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NDT 2013
April 9, 2013 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Last week Emporia State University won the National Debate Tournament for the first time. Ryan Wash and Elijah Smith won the round over Northwestern's Peyton Lee and Arjun Vellayappan in a close 3-2 decision. (link goes to a video of the round)

This makes them the first team ever to win both the Cross-Examination Debate Association national tournament and the NDT, the two policy debate tournaments which name national champions. (The NDT is an invite-only tournament; CEDA's national tournament is an open-entry tournament. Many teams that attend the NDT skip CEDA's tournament, making the feat of a double championship even less likely.)

If you're unfamiliar with policy debate, here's what you need to know: Two teams of two debaters each compete in a round. One side - the affirmative - advocates a resolution by proposing a test case; the other side - the negative - opposes the resolution by arguing against the affirmative team. This year's resolution is "Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce restrictions on and/or substantially increase financial incentives for energy production in the United States of one or more of the following: coal, crude oil, natural gas, nuclear power, solar power, wind power." Emporia State's affirmative only slightly addresses the resolution, which is not uncommon in contemporary policy debate.

Read the text of Emporia State's "Home" affirmative

The "Home" argument is essentially an evolution of the "project" style of debate pioneered by Louisville, where a team argues that policy debate is exclusionary and asks the judge to vote to endorse minority participation in debate.

read judge Scott Harris's 11-page ballot here: (.doc format) or here: (as a web page)
Read a summary of Harris's ballot

The tournament was also notable for Georgetown University's team going undefeated in the prelim rounds, without a single judge voting against them until the elims. This feat is rare and was last done in the early 90s by an Iowa team.

Previously on the Blue - critical policy debate
posted by LSK (49 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
(I felt compelled to make this post because my gut reaction to this affirmative winning the tournament was highly negative. Although I'm happy for the Emporia team and they absolutely deserved the round win based on the arguments advanced in the round, I feel very strongly about the switch-side elements of intercollegiate policy debate, and I don't like that an argument that doesn't interact with the year's topic can be the champion, even if their arguments are true.

In my mind, it devalues all the hundreds of hours that debaters spend conducting research to learn about the year's topic, which is compounded because teams that run this style of argument can do so year after year, on both affirmative and negative sides, while traditional teams generally run arguments that are different in substance when arguing for or against the resolution.)

posted by LSK at 8:49 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah but why are they yelling?
posted by ReeMonster at 9:09 AM on April 9, 2013


Ah, debate tournaments. I remember those days. I competed at Nationals in Portland in 2000 as a young sophomore in High School in Congressional Debate. It was a mix of chamber and judges pref, and I broke to finals placing 17th in the Nation.

The policy kids are insane though. I thought I had to carry around a lot of evidence with me for congress until I saw the policy kids. They would roll around 500 lbs in three giant plastic tubs for their evidence. Absolutely nuts. Kudos to these winners!
posted by lazaruslong at 9:11 AM on April 9, 2013


I can't seem to find the text of the affirmative on the page you linked. Can you help me out with a direct link?

I really would like to see an example of a "project" style argument
posted by mulligan at 9:13 AM on April 9, 2013


Upon arriving in downtown Chicago a man ran up to me and asked for money because his daughter had a crisis and had run out of gas and desperately needed money for her car because she had to get somewhere important.
Have you ever lived in a city before? If you're a white guy who dresses halfway nicely, you'll get that act 10 times a day.

This ballot recognizes that reality is socially constructed.
Um. On those grounds you could have awarded the prize to the llama at the Chicago Zoo.

Emporia argued that oppressed people should not be forced to role play being the oppressor.
It sounds to me like the Northwestern team laughed this argument off and didn't form a serious response, annoying the judge.
posted by miyabo at 9:15 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't seem to find the text of the affirmative on the page you linked. Can you help me out with a direct link?

Click on "Home Aff" on that page and it expands.
posted by LSK at 9:18 AM on April 9, 2013


So, if I'm understanding the what I'm reading/hearing, the basic argument was:

- Racial and sexual minorities have different lived experiences than those individuals from the modal culture

- Those minorities are disproportionately underrepresented in the debate world

- Therefore this entire debate process is invalid, vote for us

Emporia was actually there, present at the debate, with an opportunity to address the effects of a lack of minority views in policy decision, but they chose instead to argue the entire model was invalid? I'm all for trenchant and impassioned critiques of discourse, but that seems evasive at best, and disingenuous at worst. This only point I take away from this event is if this kind of tangential argument is common in these policy debates, maybe it is time to burn the whole system to the ground. This is aside from the glossolalia that debaters are required to express themselves through.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:26 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


I tried out for my school's debate team once. The topic was "should you tell your sex partner about your STIs?" and my task was to present arguments against. I didn't get to be on the team.
posted by Nomyte at 9:31 AM on April 9, 2013


Hah, yeah arguing against positions that one feels strongly about is a big part of the debate team. It's slightly more dynamic in Congressional debate, for a couple of reasons.

One, the topics to be argued are "bills" or "resolutions" and you don't know what they are until you are actually in the chamber, because they are submitted by the members.

Two, you won't really know which side you are going to argue in advance. They generally go pro / neg / pro / neg, so if a whole bunch of people get on the docket for pro, you have to go neg to get a chance at making the speech.

This generally means you are writing the speech in chamber, on the fly, and very very quickly. And usually arguing for something you don't believe in, or against something you do believe in.

It's actually rather fun, though. And as a 15 year old, gave me seriously invaluable training in how to write quickly and efficiently on most any topic, and lie like a motherfucker. Probably good training for politicians!

I argued some terribly immoral (from my perspective) positions in those days, so it was always kind of a relief when the next resolution was more tame, like adopting the Metric system or whatever.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:43 AM on April 9, 2013


(Debate does seem like a pretty exclusive system though, given that you have to go to a pretty fancy high school to have a debate program, and it's difficult to participate in college without that. Unfortunately that's like most extracurricular activities though.)
posted by miyabo at 9:57 AM on April 9, 2013


I think it's cool that there are no effective formal limits on what arguments you can make in policy debate. You can go the exact opposite of the seeming "intended" structure of resolutions and stock voting issues and still win, if what you are saying furnishes a reason for you to win. It seems admirable.

But it's bizarre to me that you can now routinely win by in effect protesting the activity, and asking your judges to join you in protesting the activity. It's the kind of thing that must have been exhilarating and powerful when someone did it for the first time in a final round, but is unseemly as a routine part of the activity. If half of all affirmative teams are going to say that the formal core of the activity (resolutions, etc.) is a distraction from what really matters, why do they continue to pursue the activity? If judges are ready every round to be persuaded that the whole thing is not worth pursuing, that creating a safe space is more important than debating, or whatever, why do they stay with the activity? Why do they get together and come up with resolutions every year, why do they research stuff on the resolutions, etc.? It seems to me that the advocacy of these performativity-based cases is now largely self-defeating. If you really believe the kinds of things you're saying in your case constructive, you should be finding something else to do with your weekends.

There's no longer anything brave about this form of advocacy; it is the norm, and this fact undermines its whole message.
posted by grobstein at 10:00 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


(I should add that I am very much an outsider to policy debate; this is an outsider's view.)
posted by grobstein at 10:01 AM on April 9, 2013


To take that argument further, a given team could submit that they, rather than even participate, have chosen to do something useful with their time and should thusly be considered the true winners. huh.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:03 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I actually find it easier to be creative and formalistically solid when playing devil's advocate against my own deeply-held positions than for them. When arguing for I'm emotionally invested, which isn't always the best thing in debate.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:03 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


miyabo: "(Debate does seem like a pretty exclusive system though, given that you have to go to a pretty fancy high school to have a debate program, and it's difficult to participate in college without that. Unfortunately that's like most extracurricular activities though.)"

For the record, this isn't really true. I went to a public high school, very poor, and we had a team. It may be true that the richer schools have "better" teams, because they usually have better everything, but if anything it's a lower barrier to entry - you don't have to afford a stadium or uniform or equipment or anything. Just a pair of slacks, a nice shirt, and a classroom.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:03 AM on April 9, 2013


(Debate does seem like a pretty exclusive system though, given that you have to go to a pretty fancy high school to have a debate program, and it's difficult to participate in college without that. Unfortunately that's like most extracurricular activities though.)

Eh? I went to a tiny public high school in the sticks, and we cobbled a team together from six vaguely-interested people who showed up after they ran an announcement for it over the morning PA. My ninth-grade English teacher oversaw it, and we sort of picked it up as we went. I think our entire yearly budget was enough to run off 1500 pages of photocopies for the evidence binders, and a yellow school bus to haul us 40+ miles in one direction every time we found a tournament to compete in.
posted by Mayor West at 10:17 AM on April 9, 2013


If judges are ready every round to be persuaded that the whole thing is not worth pursuing, that creating a safe space is more important than debating, or whatever, why do they stay with the activity?

If I were in the position to coach a college debate team, I might have them say that, and say that they'll legitimately quit the activity if the judge votes for the dodgy team, and follow through. I think the debate community would only take notice if teams started actively dropping out of participation.
posted by LSK at 10:21 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I never understood why you would compete in a policy debate league in college if all you wanted to do was play semantic Calvinball with the resolutions. If you really want to go argue about literary theory and make metastatements about the inherent inadequacies of structured debate, you should take your act over to APDA, where it's all made up on the fly anyway, and you actually get in trouble for running cases that require evidence binders. As an added bonus, APDA has way better parties, and doesn't even cast a stern glance at teams openly trying to manipulate the judging. Though my teammate did notably fail to sleep his way to the top
posted by Mayor West at 10:26 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


...Calvinball...

Brilliant. That's exactly what this is. An established system of dialectical argumentation that permits and rewards moving the goalposts--which is often a fallacy of logic--is pretty much doomed. (Non debater-of-any-sort here.)
posted by resurrexit at 10:38 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tremble for the day that these people decide to join MetaFilter.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:45 AM on April 9, 2013


Are you kidding? We're already on MetaFilter by the droves.

I didn't debate in high school, but I was still more than welcome at my college debate club. We didn't have a formal team; who got sent to each tournament was determined on an ad-hoc basis. You could practice as much or as little as you wanted on a weekly basis, and when tournaments are announced we'd hold internal debate-off which is open to everyone who applies. You could usually predict who would make it into the team based on your knowledge of their debating skills, but there was also a concerted effort to reserve spots for novices. This was the model at pretty much every university I debated against in Ontario, and many of the best debaters I know never debated in high school.

That doesn't mean debate isn't exclusive, mind you. I still found it to be a very homogenous environment with an overwhelming majority being upper middle class students from liberal arts disciplines (history, politics) and the activity presumes both the free time to practice and go to tournaments and the money to travel to these tournaments. Some financial aid is available depending on how good your club is at fundraising, but it's never free. I just wanted to point out that your high school record has little to do with your participation in the activity.
posted by Phire at 10:54 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dear God. Pardon a C-X outsider butting in, and I'm sure this is a common complaint, but this resembles a Micro Machines commercial more than debate. Why structure a competition in a way that encourages shouting incomprehensibly and generally behaving in a way that has no analogue to anything in the real world?
posted by eugenen at 10:57 AM on April 9, 2013


Why structure a competition in a way that encourages shouting incomprehensibly and generally behaving in a way that has no analogue to anything in the real world?

Because the debaters that speak quickly have learned how to beat "speed bad" arguments, to the extent that nobody reads "speed bad" arguments anymore.

That breathing has got to be unhealthy, though.
posted by LSK at 11:01 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why structure a competition in a way that encourages shouting incomprehensibly and generally behaving in a way that has no analogue to anything in the real world?

Talk radio farm teams?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:09 AM on April 9, 2013


Sounds like crap battle rap.
posted by 13twelve at 11:18 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why structure a competition in a way that encourages shouting incomprehensibly and generally behaving in a way that has no analogue to anything in the real world?

This could be an argument against any sport. Except maybe golf, in which shouting is not encouraged.

Debaters are not play-acting a "real-world" activity. They are engaging in an activity that has its own merits, and that does, in fact, take place in the real world.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:30 AM on April 9, 2013


This ballot recognizes that reality is socially constructed.

Um. On those grounds you could have awarded the prize to the llama at the Chicago Zoo.

Though not seen in debate these days as often as we might expect, biting one's opponent's balls off would seem to be an effective technique.
posted by jamjam at 11:31 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


As someone who debated/forensicated for five years and has judged rounds ever since, hyper-speed and the obnoxious breathing that goes with it are among the worst things ever conceived by man. It takes what is already sort of a shaky simulation of actual discussion and turns it into a game of who can cram the most junk into a speech. Yes, it's an activity with its own merits and not actually a discussion but there needs to be an education and argumentative aspect to it, which hyper-speed soundly does not allow. It's a shame that so many schools do it.

(My personal way of getting back at this is telling the students I judge in no uncertain terms that if they try that nonsense I will stop writing down their arguments, which means that they have effectively said nothing in the round. They fall into line quickly.)
posted by HostBryan at 12:22 PM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Seconding the APDA shout out. Clearly a superior format. 100% rather invent my own cases and win based on charisma and wit than drag around a tub of documents and waste my time on issues other people think are interesting.
posted by prefpara at 12:23 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


prefpara - Parlimentary debate in general is really the way to go. It's closest to the ideal of what the activity should look like (to me, anyway).
posted by HostBryan at 12:28 PM on April 9, 2013


My personal way of getting back at this is telling the students I judge in no uncertain terms that if they try that nonsense I will stop writing down their arguments, which means that they have effectively said nothing in the round. They fall into line quickly.

Thanks for the crap round, grandpa.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:30 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


(At least that's what I would have said behind your back if you were judging one of my rounds.)
posted by mr_roboto at 12:31 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


mr_roboto - Hey, you can go fast. But if I can't understand you, I can't write anything down, you know?

Also my hearing ain't what it used to be, sonny.
posted by HostBryan at 12:35 PM on April 9, 2013


Maybe you shouldn't be volunteering to do something you're not qualified to do.

I don't mean to be fighty, but this was a major, major peeve when I was debating. Could ruin a tournament.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:36 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, yeah, being from Canada we only ever debated CP / BP and occasionally APDA (which is clearly inferior given that your government isn't actually parliamentary) if we were going to NorAms or something. None of this spittle-flecked helium-fueled speed competition business.
posted by Phire at 12:36 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


They are engaging in an activity that has its own merits, and that does, in fact, take place in the real world.

What merits are those? The sound on the YouTube clip may be bad, but I literally have no idea what that guy at the timestamp I linked to is saying. Shouldn't being understood be a goal of debating?
posted by eugenen at 12:37 PM on April 9, 2013


(For the record, I did L-D in high school and had a splendid time.)
posted by eugenen at 12:38 PM on April 9, 2013


Maybe you shouldn't be volunteering to do something you're not qualified to do.

I don't mean to be fighty, but this was a major, major peeve when I was debating. Could ruin a tournament.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:36 PM on April 9 [1 favorite +] [!]


Wait? What! The competitors often effectively change the rules. Spewing and squirrely arguments (to use L-D criticisms of policy debate rounds), while common, still seem to me outlaws the spirit of the activity.

Rule number one was be flexible. Be able to make constructive thoughts come out of your mouth on command and you don't haven't blame the judge.

Blaming the judge for a loss was always my pet peeve.
posted by bilabial at 1:29 PM on April 9, 2013


Phire, I had the same experience - I debated through undergrad and law school in Canada (CUSID East and Central), but only in parliamentary style. This slam-debate stuff is a whole other beast and I can't say that I care for it.
posted by ZaphodB at 1:31 PM on April 9, 2013


Why not just submit essays instead of speed shouting what I assume is actual content but sounds like gobbledygook?
posted by PenDevil at 2:01 PM on April 9, 2013


Another Canadian (current) debater here - policy debate is its own creature. I'm still of the opinion that parliamentary debate is superior. The activity of debate should be about public reason. Debate has gone far wrong if the goal is no longer to be persuasive.

(For non-debaters: my understanding of why policy debate exists the way is does is an excess of formalism; you lose if you leave any argument un-responded to. Whereas in styles I'm familiar with, bad arguments can be safely ignored. Correct me if I'm wrong.)
posted by lookoutbelow at 5:00 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


What an embarrassment all around. The shrieking and screaming were bad enough. But I'll take that over social constructivist nonsense any day.

I debated in high school, and we talked too fast and were kind of assholes, but we were nothing like this. I quit when I got to college and discovered that debate had become a shrieking, spitting parody of rational discussion--and it was nowhere near as bad as it is now. Also, that was before people started running the nonsense po-mo cases. But people had begun running long, nonsensical negative cases in which they'd argue that, no matter what your plan did, it would either increase economic activity or decrease it, and either way it would inevitably lead, through two slightly different Rube Goldbergesque chains of events, to GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR. Most every debate became the same--all stupid. About that time I also discovered that many of the people I was competing against in extemporaneous speaking were cheating consistently, and, in fact, were incredulous that there was anyone who wasn't cheating.

Debate was a much tamer and saner endeavor when I was in high school. Even then, however, though it helped to develop certain reasoning skills, it helped to destroy others, including those needed to actually weigh evidence and arguments fairly.

I'm glad I did it, but I wish it hadn't turned me into an asshole for a couple of years, and I'm glad I got out when I did.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:48 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I did LD in high school, and even way the hell back then we thought policy was a big pile of nonsense. Inundate your opponents with garbage arguments at 100mph and then declare "victory" when they could bail faster than you could spew. This new form, where the arguments are canned garbage rather than garbage at least related to the resolution, kind of reinforces my distaste for the enterprise.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:04 PM on April 9, 2013


Maybe you shouldn't be volunteering to do something you're not qualified to do.

I don't mean to be fighty, but this was a major, major peeve when I was debating. Could ruin a tournament.


I'll set aside the "not qualified" bit (5 years competing, about as many judging) and say while I respect your perspective, judges are also free to have paradigms. Part of debate is understanding how to make your case and approach the audience. As a judge, I think speed is abusive and not constructive to quality argumentation or case structure. Another judge probably prefers it, and thinks that it's a necessary part of the competition. We're both right. It's why you're trained to ask before the round starts.

Again, I don't think going fast is a problem. You can do that and still make good arguments. My point is that to me, it's an educational activity. You should be learning how to use rhetoric and construct arguments and not on trying not to pass out from hyperventilating.
posted by HostBryan at 6:08 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm very surprised that all these (former) debaters haven't pointed out the flaw in the resolution text originally posted. As the liberal asshole debater who runs plan flaw, this was the first thing I noticed. I've also ran everything from economic collapse bad, human extinction good, to save the fishes in some random river. Policy debate really is anything goes, as long as you have the right judge.

One of the core skills I find that is a critical aspect of debate is adaptability. Every judge, like HostBryan said, has their own preferences, and in the end of the round, the debate is an attempt to communicate with the judge. The judge doesn't care if the other team understands if (s)he didn't get it on his/her flow (notes).
As a result, at the high school level, the National Forensics League is reviled by a lot of debaters for being filled with "parent" judges, or judges who favor the slower, less weird style of debate. However, there are still "champ" style rounds, or fast/yelling rounds. Personally I prefer the fast rounds, because usually when the judge is able to handle a faster pace, the arguments can also be more complex and you won't lose for dropping (or neglecting to answer) a really dumb argument (provided it is not significant. In policy, dropped arguments are taken as "true"). College debate is a different creature altogether, but explicitly communicating ideas with the judge is critical; Dr. Harris notes this in a few places on the ballot.

I find speed is useful, if you use it well. Reading a crapton of evidence is cute but useless if it isn't applied to the opponent's arguments. Speed makes bad debates worse, but good debates better.
posted by Just Another Entity at 6:38 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nevermind on the flaw. I guess college topics are written differently.
posted by Just Another Entity at 6:39 PM on April 9, 2013


I find speed is useful, if you use it well. Reading a crapton of evidence is cute but useless if it isn't applied to the opponent's arguments. Speed makes bad debates worse, but good debates better.

I think this is a pretty accurate statement.
posted by HostBryan at 7:27 PM on April 9, 2013


Just Another Entity -- I absolutely feel you on the "parent judge rounds" thing. When I did debate [which, admittedly, was in the "National Christian Forensics and Communications Association" or whatever {founded by HSLDA, the super super conservative homeschool "watchdog" group}, but still] there were so many debates that went to shit because the judge was a "mommy of seven" or whatever who had an hour max of orientation that morning. They would judge based on, like, what clothes you wore [true story, I missed nationals because I, a woman, wore a pant suit!] or your tone of voice or whether they liked your side more than the other's. So, when I aged out and started judging, everyone loved me because I a] could actually follow the debate flow and b] judged on the actual debate.

I also have to say that I hated running affirmative against the teams that solely ran counter-plan to the topic. it felt like a cheat-way to give them the affirmative advantage, and upset things quite a lot, IMO. And then there were the debates you lost despite the neg not having any evidence at all against your case, etc etc.

Oh, the memories. I should shut up before I really blow the dam off...
posted by gloraelin at 2:14 AM on April 10, 2013


So this is where all the Adderall kids end up.

I guess the competition has lost sight of the purpose of debate which I see as the exploration of ideas for the purpose of persuasion.

At first, I thought this was a joke a la The Onion.

All this fast talking seems like a parody of an exchange of ideas.

And yes, I'm old.
posted by mygoditsbob at 6:26 AM on April 10, 2013


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