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There are a lot of things you shouldn’t do in Parli.  Point of Ordering an opponent nineteen times is one.  Counterplanning to build the Death Star is another.  And so is running burdens for a metaphor resolution based on a Taylor Swift song.

People I know have experienced or participated in all of these things.  Of course, everyone has skeletons in their closet.  I’ve done things I’m not proud of–including running crazy burdens and POOing people unreasonably.  But there’s one thing most everyone has done that I believe we shouldn’t do–and it’s a lot more mainstream than the Death Star.

Don’t run studies in Parli–unless they are backing for your logical arguments.

I’ve participated in multiple rounds where a team bases their entire case on some studies, whether on school choice or the benefits of empathizing with others.  A common approach is to bring up counterstudies, and spend the rest of the round arguing about properties you can just barely remember from prep time.  

But there’s a better argument.  In order to understand it, we have to understand some theory about how to prove things.

Primary vs. Secondary Warrants

What I call a primary warrant is the logical claim behind an argument.  The primary warrant derives from the inherent nature of something or from objective facts.  

For example, the argument could be, “The tax plan will help Republicans electorally.”

The primary warrant is the syllogism:

“People support politicians who grow the economy.”

“Republican politicians are growing the economy through the tax plan.”

“People will support Republicans because of the tax plan.”

You still must prove each premise in order to uphold the primary warrant, but once this task is completed, you have proven your claim.

The secondary warrant is the empirical or historical evidence that supports or opposes the conclusion of the primary warrant (the conclusion being the claim).  For example, a secondary warrant could be the use of the 1981 tax cuts as an example.  The secondary warrant class includes studies.  

The relationship between primary warrants (P) and secondary warrants (Q) is as follows: Q requires P, P does not require Q.  Q supports P, P gives ground for Q.  It is insufficient to say that 1981 cuts brought electoral success without having the primary warrant in place.

Where does this leave us with Parli?

The Nature of Debate

Debate is first and foremost a contest of logic–a contest of primary warrants.  Secondary warrants prove the validity of primary warrants, but can be sacrificed without losing the essential claim.  The primary claim comes first.

A debater should never present a study or empiric without outlining his primary warrant, whether in TP, Parli, or LD.  Especially since most published research findings are probably false.  We’ve dealt with this before.  But Parli gets even trickier.

The limitations of Parli are such that is impossible to explore a study in round.  A debater can cite a study insisting that coffee causes cancer, but you have no ability to check vital information like the sample size, the methodology, the funding, or the p-value.  Parli makes it impossible to even make an attempt to examine an opponent’s statistical warrant.  Thus any study cited forces us to either go against it with a primary warrant or to simply accept it uncritically (perhaps you will have been lucky enough to find some dirt on it or a counterstudy in prep time, but that won’t always be the case).

In addition, the value of empirics and statistics in our society is such that the simple mention of a stat is often enough to sway a judge.  Parli makes it impossible to check that the study exists or says what the other team claims.  This format, already so open to ethical dilemmas, is only further hampered if studies are brought in in this way.

This is not to say that studies are useless or that they should not be employed–it is to say that the studies must be kept in their proper place, as secondary warrants to a primary warrant.  That primary warrant must be open to attack by another primary warrant, since as such the study must be able to be outweighed or explained away.  But when the study is presented as the warrant without the primary warrant, the existence of the statistic shuts down any primary warrant contest.  

The Conundrum

When a round clashes between logic and statistics, the judge is forced to do a couple of things.  First, they are forced to make an impossible choice–whether to accept a study result defying plain logic, or accept logic without empirics.  This is unreasonable.  Logic with statistics should win, but having to vote for one or the other is incredibly difficult.  

The second conundrum is the believability of the debaters.  Judges do not want to distrust a debater–but when someone cites a counterintuitive statistic that seems to go against logic without the commensurate explanation, a judge simply has to wonder if they are telling the truth.  With no evidence review, a judge must simply decide whether the debaters are believable to trust the statistic, which is an unfair place to leave a judge in.

The Solution

Studies are valid forms of evidence, as long as they are kept in their proper place.  They are secondary warrants first and foremost, and must be viewed in that light.  The debate must be on which primary warrant is true.  Secondary warrants can support a primary warrant, but cannot be one.  A debate cannot be judged between logic and statistics–it must be judged on logic vs. logic.  

So, unless you understand the study enough to explain its nuances, don’t use it.  And especially not in Parli.  It’s probably best to avoid using studies at all in Parli–since even if they are used as a secondary warrant the format inherently limits their usefulness and the verification is certainly a problem.  

It can be fun to do crazy things in Parli.  But simply loading an LOC with studies that the Government team could never have hoped to review steps over the line from fun to disrespectful.  

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