February 8, 2006 11:20 PM   Subscribe

Auctioneer + Political Wonk + Chess Club = The World of Competitive Policy Debate. This video of the national debate championships [realplayer, and many more here, including in other languages] is a real experience. This form of debate has evolved around a very specific set of rules with results that may seem strange to the uninitiated. Each year since 1921 there has been a single topic (take a look at 1939 for an example that reflects the times). Competitors learn to speak very fast, while elaborate strategies for winning have developed and massive amounts of information are presented in just a few minutes. If you like your debates witty and understandable, you may want to check out parliamentary debate instead (real format). I assume there are some other ex-debaters out there in MeFi land....
posted by blahblahblah (85 comments total)
And make sure to forward to the cross examination at 9:20 in to watch things get geekily ugly.
posted by blahblahblah at 11:21 PM on February 8, 2006

I have never seen anything like this. Very bizarre.
posted by Falconetti at 11:33 PM on February 8, 2006

Debate was probably the best thing I had in high school, I wasn't particularly good at it but that didn't matter too much. You met people from around the country, had a 3 or 4 day school week most weeks, served as an intellectual outlet, and since we are talking about hundreds of high school kids spending weekends in hotels far away from home there were more purient outlets as well.
posted by herting at 12:02 AM on February 9, 2006

That quick speak with the sharp breaths is crazy annoying. Why has "debate" morphed into such a bizarre vapid shadow of itself? It's the child beauty pageant of rhetoric. Something kinda normal taken to a dark extreme...
posted by qwip at 12:02 AM on February 9, 2006

Oh, oh, policy is just foul. All the cool kids did LD.
posted by punishinglemur at 12:09 AM on February 9, 2006

Policy debating is the worst kind, IMHO. Just because of the way it's conducted - it's impossible to have any sort of rational debate or keen insight into the issue when you're scrambling to hunt through hundreds of file folders while the other guy's talking at a pace so fast that there's really little point in listening to them. Luckily, it's almost entirely an American thing, so I never had to do it during my stint in debating.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 12:15 AM on February 9, 2006

I did LD in high school. We couldn't stand the policy kids. They were annoying even when they weren't debating.
posted by HSWilson at 12:20 AM on February 9, 2006

In high-school I managed to fail tragically at policy debate (but managed to gain some notoriety in team speech.) At one tournament, I watched my speech partner (a debater) give the 1AC which had been synchronized to a soundtrack via hidden boombox. It was one of the greatest and nerdiest things I've ever seen.

"Advantage one: Space." [theme from 2001 plays, neg team looks stunned.]
posted by nicething at 12:28 AM on February 9, 2006

qwip writes "Why has 'debate' morphed into such a bizarre vapid shadow of itself? "

Pseudoephedrine writes "Just because of the way it's conducted - it's impossible to have any sort of rational debate or keen insight into the issue when you're scrambling to hunt through hundreds of file folders while the other guy's talking at a pace so fast that there's really little point in listening to them."

It's not supposed to be eloquent or even particularly relevant to the real world. It's a strategy game that operates under its own rules. It's hard to appreciate if you don't understand what's going on.

Frankly, your criticism is along the lines of a child watching a chess match and asking, "why are they pushing those little black and white dolls around".

Anyway, yeah, representing here. And I just want to point out that all the LD people who've spoken up so far in this thread are still sanctimonious assholes :)
posted by mr_roboto at 12:29 AM on February 9, 2006

But we are COOL sanctimonious assholes!
posted by HSWilson at 12:34 AM on February 9, 2006

Sorry, but as someone who's been at least peripherally associated with this "vapid shadow" of an activity for the last 15 or more years, let me say that it is far from "impossible to have any sort of rational debate or keen insight." I would say that debate, especially policy debate, offers more opportunity for critical thinking and rational debate than does any other forum available to either high school or college students, including classes, on-campus debating societies, and what have you. And as an educator, among other educators who have not done debate, I can say the vast majority of profs love and cherish their debate students, because they can trust that debaters have a level of knowledge about the world and the nature of argument that surpasses the majority of the class (never all the class, and there are some dumb debaters, but if we're talking averages, indeed, debater students are adored because they're actually rewarding to teach). And the skills in policy debate are easily transferred, for good or for ill, with many becoming particularly good litigators, many political consultants, or even in a more banal sense, using their debate skills in other debate formats (public, parliamentary, LD) and usually with great success (though of course individual skill differs).

Regarding the speed, I find the comments heare oddly reactionary. The human brain's innate language processing speed is roughly 40x the rate of normal speech. That capacity atrophies, but never down to a one-to-one correspondence, and with practice one can process incredibly quick speech, even learning methods to transcribe it, which means more arguments, more evidence, more sustained discussion. It's a learned activity and definitely presents its share of problems, but chess, math, and even video games all require a certain knowledge acquisition and skill internalization, so it's hardly surprising that debate does.

And Liberty is not the top-ranked team in the country. The listing that the MSNBC article is referencing is a subset of the national debate community, and is really only an accurate assessment of leadership to a very small, insular group of coaches, who for political reasons have distanced themselves from NDT/CEDA.

Now debate has its excesses, and its problems (like any activity), but it's great beauty is that it's an activity defined by rules almost entirely open for debate and discussion (I've seen pretty much every rule and convention challenged, except for perhaps time constraints, though I've seen debaters agree during a round to engage in a free-for-all discussion or Q&A rather than a back and forth speech pattern, so that kind of addresses the time issues). Pretty sweet.
posted by hank_14 at 2:01 AM on February 9, 2006

hank_14, well put and a rational argument..


I've carefully considered all the points here, checked my files, and have come to the conclusion that I couldn't stand watching this for any longer than about 4 minutes before I would have to deck someone!

I debated in High School many, many years ago, it wasn't like this back then! Perhaps the mistake was putting the word "policy" into the game... sort of like politicians, once they start talking policy they are nothing but fast talking shysters...
posted by HuronBob at 2:19 AM on February 9, 2006

I hear what you are saying hank_14, at least in my sub 40x ability, but I don't think I really grok it.

My perspective is that rhetoric and nuanced debate is something we could all stand to learn more of. I fail to comprehend how this "speed debate", for want of a better word, can be all that you regard it to be. If you have to learn all the skills of what most of us would call "debating" to be able to do this form, then that's great. If it is a form all unto itself that has no regard for the more traditional, then I don't see how it translates into useful skills.

I'm out of my element here and I am not trying to be contrary just for the sake of it. It just comes off as a highly stylized "skill" (and I use the scare quotes on purpose) that lends itself to a sort of savant who is capable of recitation at high speeds. But is there actually any communication going on? Like I said, I'm sub 40x so I didn't catch a word that was thrown out like so much breath.
posted by qwip at 2:26 AM on February 9, 2006

It is a highly stylized skill, multiple ones, in fact: research, argument construction, strategic arrangement (and those are all prior to any actual debate round), articulation of those arguments, at very high speeds, and listening to and transcribing those very high speeds. But of course, litigation has its rules, jargon, research methods, and conventions of presentation. Teaching does as well. Businesses have their own codes of differentiation, and so on. I'm just saying that fact that this may seem incomprehensible to any of us in now way implies it isn't immensely valuable to those who have the skills to help translate it. And given that the entry barrier seems to be speed + jargon, we should recognize that those are value-added skills and not constitutive skills, which means there's no reason to believe that policy debate only promotes these skills at the expense of the ones we consider more instinctively beneficial; quite the opposite is true - no one gives a shit how quickly you speak if, given that we have the ability to process it, you're not saying anything remotely cogent or interesting.
posted by hank_14 at 2:51 AM on February 9, 2006

hank_14: I couldn't help myself from subconsciously inserting short, shrieking intakes of air after every eighth word of your post. (I keed, I keed... ex-LD-er here -- much love to all debaters.)
posted by Symeon at 2:59 AM on February 9, 2006

mr_roboto> Oh, I understand that policy debate has its own set of rules. It's just, those rules are shit. The point of any debate is rational argumentation with greater or lesser factual support for one's position. And policy debate, once upon a time, was just that, just as parliamentary debate still is. Now though, it's just speed-reading and who-has-the-bigger-binder. Through ineffective enforcement of rules in line with the end of any ideal debate - to rationally persuade one's opponent through reason and fact - it's become a joke.

hank_14> It doesn't matter how fast the brain's capacity to recognise speech is, because a debate is not merely recognising speech. The point isn't just to suck up whatever the other side says and then spit your facts back out at them until a judge at the end says that one side's collection of facts beats the other (or rather, insofar as the point is that, policy debate is a degenerate form of debating). Instead, a debater should interact with their opponents' arguments and summon reason and rhetoric to persuasively argue their case against them.

Policy debate simply doesn't teach that. Oh, I'm sure it has all sorts of "skills" associated with it, but it lacks the two skills that debating is intended to teach: Rhetoric and rational evaluation of arguments. Rhetoric is not simply accusing your opponents of having arguments that would lead to "nuclear war" but rather involves the whole process of making one's speech pleasing in its presentation. Pacing is a key component of that (as a cursory study of poetry ought to show), and the kind of rambling hooting encouraged in policy debate discards that entirely. As for the rational evaluation of arguments, the structure of modern policy debate encourages one to simply quote index cards at one another and accuse the other side of ignoring your index cards. Evaluation of the sources of the arguments that you use is minimal, and mostly reactionary.

For the record: I was involved with, and eventually became president of, my high school debating club and was invited by the officers of the university debating club to join their debating teams repeatedly (I declined). I'm not attacking debating itself, but one specific format which has become so estranged from the original purpose of debating as to barely deserve the title of "debating".
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:58 AM on February 9, 2006

Look, pseudo, I'm sorry you had a negative experience with debate. But we don't use index cards anymore, our arguments are a lot more strategic, and debates are extremely interactive. I have lots of issues with debate as an activity - there's a lot I don't care for in it - but my experience, which, if this matters, laps yours about four times in terms of years and amount of exposure, tells me that your generalization of debate doesn't match my generalization of debate. And in this instance, in the context of interacting and comparing specific claims, I trust my lengthier and more varied experience more than I trust your high school debating. This has nothing to do with our own relative skills or whether you had a competitive high school or whatever, and everything to do with who has seen more of the activity over more time and thus who is more qualified to author a generalization.

Qualifications, by the by, being one of the largest sources of direct refutation and interaction in policy debate.
posted by hank_14 at 4:05 AM on February 9, 2006

I challenge anyone here to give a better 2AR than I can. I pwn at 2ARs.
posted by poorlydrawnplato at 4:07 AM on February 9, 2006

Oh and I've done parly debates, I've done them against Oxford and had them broadcast on state public television, and I thought they were far too theatrical and far too limited in terms of substance. My experiences with these debates are relatively limited, so I'll try to avoid generalizing, but I can say that at least anecdotally, parly debates are fun, but hardly what I would consider informed, rational discussion.
posted by hank_14 at 4:07 AM on February 9, 2006

One other thing before I head off to teach: I think that you'd be hard pressed to say that debate exists for the intention of teaching rhetoric and evaluation of arguments moreso or to the exclusion of teaching research, speaking, listening, etc. As I've said before, in debate you get to debate what debate is, so there are a lot of different skills that matter to different degrees to many different people. Point being: the intended skills you list are not universally privileged within either the high school nor the collegiate policy debate community. They're important, but not the sine qua non that defines debating.
posted by hank_14 at 4:11 AM on February 9, 2006

So wait, first you tell us you're incredibly experienced in debating, and say that this makes you more qualified than anyone else to talk about the nature of debating and what it does, and then it turns out you've really only done one kind of debating but somehow feel qualified - despite your earlier claim that it was your experience that qualified you - to talk about all kinds of debating?

If that's the kind of argument that policy debate teaches you to make, well, hell, you're making my point for me that it's the worst kind of debating.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 4:33 AM on February 9, 2006

Also, it's rather an abuse of language to claim that teaching rhetoric excludes teaching "speaking". Pay attention to what you write if you're going to put yourself up as an expert.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 4:38 AM on February 9, 2006

hank_14 advances over Pseudoephedrine on a 3-0 decision
posted by brain_drain at 4:48 AM on February 9, 2006

I participated as a judge in the "National Debate" at a high school level in southeastern Massachusetts this year. The point of the presentations was to convince the judge that your arguments presented a plan that was topical to the resolution, needed to be solved, overcame barriers, was workable and solved the probem as stated and did not create greater disadvantages than it solved.

The students spoke at a normal pace and were judged on how they framed their arguments, the evidence they presented, their presentation skills and so on. Cross-examination skills were required, and eloquence and coherency were rewarded. The affirmative teams tended to present variations on the same arguments week after week so they were given a chance to develop and improve their arguments in response to an effective negative response.

I had never previously seen the college level debating. I find it hard to believe that the judges' listening capacity can be developed to make much sense of the presentations given here. In the high school debates, the teams were required to give copies of their plan to the opposing teams, which would perhaps allow the opposing debaters to follow along with the pace of the presentations shown here. The judges were not allowed to receive a copy of the plans, so they would remain as oblivious as the rest of the audience, were it to be presented at this pace.
posted by notmtwain at 4:51 AM on February 9, 2006

hank_14 advances over Pseudoephedrine on a 3-0 decision

Then, the cool kids all rush over and embrace Pseudoephedrine...

"Gooble, gobble, gooble, gobble,
One of us, one of us..."
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:21 AM on February 9, 2006


1. Pseudo has conceded that superior qualifications matter in terms of who to believe and he has conceded that when it comes to policy debate I have more qualifications, which means that at this point that I am the only one of the two of us able to offer a valid assessment as to the nature of policy debate.

2. He has two attacks, the first is that I haven't done other types of debate. I have, and I've taught a number of classes on debate, as well as coaching policy debate and high school debate. I may not have done them as much, but I already admitted this fact and qualified my comparison as purely anecdotal and not a generalization (this is called a modality in argument terms or a significance reducer in debate parlance). So I'm agreeing I can't tell you the end all be all of parly debates precisely because I am not qualified to offer an authoritative generalization, but precisely for the reason I cannot do so regarding parly, I can do so regarding policy debate. Pseudo has already conceded just that, and worse, he implicitly accepts that qualifications matter and determine the validity of one's argument/generalization, or else he couldn't malign my lack of experience doing parly debate.

2. He argues I misunderstand rhetoric. Here comes what we call link turns, which is that I understand it far better than he. Point in fact, regarding the whole qualification issue, I teach it for a living, hold a PhD in it, and have published essays on it. So nah. And I can say, with some authority, that rhetoric hasn't been considered synonymous with oratory since Quintillian (who defined it as good men speaking well), and he largely lifted it from Aristotle (who expressly declared it to be oral in nature). But even both of those folks were fighting an uphill battle, in cultures where more and more forms of writing invariably meant written polemics and rhetoric, a reality that undermined any claim of identity between speech and rhetoric, since rhetoric must be understood as a quality of speech (and thus something distinct from and not purely constituted by speech) which can then easily be used to describe a similar quality in non-oral discourse. This is of course the normative understanding today, and we can cite a number of sources on this (picture these on index cards), including Kenneth Burke, Michael Calvin McGee, and Robert Scott (who famously defined rhetoric as an epistemic, a production of truth devices (not big-T Truth, but lots of divergent truths predicated on contingency and intersubjective exigence)). Two other points, at the link level. I never claimed to say that rhetoric excludes speech, simply noted the two are different skill sets. Everyone intuitively knows this is true, since no one looks at a child as she develops her first language skills and thinks to themselves, oh look at her first rhetoric! And, there's no warrant to back up the claim that this is an abuse of language, which hardly seems to me to be a rational or even accurate assessment. At worse (note another significance reduction, this time offenseive rather than preemptive), it's a mistake, but hardly an abuse, which connotes an attempt malicious in nature. Obviously pseudo knows little of my intent, and is instead responding to my words, so to make such a claim, especially in the absence of an underlying warrant, seems inappropriate. It does however, given its connotation, strike me as a bit theatrical, which does dovetail with my experience of parly debate, which is, coincidentally, one of the alternatives to policy debate that pseudo champions.

posted by hank_14 at 5:24 AM on February 9, 2006

Oh and Peter, at the college level, the plans, as well as outlines of the affirmative, complete with cites and summaries of evidence, as well as outlines of various negative arguments, are available online for all to see and use in preparing for competition. The information is supplied tournament by tournament, either by the teams itself or by neutral observers whose job it is to gather information round by round and compile it. Think of it as an open source model for debate. Suffice it to say, it does wonders towards enhancing critical thinking and research skills, as well as argument evolution, since a team that simply remains with their first level of argument will quickly find themselves overwhelmed by smarter, more researched competition.

As to the adaptation, it takes a few years, but it happens. Some debaters are clearer than others, obviously, but by and large, the listening isn't the difficult part. The hard part is doing the shorthand (called "flowing") that allows you have a speech by speech (matched argument by argument) record of the round. A specialized skill, though one very helpful for other forms of notetaking.
posted by hank_14 at 5:29 AM on February 9, 2006

I'm a former debater myself -- LD, not policy. LD, or Lincoln-Douglas, is a style of debate in which the designers tried to strip out evidence and replace it with philosophy.

It worked "OK". For all the talk of values, everyone just converged on Justice...because you can't have too much Justice...because once it's too much, it's no longer Just.

After the second or third year of hearing ostensibly smart people say things that reduced to "Good is good, whereas anything that is not good is not good", I got a bit sick of it. But heh, that's what graduation is for :)

As for the speed, it all basically flows out of the concept that silence equals consent. If you make a point, and I rebutt it with a three-prong, one sentence per prong attack, you have two choices:

1) Attempt to shut down all prongs, spending 20 seconds for each 5 I spent attacking you
2) Depend on eloquence to get you through what's by definition a partial response.

In "silence equals consent", anything you don't respond to, you basically accept. So you get your opponent gloating about how you've accepted your lost...

And you resolve to take the third path: Respond to their five second argument in only five seconds, but at double or triple speed. This becomes an arms race VERY quickly (no pun intended).

Still, debate was a blast, and if nothing else I still have the Nostrum floating about to remember it all by...
posted by effugas at 5:43 AM on February 9, 2006

didn't hank have a class to teach? the call of rebuttal proved louder, it seems. pseudo, you'd better not drop that turn if you have any intention of taking this one.

debate hit early for me (junior high) and by the middle of high school i was already outgrowing (in part because i won early then just stopped getting better...there's a certain level where debate gets deep, requires either good coaching or incredible focus, neither of which i had) and now, like dave matthews band, it's one of those things that i'm not-quite-but-almost ashamed of.

will say this: i went to the summer debate institutes, at iowa and michigan, etc, and the environment was something i never did and probably never will experience again -- hundreds of very smart kids *trying* to be smarter than every one else in the room. everyone literally trying to outbrain the rest in explicitly brainy ways. when i went off to college (a 'good' one) i was pretty excited for that sensation of being in a campus full of people trying (sometimes successfully) to prove their intelligence. well that put me in for a bit of a shock.

which brings me to a question that's still been bothering me for some time -- where did all those incredible brainers go? seems like all the best debaters i knew at the time went to state colleges, schools i'd never heard of...not that i still support the top-tier university bias, but i just wonder what some of those speed-bots are doing in the world...
posted by greggish at 5:56 AM on February 9, 2006

As for the speed, it all basically flows out of the concept that silence equals consent.

This is where LD parts from the real world in which the goal is to be persuasive. Filling your argument with minor points may assist in winning an LD debate but usually won't persuade in the real world
posted by caddis at 5:56 AM on February 9, 2006

Technically I had to give an exam, and yep, here I am. They're busy little test-takers, they are.

Yeah, debate camp was fun. I kind of hoped grad school would be like that. For the most part, it wasn't.
posted by hank_14 at 6:07 AM on February 9, 2006

One more thing that annoyed me about debates is the use of invented jargon. For example, one of the major "stock issues" debaters are required to win in order to win the debate is "solvency", which is defined as whether or not something provides a solution to the problem.

As far as I know, "solvency" is a financial term meaning the ability of sell or otherwise convert assets to cash in order to handle existing liabilities. Firms that cannot handle their liabilities become "insolvent". Solvency is also used to discuss the ability of one chemical liquid element to dissolve another. In no dictionary I could find was the word "solvency" used to define whether or not something was a solution to a problem.

Also, another stock issue is "inherency", which is defined as outlining the "inherent" barriers to your plan going forward. To claim this issue, you must demonstrate why these "inherent" barriers have stopped your plan from going into effect. For example, I propose enforcing the laws outlawing random tapping of citizens' phone calls without a warrant and George Bush is cited as an inherent barrier to this law being carried out. How this is "inherent" is beyond me. It may be a barrier but I don't see how it is an inherent barrier.

Perhaps one of you could explain the origin of these usages in debate. I've always speculated that someone translated original debate rules from a foreign language and picked these English terms because they were listed as appropriate in some foreign-language-to English dictionary. I think they both serve as "inherent" barriers to students understanding of how to present a debate argument.
posted by notmtwain at 6:42 AM on February 9, 2006

Ah, good old policy debate. I won a state championship in high school, but those days are long gone. I can still remember my opponents in the state finals blanching, though, when I got up and announced that I was about to give them 8 minutes on topicality in the 2NC.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:46 AM on February 9, 2006

watching the video clip actually brings another issue to mind --

now, back in the clinton days, back when we watched OJ drive down the freeway in debate period, i was fine putting forth whatever argument was applicable and useful to win the round -- at one point, i even argued that providing US aid to china contingent on mandatory universal civilian vasectomy was a smart counterplan to control population growth.

But i don't know that at this point, even in a game, i could get up and cite George Bush's speech on terrorism. in the video clip, the guy's first 1AC card is bush's 9/11/02 speech. no way would i be able to put forward his rhetoric as part a contention i support; not even in a game. that might be an inflexible and unsporty attitude, but back in the '90s, the stakes of these debates (which are always how many global thermonuclear wars will be caused by the opponent's proposition) were a little more...amusing? more game-like?

anyone who's done debate since 2000 care to talk about what's changed in the tone, and the political consciousness?
posted by greggish at 7:06 AM on February 9, 2006

2. He argues I misunderstand rhetoric.

Rebuttal discounted on account of misnumbering.
posted by It ain't over yet at 7:38 AM on February 9, 2006

This may be the dumbest thing I have ever seen. That smart and motivated students are wasting their time on this is just a shame.

It would be like if all the math majors were doing that ridiculous speed-cup-stacking thing.

And hank, jesus, you're a sanctimonious asshole. Just because you've been involved in this absurd waste of academic time for 15 years doesn't give it any more value.

This is form, for the sake of form. It would be no different than if you had coached a crocheting team for 15 years.

Do you burn candles and worship John Moschitta Jr. as a minor deity?

Also, for further reference, advanced degrees and copious amounts of higher learning permeate MeFi like a bad smell at Burning Man. You might do well to quit thumping your chest quite so emphatically. The appeal to authority is rather unbecoming, and quite out of place given the audience.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:58 AM on February 9, 2006

i find myself being swayed by the accents of the british team in the parliamentary debate, despite the fact that i disagree with them.
posted by beerbajay at 8:01 AM on February 9, 2006

1. Pseudo has conceded that superior qualifications matter in terms of who to believe and he has conceded that when it comes to policy debate I have more qualifications, which means that at this point that I am the only one of the two of us able to offer a valid assessment as to the nature of policy debate.

Actually, I did just the opposite. I pointed out a logical inconsistency of your argument without having to advance any positive position of my own to counter your argument. You may have a degree in rhetoric, but you're no damn good at logic (one of the fun things about not being in a real debate is the ability to use ad hominems where they are well deserved).

As for only advancing two arguments, well, your own post shows you can't count worth a damn. Let me help.

I actually advanced several different arguments, aimed towards several different targets. Here, let me enumerate them for you:

Position 1) Policy debating is the worst kind of debating.

Supporting Arguments:
a) This is because of the methods one uses to win a policy debate
b) These methods - specifically, speaking abnormally fast, and constant checking of reference material - interfere with one's ability to rationally consider the issue under a time constraint.

Position 2) Debating involves, and aims towards, rational discussion amongst other goals.

Supporting Arguments:
a) The rules of all debating organisations involve limitations on the kinds of arguments it is possible to make
b) These limitations include, amongst others, substantive limitations on irrational arguments without similar substantive limitations on rational arguments.
c) Other supporting arguments are available as necessary to support this point.

Corollary: Things that interfere with the purpose of the debate should not be done in the debate.

Position 3) (This is the number that comes after 2) Speaking abnormally and relying on specialist knowledge to capitalise on asymmetries of information distribution interfere with rational discussion.

As a consequence of the above-mentioned corollary, they should not be done.

Position 4) No other kind of debate has the same methodological problems that policy debate does.

a)Parliamentary debate penalises both activities.
b) Other debate formats penalise or encourage judges to use discretion to penalise, such behaviour.

Conclusion: Policy debate, insofar as it relies on asymmetries of information and abnormal modes of speaking, and thus fails to fulfill the purpose of a debate.

On rhetoric: Your argument that debating teaches "speaking" is now ridiculous if you're simply stripping any sort of aesthetic or logical rigour out of speaking (as you are, with your presentation of a child learning to talk as exemplary of your meaning). People already know how to talk by the time they begin debating. Either debating teaches them to talk well, or else it does not teach them anything they don't already know. If it teaches them to speak well, then it falls under rhetoric. It doesn't exhaust the meaning of rhetoric, but it's not some separate concern entirely.

As for anything else, I 100% admit I have more flair than you in this debate. For a guy with a degree in rhetoric-but-evidently-not-logic, you sure don't seem to be able to apply any of that valuable expert knowledge you claim to have about it.

Here's two fun tips for your next post:

1) 3 follows 2!
2) Guess whether my statement above about your "valuable expert knowledge" acknowledges the value of that knowledge (as possessed by you) or doesn't? C'mon, you're a guy with a degree in rhetoric. Surely you can figure it out. (Hint: No)
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 8:12 AM on February 9, 2006

And the skills in policy debate are easily transferred, for good or for ill, with many becoming particularly good litigators, many political consultants...

Or does debate naturally attract people who are inclined to do those things anyway? I certainly don't think that many of the skills I learned as a policy debater--particularly talking really fast--were easily or directly transferrable to what I do now as a litigator. It's a great strategy game for smart kids, but at least in my experience it didn't prepare me for law practice any more than playing Risk would prepare me to be a battlefield commander.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:26 AM on February 9, 2006

So I'm not being completely negative, for the benefit of the other folks on the thread, here are two simple ways to restore policy debate to its rightful place as reasonable intercourse between individuals:

1) Speaking times should be increased in policy debates, both to give the other debaters time to consider the information and its source, and so that they have adequate time to formulate rational criticism of both of those.

2) Part of the cost of entering into these various competitive organisations should go towards buying a standard set of sources on the policy debate topic for that year (for those of you who don't know, competitive policy debating tournaments all pick a single resolution for the year and have all their debates on that single policy issue). These standard sources, preferably covering a broad range of viewpoints, should be the only sources one is allowed to cite in the debates themselves. This reduces the infamously-vicious class boundary on participation (poor kids don't have the internet or access to the specialised resources needed to info-bomb their opponents).

Two simple changes, that's all that's required. Until then, though, policy debating is a fucking hole.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 8:29 AM on February 9, 2006

I too took debate in HS - my general view now of this class/activity is that the prep was highly valuable but the actual debating was not.

By preparing for the debate you gained a large amount of knowledge about the subject from both sides of the arguement. You learn about how to argue and how to structure your thinking.

The actual debate - full of auctioneer speed speech I felt was much less useful in the real world.

But then, I am very pragmatic - I am sure it's an art when practiced and performed for it's own sake - but IRL arguing like that would just get you stared at.
posted by jopreacher at 9:01 AM on February 9, 2006

Your favorite hobby sucks, too.

All the haters need to step back. Seriously, why the hate? I'm sensing jealousy...
posted by mr_roboto at 9:17 AM on February 9, 2006

All the haters need to step back. Seriously, why the hate? I'm sensing jealousy...
posted by mr_roboto at 11:17 AM CST on February 9 [!]

I can't speak for everyone, but you'd certainly be missing the mark in my case. And I suspect many others.

For example, there are people who spend their entire lives collecting used bottle caps. I think this is a ridiculous pursuit, and I would mock it given the opportunity. There is not even a tiny twinge of jealousy.

Also note that doesn't prevent the bottle-cap-collectors from mocking my activities, also devoid of any jealousy.

The "you're just jealous" thing was handy in elementary school, but in the grown-up world, people often mock you for many other reasons. In fact, it is usually "anti-jealousy", in that the person wants to make sure that they make it clear they would never participate in the contested activity.

So, rest assured I do not, down deep inside somewhere in the cockles of my heart, wish I could talklikethisaboutapreordainedtopic(yahhhk)whileotherpeoplerifledthroughbinders(yahhhk)andusedspecialshorthand.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:38 AM on February 9, 2006

When I was in debate, you had to present arguments. Then, this movement towards speed-fact talking came about, and destroyed the art of critical thinking. It's dumb, and useless.

Bring back thinking to debate!
posted by dwivian at 9:58 AM on February 9, 2006

The "you're just jealous" thing was handy in elementary school, but in the grown-up world, people often mock you for many other reasons.

Christ, man, could you be any more humorless? It was a fucking joke.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:07 AM on February 9, 2006

I find it odd the so many people who are presumably adults care about policy debate enough to hate it so much.

I'm thinking it might be because people want this kind of debate to be an idealized version of a political debate, when it's a totally different thing--a strategy game and a way to develop logical thinking and research skills.

I did Lincoln-Douglas in high school for a while and enjoyed it and found it useful (though I did get tired of all the John Stuart Mill quotes everyone used). Then, I too would make fun of the policy folks for the weird fast-talking thing. Since, I've developed some perspective and can see all the good things about it too.

I still think it's funny that no matter what the question, your opponent's plan would always result in "thermonuclear war!!!"
posted by lackutrol at 10:07 AM on February 9, 2006

"I assume there are some other ex-debaters out there in MeFi land"

...um, no, there aren't.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:09 AM on February 9, 2006

That said, NDT-style policy debate is awesomer than you realize. You should open your mind to the awesomeness.

Also: those you insist that the LD debaters were "cool".... Well, I guess "cool" in the forensics club is a big-fish-small-pond kind of thing.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:10 AM on February 9, 2006

lackutrol writes "I still think it's funny that no matter what the question, your opponent's plan would always result in 'thermonuclear war!!!'"

Our strategy for that one was to find wonks who would claim that their pet issue would cause problems "worse than nuclear war", claim those as advantages on our plan, and bring out the "worse than nuclear war" evidence on the 2AC. Like I said, not very relevant to the real world.

poorlydrawnplato writes "I challenge anyone here to give a better 2AR than I can. I pwn at 2ARs."

I'm guessing that's just 'cause you can't stand the pressure of the 1AR... Fuckin' 2As...
posted by mr_roboto at 10:35 AM on February 9, 2006

Pseudo, I'm sensing some animosity. My sincere apologies for typing 2 twice instead of 3. The call of rebuttal and the idle demands of test monitoring took their toll on me, I'm afraid. In retrospect I regret I ever tangled with you. In retrospect I also regret learning the distinction between claim, warrant, and data, as such a distinction clearly isn't a necessary one, not when one can follow a claim-claim-claim-conclusion model. As per the concession claim on my part, twas a mistake (of course). I had thought that I would put [debatespeak][/debatespeak] tags around it, with the hope that - given that you were such an illustrious debater, having learned all you ever needed about the activity back in high school - you would recall that in debate, the word "concession" is the verbal shortcut for "my opponent had a chance to respond but didn't, and instead said something else" (the silence = consent component), but I must have forgotten to put those tags in place.

But, as to the question of rhetoric, I've pwned you and you haven't even realized it. You're adducing something demonstrably non-true from what I said (which was simply that rhetoric and speaking are not synonymous), and then complaining about the thing you've adduced. If it helps, though, I will go ahead and agree that you have more flair - indeed, I suggested as much when I noted your theatrical use of terms like "abuse."

I will say this though, for a guy who is so keen on rational argument, you seem amazingly care free in tossing out generalizations based on limited experience and in the absence of supporting evidence. You keep shouting about how speed ruins rational thinking, I keep telling you that debaters are trained to be rational with that speed, and that the speed is, for those that have adjusted to it, a value-added skill and not a constitutive one. Now I understand you think it's tre bad and everything, but until you can tell me which arguments you find problematic or irrational that are not explicitly discussed (i.e. debated) in terms of their problems or irrationality, then you're really bloviating for the sake of bloviating, perhaps because of some negative high school experience, I don't know. It's interesting the amount of animosity, don't get me wrong, but it's tangential to any substantive claim about the limitations of policy debate.

We can try to contextualize it though. For example, I'm sure you're clued in as to the types of discussions and research that have gone on during the last few years of college debate, even if just at the level of resolutions and topic areas. This year for example, the topic is economic and diplomatic pressure on China. Last year was an energy policy predicated on reduced non-governmental pollution. Lots of issues discussed, as you can image. Maybe you might let me know which ones you found objectionable and why?
posted by hank_14 at 10:38 AM on February 9, 2006

"Worse than nuclear war." That's excellent mr_roboto. I can't believe my policy colleagues never thought of that one.

And "cool." You're right on this too--being involved in any kind of debate in high school automatically disqualifies you from this label. Maybe not so much in college, I guess.
posted by lackutrol at 10:49 AM on February 9, 2006

If there are any "cool" people on MetaFilter, they don't hang out in threads with names like "1AC 2NC 2AC 2NC 1AR 2NR 2AR". They might show up in the music threads and some of the other art threads, but debate? I doubt it.

The only measure for real world debate is your ability to win an argument by convincing the appropriate audience. That's what matters. You will never win an argument "talking" like a policy debater, why try?

I understand that policy debate has become a game for smart kids, but they'd be better served by learning real debate skills. It'd probably be a better game, too.
posted by Richard Daly at 11:19 AM on February 9, 2006

I keep telling you that debaters are trained to be rational with that speed, and that the speed is, for those that have adjusted to it, a value-added skill and not a constitutive one.

I have witnessed speed debate, and this point does not hold true. The use of speed is to answer every point, which is not necessary for rational debate. Proper debate requires critical thinking, that is, the ability to determine WHICH points are good for assertion, and WHICH points merit response, and what response will be best at refutation.

Answering fact with fact, without regard to the facts tossed, makes for useless speaking, but not debate. To this hell has modern debate come, and I fear it will fall further before marginalizing itself out of existence.

Now, the research BEFORE debate requires significant critical thinking and gathering skill, but the debate itself? Not so much.
posted by dwivian at 11:36 AM on February 9, 2006

Yes, refuting every single point is pointless if your goal is to persuade. As a logical exercise in a tightly controlled hobby it is probably challenging and fun. It is still not persuasive.
posted by caddis at 11:39 AM on February 9, 2006

Richard Daly writes "The only measure for real world debate is your ability to win an argument by convincing the appropriate audience. That's what matters. You will never win an argument 'talking' like a policy debater, why try? "

You'll win a policy debate argument, because in that case, the "appropriate audience" is the judge or panel of judges. Duh.

As for "why try?" with this particular audience... Why play football, or listen to music, or watch a movie, or build a model train layout, or paint? It's a goddamn recreational activity, and it doesn't need any concrete social benefit to justify itself. Y'all are coming off like a bunch of Maoists: "This activity does not serve the advancement of the people!" Fuck that.

Again I ask "why the hate?". Can't we all just get along?

dwivian writes "Now, the research BEFORE debate requires significant critical thinking and gathering skill, but the debate itself? Not so much."

Well, you must have been a shit debater, not using any critical thinking in your rounds. Maybe an alright 1N....

Look, a big part of debate is the time pressure. In dealing with that pressure, you need to decide which arguments require prioritization and how much time to budget for each of those arguments. These decisions are critical, high-pressure strategy assessments.

One more thing: all of those deriding policy debate as pointless or a waste of time or whatever (actually, it's not entirely clear to me why you're so inflamed. Something Freudian, maybe?), realize that you're spending you're valuable time deriding a high-school extracurricular activity to strangers on the internet. Which is an all-important pursuit, I'm sure.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:18 PM on February 9, 2006

By the way, anybody figure out who won?
posted by notmtwain at 12:37 PM on February 9, 2006

mr_roboto speaks the truth. Sure, competitive "speed" debate is an esoteric activity, but so is chess. I debated in college, and my experience in debate was generally much more rewarding from an intellectual standpoint than my coursework. You do encounter some fast-talking dimwits, but they tend not to be cuccessful (although sometimes they find competent partners who carry them along). I also found that the very best debaters -- the ones who consistently won speaker awards and were in the late rounds of tournaments -- could always slow it down and persuade a "lay" judge when called upon to do so.

That all said, I can understand much of the skepticism and head-scratching about the activity. I thought it was pretty weird too before I gave it a try on a lark, and I was surprised at how engaging it was. But some people appear to be deriding competitive debate just because it's not accessible to an observer; it sounds sort of like "bah, stupid chess players, what good is moving shapes around a flat piece of wood."
posted by brain_drain at 12:46 PM on February 9, 2006

mr_roboto: Actually, I did VERY well in debate. Note that I was from a time before speed screaming, when you debated points and had no judge's preference for shotgun approaches.

Those at collegiate level competitions I've been to recently (as recently as last year, in fact) didn't "decide which arguments require prioritization and how much time to budget for each of those arguments", but instead just came back with fact after fact, seemingly without regard for any result of their use past answering the challenge. It was tiring to hear, and wasn't so much chess as ...well....

Chess, even when timed, allows for only one move (and thus one point) per exchange. Imagine playing chess against an opponent where they are allowed to put out an unknown number of boards against you each tightly timed round, and failure to play a board indicates a loss. Even with the rationality normally ascribed to chess, playing under those guidelines would require not so much critical thinking as a best guess approach that may or may not even approximate the BEST answer, but at least provided a response. Sure, it can be seen as fun --I've seen a master-level player do so against opponents that would come and go, in timed rounds. It might also be an exercise just to see how it goes (as modern Policy Debate seems to be), but it's not critical thinking.

In fact, in such a speed round chess match I *BEAT* a grand-master, because he inadvertently missed my board and forfeited under the rules. It's my only win against someone of that rank, and by a technicality. Does it prove I'm great at chess? No. I did not win, so much, as he lost. This is not the foundation for chess, nor should it be for debate.

Critical thinking is not about providing the best response under time constraints, but the best response period. I think the best answer comes from The Critical Thinking Community (www.criticalthinking.org):

Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills ("as an exercise") without acceptance of their results.
posted by dwivian at 1:11 PM on February 9, 2006

I'm with Pseudoephedrine. End of debate!

(I kill myself)
posted by qwip at 1:19 PM on February 9, 2006

I showed this to my daughter when she got home from school today and I'd have to say that it's much more comprehensible on a second listening. Perhaps if we had a copy of the text, we might even make more sense of it.
posted by notmtwain at 1:35 PM on February 9, 2006

this is ridiculous. gives a good background to the debate climate in the US -- and on MeFi -- though.
posted by mr.marx at 1:35 PM on February 9, 2006

dwivian writes "Note that I was from a time before speed screaming, when you debated points and had no judge's preference for shotgun approaches."

So you don't even know what you're talking about, huh? Figures. I've done it, and it does, in fact, take critical thinking. Which, amazingly, is a term that I didn't need pedantically defined for me within this thread. (By the by, your definition says nothing about time constraints or "best responses", displaying a lack of critical thinking on your part, I'd say.)

I'd like you to explain to me, in detail, how a 1A can give a six-minute speech that responds point-for-point to the 15-minute negative block (remember, everyone's speaking at the same speed). It's impossible without prioritization and selection, which requires making logical choices based on an understanding of the relative importance of various issues, the attitude of the judge, and the overall strategic flow of the round. The fact that you couldn't see it going on speaks more to your lack of understanding than to the debaters' lack of critical thinking.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:55 PM on February 9, 2006

I mean, man, do you think that your "Harumph harumph, I've seen debate rounds and they suck!" attitude is the least bit convincing? You're like that guy watching the superbowl who keeps saying "I could have caught that pass!". It's not like I don't know what I'm talking about....
posted by mr_roboto at 2:01 PM on February 9, 2006

I teach it for a living, hold a PhD in it, and have published essays on it.

appeal to authority. surrender two points. :)

i'm glad to see there's a few around here who've been there. those were some of the best days.

the day one of my team mates in the mid seventies discovered a journal article in the library stacks about this thing we'd never heard of called an ozone hole, and how that little piece of "evidence," as we called it then, enabled him to just go unanswered and just clean up tournament after tournament...

oh, and for the mefite raving about solvency and inherency, you forgot the most important one of all: topicality.
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:12 PM on February 9, 2006

i did a couple months' worth of cross-ex debate, but in the end i just didn't have it in me to invest all of the time that it takes (and at the college level, it takes a lot of time).
posted by anjamu at 2:17 PM on February 9, 2006

I mean, man, do you think that your "Harumph harumph, I've seen debate rounds and they suck!" attitude is the least bit convincing? You're like that guy watching the superbowl who keeps saying "I could have caught that pass!". It's not like I don't know what I'm talking about....

You don't have to be a chicken to know a rotten egg.

Just sayin'
posted by qwip at 2:37 PM on February 9, 2006

qwip writes "You don't have to be a chicken to know a rotten egg."

Yeah, but the guy's claiming he knows what was going on in the minds of the debaters he was watching. I'm doubtful.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:39 PM on February 9, 2006

mr_roboto: Reading comprehension is a good skill to pick up, and you should consider it. Having said that, let's try leaving out the crap talk and stick to points, k?

While I participated in debate before the change, I've been doing other areas since (only marginally relevant, but it explains why I am aware of the change, and that I experienced it). And, I've worked with several teams (high school and collegiate) in the past two decades. I can tell you from surviving the crossover that the level of critical thinking IN the debate has dropped.

And, yes, I have tried the speed talking version, which is why I don't do it. I can talk quickly, and I can fling points, but the organization is done WELL before the actual debate. The fun of the response is gone, so I quit. If I wanted to spend time being a research librarian, I'd have gone for a MLS.

So, to answer to your request -- a 1A can respond to the negative block because THEY ALREADY HAVE. The work on what is the right response for each point has been done well in advance, during research. In preparing both sides the most likely points are determined, the best responses are crafted, and a prioritization is set. By recording the flow, the specific points are determined and a premeasured response can be created with minimal effort. The only remaining issue is if the response will fit in the six minute window (and if not, the least significant points are all that remain and can be easily dropped). The segues between points are all that are left for interest, and those are often dropped for taking too much of the six minutes.

Again, the critical thinking, such as it is, is done WELL BEFORE the actual debate.

Unless, and this is fun to witness, someone brings up a point that NOBODY was ready for. I've watched the judges snap up on that one, as most judges are drawn from the coaches of other teams. It's rare, mainly because of the level of research and the accessibility of resources today, but it really makes it interesting for a few minutes.

The worst thing of all is how OTHER areas are getting negatively impacted by the change. Poetry Reading now is a stage presentation involving no actual reading. Extemp has become "how do I massage my preset speech into the topic I was given", and After Dinner is more about the show and less about bringing a subject.

I'm the guy watching the Superbowl that could have caught that pass, but back in 1976 when I was still in shape and the steroids were less rampant.... ::grin::
posted by dwivian at 2:45 PM on February 9, 2006

dwivian writes "Having said that, let's try leaving out the crap talk and stick to points, k? "

But I like the crap talk!!!
posted by mr_roboto at 2:49 PM on February 9, 2006

Erm. Hell, you might be right. I'm just pissed off about yet another Metafilter thread in which the poster introduces us to something new and everyone chimes in with "That crap sucks!". We've just been a bunch of negative nellies lately...
posted by mr_roboto at 2:51 PM on February 9, 2006

When I was young, the world was bright and sunny. People sang and recited poetry and thought critically all the live long day. At night we danced around a fire that celebrated our joy and congratulated each other on our bounty.

But then came the seasons of our discontent. Speed and discord and new generations of people who were nothing like myself came and ruined everything. Now what started as a stupid exercise in a once glorious activity has mutated, afflicting every peripheral art with the gore of newness and not-me-ness, and the world is a bleaker place for it. Now I greet the evening with tears in my eyes and lumps in my throat, and I sigh for a world that the youth will never know.

posted by hank_14 at 2:51 PM on February 9, 2006

True enough, guy. And, crap talk can be fun... ::heh::

I've watched more than a few debate coaches quit the events because of the speed talking, but it all arose out of complex issue presentation.

If, in research, you find six good points, but know you can only present three well, it's a painful process to get them tight so you can pick the strongest three. But, if you can talk fast enough to present six, plus four mediocre, plus ten crap points, AND your opponent is rated on answering them all, you gain a strategic advantage. Not for thinking, but for being articulate rapidly. That sucks, but it's the way the rules work.

It's kinda like when I played (oh, hell) Magic: The Gathering. Back in the days when we had black border cards, there arose a "first-turn-kill" combination that meant you could destroy your opponent and they had no ability to stop you. It sucked, and so we changed the rules to make that combination illegal in tournament play. Decks composed entirely of swamps and swamp rats (who derive power based on the number of swamps in play) were similarly outlawed.

I await the equalization rules for debate, where resources are levelled, and where style matters more than speed. But, how to do this? I don't know, and that sucks. So, I stayed in extemp and poetry, until they got equally marginalized. There will always be rules, and there will always be those that rape the rules to their advantage. Still sucks for gamesmanship. And, that above else is what I mourn.

The gamesmanship of debate SHOULD be presentation, persuasion, and critical thinking. And I am tired of these newfangled things called rocks, too.
posted by dwivian at 3:47 PM on February 9, 2006

Hank> Once again, my objections to policy debate are methodological concerns. I'm perfectly fine with policy debate in theory, and even in its past practice. I think there's nothing wrong with having a kind of debate where prior research is necessary in order for the debate to happen. It's two features of modern policy debate that I find objectionable: asymmetry of information and the pace.

I understand that policy debaters learn to speak quickly, and that policy debate becomes intelligible when one is engaged in the practice. That's not my concern. My concern is that by maintaining an artificially fast pace, policy debate deprives itself of any claim to being anything other than a sort of game. While that squares just fine with mr_roboto, your initial point was that policy debating had a useful paedogogical purpose, amongst others of teaching one to speak (if not necessarily speak well). Which is, as the comments on this thread should show, false. Policy debate paced speaking is only intelligible to others trained in it. If that's the case, then there isn't a paedogogical goal beyond "being a good policy debater". Since the conditions of the policy debate format hold true nowhere else in the world, it's not teaching them anything of use. Your claim has been consistently the opposite, that it does, and you brought up the example of say, litigation. Frankly, anyone who conducted themselves in a courtroom the way a policy debater does in a policy debate would lose consistently simply through failure to make other understand their position.

As for the asymmetry of information, well, it once again undercuts any paedogogical goal one might wish policy debate to have. Info-bombing is not only a tactic, but _the_ tactic. It's the ordinary practice of policy debating. But info-bombing isn't rational persuasion, and its skills aren't transferable to other spheres of life. A person who info-bombs another (overloading them with citations and references with minimal context or structure provided to allow absorption) is only liable to impress the easily impressed, and then only insofar as they don't just piss them off.

And as to responding to each of your points in turn, well, that's the difference between Parliamentary and Policy. If your idea of an debate is a tally stick of arguments, and whoever gets more notches wins, well, then your idea of what a debate is simply deficient. I'm content with fewer but deeper notches.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:59 PM on February 9, 2006

But pseudo, you're complaint is that policy debate rounds are absurd, and from there you're concluding that policy debate as an entire activity is useless, as if the debaters or the skills they learn cannot be adapted to the environment outside of those highly paced rounds, which is a claim that you have neither data nor warrant for support. Period. And I'm telling you from experience, having worked with debaters who are now litigators and coached debaters who now work in a variety of contexts (from academe to congressional staff), that the skills do transfer. Hence the difference between a value-added skill and a constitutive one, a difference I've cited 3 times now, and one that you seem content to ignore.
posted by hank_14 at 4:35 PM on February 9, 2006

I've been ignoring it because it's not pertinent to the point I'm making. We're in agreement that speaking abnormally quickly is not constitutive of policy debate. The difference comes in that you consider it a "value-added skill" and I don't. The one statement from a litigator who was also a policy debater - monju_bosatsu - has been negative as to the skills transferring from one arena to another.

And once again, don't try and use private experience to make a public point. None of us have any idea what your experience shows, whether you're fairly reporting it or not, and what conclusions could be drawn from it. And not only this, but it's all hearsay, since you're obviously not reporting your own experience at all (unless you're referring to yourself in the third person), but the experiences of others who have reported such to you, each of varying degrees of trustworthiness and veraciousness themselves. We are, in short, completely uninterested in your hearsay until we can find some corroboration.

Nor am I claiming that policy debate is necessarily useless, and I haven't made such a case anywhere on this entire thread. My concerns have been with the actual conduct of policy debate, not the worth of the activity as a whole. It's not like I haven't been saying this the entire thread. It's not a revelation.

And finally, you've yet to list any positive points as to what speaking in the artificial way of policy debate does that speaking in an ordinary way but quickly wouldn't teach you to do. As I pointed out, if you actually talked like a policy debater in any sort of real-world situation, you'd be fucked. So why not model the real-world situation in the first place, especially since historically, the conduct of policy debate did model ordinary speech patterns more closely than it does now? What is the innovation here?
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 4:55 PM on February 9, 2006

Faster thinking and/or more depth to one's argumentation (the or depends on the debater). Big innovation, to be honest.
posted by hank_14 at 5:10 PM on February 9, 2006

You yourself pointed out that it's a matter of language speeding up to thought, not vice versa, in your original post. Which is it?

And "depth" only in the superficial sense of listing more points. Speaking quickly requires elision, and destroys illocutionary cues that allow one to organise locutionary information, such as pausing for emphasis or using hand gestures or expressing an affect. You're flattening out all the information you could be conveying about the point into just explicit information, and that delivered at an artificially accelerated pace.

Doesn't fly, comrade.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 5:16 PM on February 9, 2006

The thinking isn't the thinking associated with speaking, it's the quickness with which one must prioritize and provie rejoinders to the increased amount of information. More information in the same amount of time means faster more efficient thinking.

And I'm sorry, but you know not of what you speak. It's not flat at all, it's just that the locutionary cues differ.
posted by hank_14 at 5:30 PM on February 9, 2006

hank -- I have to dispute that; the thinking is done ahead of time in the planning and research phase. All the efficiency you experience is at selecting among rehearsed phrases and arguments. It's not really thinking, but regurgitation.

Of course you have studied cognative theory and how recovery schema work, so you have to recognize that reinforcing pathways is not thinking (which involves creating new connections or locating complex connections in cross-developed contexts).
posted by dwivian at 5:53 PM on February 9, 2006

Dwivian, much of the thinking is done ahead of time, not all of it. Teams typically carry 4-7 rubber-maid tubs full of evidence, that thousands and thousands of pages. Knowing where, when, and how to apply that evidence takes work and skill and an appreciation for specific circumstances.

Even if I accepted your definition of cognitive theory and thinking, the fact that more arguments are presented means more research gets done, so faster rate of speed still means more thinking, even given your own criteria.
posted by hank_14 at 6:01 PM on February 9, 2006

The one statement from a litigator who was also a policy debater - monju_bosatsu - has been negative as to the skills transferring from one arena to another.

I have to disagree with monju_bosatsu on this. I am a litigator and former policy debater. I have found that the skill sets I acquired in policy debate transferred over surprisingly neatly into my litigation practice. I learned a lot about research and prepping for an opponent. I learned how to process vast amounts of information relayed at a rapid clip. I never have any trouble keeping up with lawyers or judges who are considered "fast talkers" in the legal profession. I take good shorthand. When I'm on a conference call with lots of other people who raise tons of points or questions, I feel comfortable efficiently itemizing and synthesizing those points, just like in rebuttals. Having to come up with lots of arguments on the spot taught me to be a better brainstormer. The list goes on. I don't mean to give the impression that I think I am a genius at any of these things -- I'm certainly not -- but I do owe a lot of my skills in these areas to my experience in team debate. I did some L-D (slower, philosophical "value debate") in high school, and I didn't get nearly as much out of it.

One downside I will acknowledge is that in my first mock arguments in law school, the judges chided me to speak more slowly. Old habits die hard, I guess. But I have reformed and am now a respectable slow-talker. :)
posted by brain_drain at 6:05 PM on February 9, 2006

i remember filling up thick pages of tiny scribble, mapping out giant webs of argument and counter-argument. watching finals rounds at the big tournaments was hugely impressive, when kids really knew what they were doing, to watch them lay traps, scuttle lesser sub-debates, cross-apply minor points through several different arguments, undercut their opponents' main author, bust out news articles from that same day.

then there was the esoteric weirdness. critiquing blew my mind; once someone flung 8 minutes of Foucault my way and i believe my baffled response amounted to "Power isn't bad!"
posted by greggish at 6:11 PM on February 9, 2006

I have to disagree with monju_bosatsu on this.

I believe that monju was particularly speaking to the "fast talking" aspect. I think most would agree that the research aspect of this type of debate is admirable and transferable to many other areas.

I am still unconvinced that the fast speaking nature of this type of debate is anything other than the result of following form over function for way too long. But, I'm not a bater, nor a master as some here, it seems.
posted by qwip at 9:38 PM on February 9, 2006

qwip - my point, entirely. The problem is this:

Used to be, you could get X points out in the time you had. So, you worked hard to get those X points SOLID. Now, because people speak like they don't have time to breathe, they get out X+Y+Z, where Y are the rest of the good points and Z are the ones that shouldn't have ever entered debate. However, to reply properly, the opposition now has to answer ALL of those points.

Talking quickly became a functional strategy, not to win the argument, but to win on points no matter how inane. It sucks that the useful part of critical thinking has been waylaid by speed-location thinking (sorry, hank, but having done information archival and retrieval systems for years, I consider proper information architecture to negate the need to think -- recognition of an issue, knowing where the data is, and going to get it makes a team no different than a keyword search with Oracle on the back end).

It's a reasonable outgrowth of the rules, so it means the rules are at fault not the participants (they are there to win, after all). Even so, the fact that nobody seems to want to fix the rules is troublesome.
posted by dwivian at 8:57 AM on February 10, 2006

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