or higher chance that one has slipped past you.
#2 is publication dates. NCFCA tournament rules appear to require teams to have publication dates available. (Section V.A2 revised May 2010). Although, I don’t think this is an enforced rule or even custom within the community the emphasis on publication dates is important. If you are using an accessed date or updated date you SHOULD orally say so when you read the evidence. I’ve seen many an inherency card go astray due to a failure on this point (Suddenly a 2001 card becomes 2010). It is completely unethical to use unnoted access dates for evidence. A great way to catch this is to cross-check the listed date with the URL which often contains some form of date information (especially for news publications).
#3 Unnoted paraphrasing. You should never place paraphrased material inside quotation marks or paraphrase without orally stating that you are doing so. In fact, I would recommend that you never paraphrase evidence because of the risks involved. The one time it is appropriate is probably in the example given above (when you are summarizing material on a chart and that is really not paraphrasing if done impromptu). Nevertheless, you CANNOT write an evidence card based on what you believe a certain chart says. You must orally note that you are interpreting a chart and have the chart available in the 1AC or with the evidence card for the other team or the judge to review. The chart is the evidence not your comments about it (which are subjective interpretations).
A big tip that I would recommend would be to use underlines instead of ellipses. That allows you to keep better track of what that card you cut two months ago actually said (preventing you from distorting it) and allows the other team to see the content you omitted (which makes them more likely to be gracious if you accidently push the line on something).
Finally, I liked Isaiah’s comments about following the highest standards. This is an academic activity and careful citations and research are essential (see Michael A. Bellesiles, heavy hitting historian who was completely disgraced by poor research). This is not extemp or I.E. Debate has traditionally had a much more serious approach to evidence and quotations. May sure you take the high road, this is not something you want to get into hot water over. Good luck at Nats!
And I agree with both Matt and Isaiah. I’ve seen a lot of 1AC’s this year (love reading them everyone!). I do note that there are evidence issues in many of the affirmatives I critique. Some teams are very receptive to fixing those issues, some are not receptive at all. The evidence issues have been common year after year, but I do see them as proliferating a bit more than usual this year. Parents, you could do a lot towards helping this issue. Go check your debater’s case and evidence. Look it all up. Make sure it actually is academically sound. And have a discussion about why that is important and what to do if they run into a problem in a round. Students need more guidance in this area while in high school. College is much less forgiving.