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The life of a squirrel is a dangerous one.  They have to deal with snakes, weasels, coyotes, red foxes, raccoons, birds of prey, cats, dogs and humans, depending on their species and where they live.  Every squirrel has to deal with weather.  Since the 1900s, a new predator has arisen: the dreaded automobile.

However, there’s one species of squirrel that many people rely on the lifespan of.  Some human beings find them, research them, and hope they survive for the length of one tournament or even one round.  This species is the inamabilis sciurus consilium – squirrel case.

It never ceases to amaze me how many debaters make this mistake: They go through a successful year running a well-thought-out case, and then right before nationals they choose to scrap it.  They find an obscure idea or policy and attempt to formulate a case off of it.  What many debaters don’t realize is this makes them weaker.  Too many have tried this strategy and blown nationals because of it.  They could do better with a well-argued AND widely-known case.

Both in-round and out-of-tournament problems exist with squirrels.


The first in-round problem comes from the resolution itself.  One word in particular.  Substantial (or significant, or whatever synonym is used by the league you find yourself in).  Do you think your judge, who expects to hear about a substantial policy change, wants to hear about a tiny whiny complaint that no one except a single professor actually cares about?  If you’re not sure, let me put it this way: NO!!!  Chances are your judge is annoyed.

Also likely is the fact that your opponents have been trained in real-world debate and they know exactly how to combat this.  And to those of you who like to define substantial as “important,” I have one message: stop.  Those who write the resolution didn’t write it as “The USFG should make an important reform to x.”  That’s utterly nonsensical.  Of course the reform should be important – that’s assumed.  You cannot simply choose the second or third definition in a dictionary because it helps make the word nonexistent.  Once a definition cancels the word out of the sentence, it’s not the right definition.  In the real world, substantial reform means a large policy change measure quantitatively or qualitatively. It’s that simple.

Information Limitation

Here’s the second practical reason squirrels are dangerous: limited knowledge.  Squirrels have two problems in this regard:

In most cases, your research is more limited than it would be with an all-year case. When a case is kept all year, you practice arguing it. You hear most, if not all, negative arguments before nationals.  You have well-developed, deep responses and arguments you can pull out.  With a squirrel, these advantages are gone.

The literature is more limited. People don’t write as much about non-important issues (which raises the question why would one run this case in the first place). It’s more difficult, sometimes impossible, to gather a good variety and quantity of experts to back your position.

Decreases Your Skill

Now on to the most important reason squirrels shouldn’t be run.  It makes our sport less important.  It decreases the benefit behind doing this.  It limits the skills you can obtain.  Debate is the last gentleman’s sport.  Our rules are extremely limited.  For the most part, we have leeway in what we do.

However, squirrels go against this limited-rules philosophy.  Their point and purpose is catch your opponent off guard by ignoring big ideas.  We debate so we can learn how to further our ideas in the real world.  Ideas like our religion, our politics, our economic viewpoints…You cannot run a squirrel case to win these debates.  All squirrels do is waste time we could be using to develop our real world skills.

Squirrels often rely on the assumption negative will be too confused to argue good points, will have a lack of evidence, or will have less-thought-out ideas behind their points.  Oftentimes, this might be true.  However, don’t expect the same when your professor starts bashing your religion.

It’s open season.  Debaters are learning how to take down these vicious little rodents.  I suggest you stop running them.

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