Our elite Mastership Sourcebooks for NCFCA and Stoa will release soon! Check them out here!

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.


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]

%d bloggers like this: