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Most people would agree that higher speaker points tend to correlate with higher win rates in debate.  Of course, there will always be teams who get low speaks and still do exceptionally well, and there will be those who speak well but still are stuck going 3-3.  But barring those exceptions, the relationship between the two is quite strong; there’s a reason that the top speaker awards tend to go to the teams that make it deepest into outrounds.  

While I generally agree with this idea, it’s my position that this idea breaks down when it comes to evidence.  In this article, I want to persuade you of the following:

If you can plausibly make an argument with OR without evidence, you shouldn’t use evidence

I’ll start with the obvious arguments:

  1. Time Management

If you use evidence to make a point, you have to spend time reading the citation, reading the evidence itself, and impacting it.  On average, I would estimate that this bites a solid 15 seconds off your speaking time.  If you’re making even just 4 arguments in your speech, you could save a minute or more by cutting out evidence if/when possible.

  1. Critical Thinking

Put simply, if you’re forced to make an argument yourself, you’re more likely to thoroughly understand and explain it than you would be if you let someone else make the argument for you (namely, some PhD off in AcademiaLand™).  In addition to making the round more educational, it increases the chance of you carrying those arguments through rebuttals in an effective manner since you then have a better grasp of what you’re saying.

Less obvious, however, and what I’d like to spend a bit more time discussing is

  1. Gets Rid of Implicated Burdens

Here’s the deal: even in a situation where both teams agree that the round is about whether the aff plan upholds the resolution (I.E., the vast majority if not all of your rounds), your goal in the round isn’t necessarily to win the argument.  It’s to win the ballot.  And the person who decides whether you win the ballot is none other than the judge, who, although a rational human being, is almost never the idealistic argument-evaluator machine that we wish they would be; they’re subject to things such as bias, misunderstanding, and the like.  There will always be specific arguments/methods that specific judges won’t find persuasive, but there are definitely several “flaws” that every judge has.  I use the term “flaw” to describe any aspect of judging that results in a substantively “good” argument being somewhat or completely underappreciated.  For example, one such “flaw” is that most parent/inexperienced judges cannot or will not evaluate arguments delivered too quickly.  Thus, most debaters make an effort to slow down in front of such judges, even though this is objectively non-strategic from a purely argumentative standpoint.  

The key to being a good debater, therefore, is two-fold.  First, a debater must understand how to make arguments, how various arguments interact with each other on a technical level, and so on.  He must know the “rules of debate,” to put it differently.  But second, the debater must understand when to break those “rules;” he must know when to sacrifice argumentation in order to win the ballot.  One such case of strategically breaking the “rules,” as established earlier, is slowing down.  

It is my position that just like the issue of speaking slowly, there is a widespread cognitive bias among inexperienced/parent judges against the use of evidence when it’s possible not to use it.  

Let me use an analogy: let’s suppose that you were watching a Youtube tutorial on how to bake a cake.  You, the unknowledgeable baker, assume that each step the person in the video takes is necessary to ensure the integrity of the final product.  The Youtube baker used a cup and  a half of flour?  You should follow suit.  They set their oven to 350 degrees?  You’d best do the same.  This means, however, that if the baker were to take an unnecessary step, such as, for example, shaking their eggs like maracas for thirty seconds before cracking them, you would assume that because that step is part of the process, it must be integral to the end result.

Similarly, I would argue that if you use evidence when you don’t need to, it is an unnecessary step that the judge nevertheless assumes is critical to your argument.  Objectively speaking, it is easier to discredit evidence than to discredit logical argument.  To attack evidence, a debater can either attack things external to the argument the author is making (such as date, source, credibility, and so on), or he can attack the argument itself and deconstruct the logical links.  In the case of non-evidentiary arguments, debaters only have the latter option at their disposal.  

At a purely argumentative level, even if the opposing team discredits external elements of your evidence, you should still be able to pull the point across and substantiate it with the uncontested warrant of the evidence itself.  But in practice, the same judges mentioned earlier tend to mentally link the evidence and the warrant together.  And who can blame them?  It’s a fairly natural thing to assume.  But for that reason, just like the egg maracas, the judge, by tying the two together, assumes that both are part and parcel to your argument, even if that’s not actually the case.  Put concisely, using evidence, at a technical level, sets up a dichotomy where if either your evidence is good OR the argument itself is good, you should win the point.  But in practice, judges replace the OR with an AND.  Not using evidence ensures that nothing follows that “and,” thereby increasing your chances of winning the argument.  If you’d like to discuss this idea/disagree with it, feel free to comment below, and I’d love to talk.

Hope you guys found this helpful!


Ben Brown is the blog manager for Ethos Debate LLC. He has competed in Team Policy debate for four years, ranking in the top 16 nationally every year of his high school career in addition to having obtained a smattering of national placings in speech. When not debating, Ben can be found wishing he was debating, playing board games, or hanging out with friends and family.

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