Author: Matt Liu, University of Wyoming Director of Debate
“You find out life’s this game of inches. … The margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half second, too slow, too fast, you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the … difference between winning and losing, between living and dying.”
– Any Given Sunday
“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”
-- Tim Notke
“A dropout will beat a genius through hard work.”
-- Rock Lee
One of the amazing things about debate is that so many of the variables that determine your success are things you can exercise control over. Writing a new aff, researching your rival’s case, giving rebuttal redoes: these are all examples of things you can do to radically improve your chances of success. You can spend time practicing flowing, doing cross-x drills, or learning how to integrate technology into debate. You can prepare for tournaments by scouting your opponents and making sure you're prepared to debate their arguments and innovating novel arguments to get a leg up on your competition. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out.
All of those are things you can do any day of the week, either on your own, with teammates, or with coaches. However, there are some things you can only do at tournaments. Tournaments are a scarce resource. You only get to go to so many. Therefore, the time you spend at tournaments is extremely valuable. This post is about how to best improve your chances of success in debate by making sure you use that time well.
Tournaments are not just competition sites, they are places where you can improve and work. When your round ends, your drive to succeed should not. When a round is over you can scout, prep, ask coaches for help, write blocks, review feedback, and research. You can talk to your coaches, your teammates, judges and your opponents and friends and ask them what arguments they heard in debates they participated in.
Debaters in Wyoming love the “two worlds” analysis, so I will apply that tool to scouting. Imagine you get to the semi-finals of a tournament. In one world, you know nothing about your opponent’s arguments. During the prelims, when you had free time, you chatted with friends, played games, and took a nap under the table. You go into the debate without advance preparation. In the second world, you used your downtime during the prelims to scout your opponents, identify your most threatening competitors, and began to research and write answers to their arguments. In the semi-finals of a tournament, which world would you want to be in? Which world gives you the better chance of winning the semis, and then the tournament?
Scouting is important, but it’s not enough to merely talk about arguments. Champions need to buckle down, and get to work. This brings me to my next major point: ABW. Always Be Writing. Once you have actionable intel, the next step is to act. Start to research, start to cut cards, start to put together a file, start writing 2AC or 1AR blocks. ABW. Always Be Writing. Is a coach telling you they have six good arguments that will answer a disad or contention that they heard at the tournament? Just listening to your coach talk about those arguments is not the move. The move is to start blocking those arguments out. If someone is telling you smart args to answer a position, write those arguments down. If they make sense as analytics, block them out. If you want evidence to support them, start researching. This applies to coaching you get during the week, coaching you get at tournaments, and feedback you get at tournaments. Don’t rely on your memory – it won’t often work out well for you. Memories fade. You might remember broad strokes, but you’ll forget the warrants or the specific phrasing that you really liked. You might spend time trying to recall or reconstruct, which may or may not work out, when you could have that work already done so you can move on to the next thing you need to prep.
You also send a signal when you write down feedback, whether it’s with a coach or a judge. You send a signal that your care about their feedback, that you actually plan to incorporate it. That signal will make your coaches go to war for you and it will motivate judges to want to vote for you in future rounds.
What about when you are out of a tournament? When you’ve been defeated, and no longer have any rounds left to compete in? First, every squad should have a de facto rule that no one is out at a tournament until every member of the team is out. If you have a single competitor still in the game, then every member of your squad should be mobilizing to support them. If your teammate is in one semis round, rather than watching them, watch their opponent. If you watch the other semis round you can scout your teammate’s potential finals opponents and you can get to work on answers to their arguments during the semis debate. That gives your team the best chance of winning. What about when everyone on your team is out? Tournaments are still scarce resources. You can scout your opponents so you’re more prepared to debate them at the next tournament. You can watch, and flow, good elim debates because doing so will help you improve and debate better next time.
Is this asking a lot? Honestly, I think that you will find that as you build these habits, they’ll become muscle memory: automatic to you. That said, this level of dedication might not be for everyone, and that’s totally fine! I hope you’ll still put in the extra effort for your teammates! But if you set high goals for yourself, if you want to win one more round than you did at your last tournament, if you have your eyes on a higher prize, whether it’s State or Nationals, then this advice is for you. Because hard work beats talent, and the team that best uses their time at tournaments is going to be the team that dominates.
To bring this full circle: the quote that opens this article is from “The Inches Speech,” delivered by Al Pacino in the movie Any Given Sunday. It’s widely regarded as one of the greatest motivational speeches of all time. What fascinates me about this, is that the reason this speech is so good is because it has such an excellent warrant. Most motivational speeches are about hype – they’re supposed to get you going, even if they don’t really say anything. But the inches speech advances an argument: that life (and football), are games of inches. Important things come down to the wire. Good debates, debates against skilled opponents where you have to put everything on the line, those debates are won by inches, not miles. And the inches we need are everywhere around us. You never know what small thing is going to be the inch that gets you to the semi-finals. Small decisions can cost us break rounds, and they can win championships. “They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second.” How you spend your time at tournaments, whether you meaningfully incorporate coaching and judge feedback, those are valuable inches that can add up to making the difference.
When you’re at a tournament, the people who will judge your rounds are constantly around you. They see how seriously you take the tournament, and they see when you’re focused and working hard. They also want to vote for the students that are dedicated. Perhaps the most important advice I can offer you is to be the team that builds a reputation for working hard, and taking tournaments seriously. Be the team that writes down everything a judge says. Be the team that’s researching in between rounds, that’s talking to coaches about new arguments, that’s scouting their opponents. All of those things will help you win, and they will signal to your judges that you mean business.
“On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the difference between winning and losing."
Author: Matt Liu, University of Wyoming Director of Debate
This past weekend a program I volunteer with attended the Cheyenne Central and Alta tournaments, and in both places our LD debaters encountered novel arguments and argument structures. After the tournaments, I was sent some smart questions about the nature of LD. I liked these questions a lot and thought I’d write up something similar here.
Walking into a team meeting this past Tuesday, I had an interesting conversation with a young debater. They expressed some distaste for the Jan/Feb LD resolution, since 'military matters are a policy topic not an LD topic.' I understand that impulse, but in response I asked: shouldn't the strongest vision of LD debate be able to speak to any issue? In other words, what good is philosophical or moral debate if it can't speak to any complex issue?
My big thought about the nature of any debate event is that my favorite thing about debate is that in its very best form, it's what you make of it. Even in policy, whether counterplans are allowed are not is not a settled question. Are counterplans allowed? If so, how many does the negative get? One? Two? Three? As many as they can read in 8 minutes? What kinds of counterplans are allowed? Does the aff need to defend the entire resolution, or can they defend a subset of it? Does the aff have to be topical? Should debaters be required to disclose? My very favorite thing about debate is that in its coolest moments, it's the debaters that decide the answers to these questions by making arguments about them in round. Do you have amazing args as to why you should get three counterplans? If you can convince the judge that's good for debate, then you'll win that it's okay. Do you have great args that that's bad? Then you'll win that your opponent should lose for reading three counterplans. Now of course judge adaptation is also a thing. If your judge hates counterplans in LD, then I would advise you to not introduce one, because you will have one heck of an uphill battle winning that – and that will very often be the case in Wyoming LD debate. But for me, and in many places and with many judges, debate is what you, the debaters, make of it.
Now for the specific questions I was asked: (1) "Can a resolution be interpreted in different ways, and to what extent?" Well even on just the East squad, we know different debaters have different visions of the resolution. You adopt different values, criterion, and contentions. Expand past the East squad but stay in Cheyenne and you can see other schools adopt significantly different cases, including one debater who chose environmental justice as his value and built a case about eco-feminism (very cool!). But all of those cases are similar in that they are whole-res, the defend the entire resolution. At Alta we encountered affs that defended subsets of the rez instead of the whole thing. In policy, we call those plans. Many traditional LDers call that LARPing (live action role play). When "plan debate" first emerged, let's say in the 1980's (although debate historians could have a debate about this), it was called hypothesis-testing, or hypo-testing. Rather than debate the entire resolution, hypo-testers argued, the aff could prove the resolution justified by proving an example of it true. This style of debating has grown over the last 40 years, and it is now very common on the national circuit and in many regional circuits (though not ours! at least not in LD).
I looked through the ballots of the debaters at Alta, and one comment stood out to me. When an East debater debated a subset aff, they tried to say that was unfair, that the aff was obliged to defend the entire resolution. The judge wrote on their ballot: 'make this an argument. Write a T violation.' I like what that judge has to say! You could construct a theory arg or a topicality arg that the aff has to defend the entire resolution. Even on the national circuit, this is a very common arg. Is it a winning arg? I tend to think debaters that engage the aff and write arguments specific to the various aff proposals win more rounds than debaters that dogmatically stick to pushing Topicality Whole Rez, but it's certainly an arg you can make!
In Wyoming, LD debate is largely what I call trad, or traditional. But across the country I think there are five distinct ways of debating LD:
1. Trad: traditional debate using the value and criterion with one or two contentions to defend or attack the resolution as a whole.
2. LARP: a focus on outcomes and consequences; circuit debaters adopting this style feel less bound by traditional structure and will adopt novel styles and arguments.
3. Phil: close to trad debate, phil debates go much deeper into Kant in particular.
4. K: kritik debate encompasses a broad umbrella of arguments, but K debaters often shift the debate to a question of social justice, often making the debate about debate itself.
5. Tricks: tricks debaters focus on argumentative minutiae to try and set up traps that ensure they win the debate.
Which of these is the "right" way to debate LD? I don't think there's an answer to that question. The best of each type of those debaters will have to beat the best of the other types, sometimes with a judge sympathetic to their style, sometimes not. Rather than reject a style because it's not the way we were taught, I think we should stay open -- and above all, learn how to beat it, even under unfavorable conditions.
(2) "What role do I play as an LD Debater?" Is LD debate about morals, philosophy, or governmental action? My question is, why does it have to be a forced choice? The Nov/Dec and Jan/Feb resolutions are unquestionably about government policies. But to decide whether those policies are good or bad, shouldn't we apply philosophy to them to figure out what's moral? Members of the East team, who everyone would agree are trad debaters, defend V/C like pragmatism. A pragmatic, cost-benefit analysis of whether the government should ban fossil fuel prohibition -- isn't that an application of philosophy and morality to government policy? It is! Isn't it remarkably similar to policy debate? It is! I don't think that's bad. LD debate offers you the opportunity to defend a value like pragmatism, just as it offers you the opportunity to attack that value.
My big advice here is: don't get caught up on what LD debate "is" or "isn't." Don't presume it has to be one thing. Either engage and dispute your opponent’s arguments, or make an argument for why you have a vision of debate that means you should win.
Author: Matt Liu, University of Wyoming Director of Debate
Recently I worked with some of the Cheyenne East debaters to identify a need, brainstorm an idea, and produce an argument. Afterwards I realized that the way we took that idea from start to finish reflected a good research process, and it was worth writing about. This essay will walkthrough that process that we went through to show what a good research process looks like.
Looking for a more focused take on how to research well? Check out this introductory video by Professor Graham or this video-lecture by me.
Identifying a Need (Prioritization)
This past weekend I worked with East at the Heart of The Rockies (Cheyenne Central) tournament. Once East’s policy teams were done at the tournament, we started looking at entries for our next tournament, Green River. We talked to other debaters and coaches to scout info about as many of the teams going as we could, and realized we’d be up against a territories social security aff, three Federal Jobs Guarantee affs, (infrastructure and Green New Deal), three teams debating for the first time, and one team reading a big social security reform aff. We felt really good about the territories SSI and FJG affs since we had prepped new strategies for the teams reading those affs at Central, so that left the new affs and the big social security expansion aff. We decided to focus our energy on the social security aff, since we knew what we needed, making sure we’d be free to work on the new aff at the tournament once we knew what it was. It’s not like East doesn’t have neg strats to social security, but we know not to underestimate our opponents. Researching a novel, specific argument is the edge we want to win close debates against talented rivals.
I really liked how this went down. The East debaters could have just goofed off once they were out of the tournament, but instead they stayed focus and got a jump on their next tournament. By doing this while they were still at the tournament, they were able to take advantages of the resources around them to more effectively scout their opponents.
Brainstorming an Idea (Conception)
Once we identified what we needed to work on for the next tournament, we needed an idea. We pulled out our computers, started to do some introductory searches, and batted around some ideas. We didn’t want anything that was too repetitive with our existing neg strats against social security affs, so some ideas got binned because of that. Some ideas we struggled to come up with external impacts, so we put those ideas in the “parking lot” to come back to later. Working as a group and talking through the ideas was helpful, it meant that there was always someone there to red team an idea that sounded too good to be true, or find hidden value in an idea that wasn’t getting enough love.
Social security is probably the hardest portion of the policy topic to research. One reason why is that the resolution calls for a substantial expansion of social security, but unlike a federal jobs guarantee or basic income, expanding social security has not really been a centerpiece of either party’s political agenda for quite some time. Proposals like the FJG and basic income have attracted a ton of attention recently because they have superstar advocates ranging from Bernie Sanders to Elon Musk, and that political attention translates to attention from media, think tanks, and scholars. Social security does attract attention, with the Trust Fund projected to run dry in the 2030’s, but the most mainstream proposals in the literature aren’t straightforward calls for expansion. In fact, most serious social security reform proposals are compromises that in some ways would reduce benefits to make the Trust Fund more sustainable. That doesn’t make the social security area of the topic impossible to research, but, it might make it a little more difficult.
After running into a little trouble in my early brainstorming process because of this, I turned to an old friend for help: ChatGPT. A lot of educators are going to have a lot of feelings about ChatGPT, but to me, it’s a tool that if used skillfully can be helpful. Am I going to have ChatGPT write my arguments for me? Absolutely not (I want to win, after all). Will I use it in the brainstorming process? Definitely! Experience has taught me ChatGPT can direct my attention to cool ideas I might otherwise have missed and/or to ideas faster than I might have found them on my own. So I tossed ChatGPT a simple query: "Hi ChatGPT! Could you help me think of some reasons why expanding social security reform be a bad idea?" (I read somewhere that ChatGPT works better if you're polite, and although that's probably fake news, I can't think of a single DA to making sure speaking politely stays a habit for me, so I always do it). Now, I know that ChatGPT’s first couple of ideas are going to be pretty vanilla (mainstream, predictable, boring) and fairly repetitive, so after skimming the responses, I made my next move: asking for more ideas. "Thanks ChatGPT! What are some other ideas?" That still wasn't getting me where I wanted to go, so I tried: "What are some creative reasons expanding social security in the US might be bad?" That got close, but, no gold star ideas, so I ran it back: "Thanks again! Could you list some more ideas?" Not quite there yet, so I tried two more times: "What are some more ideas?" "Thanks! what are some more ideas?" And that last query hit gold:
“Impact on Workforce Participation: Some argue that a generous social security system may lead to early retirements, reducing overall workforce participation and potentially affecting productivity and economic growth.”
This idea clicked right away for me. First, it makes intuitive sense. Social security provides retirement income to seniors -- it's a social safety net for the elderly. The idea here is that the more attractive you make social security, the less attractive you make working for senior citizens. If the government will pay me bank for just existing, why go to my 9 to 5? I'm old and I'm tired, and I'd rather just hang up my hat. That's great for grandpa, but, not so hot for American industries. We're already in a post-COVID employment crunch, a spate of early retirements could be the straw on the camel's back for dozens of different economic sectors. Second, there's impact flexibility. Throw a dart at a board, pick an important industry, that's a DA. “Early retirements deck high skilled workers.” “Early retirements deck biotech.” “Early retirements deck manufacturing.” “Early retirements deck cybersecurity.” Etc, etc, ad infinitum: so many DA options!
Also, tagging this DA is great: “boomers are key to cybersecurity” is a sentence I never thought I’d write.
Getting the chance to vet this idea with a group of debaters while we were still at the tournament helped a ton. We were able to talk about what would make a good impact scenario, what kinds of uniqueness issues might get us in trouble, and we were able to come up with cool ideas to strengthen the argument. One East debater pointed out that older workers are extremely valuable because they have experience and skills, and that was a huge internal link boost and gave us ideas for search terms. This idea made sense, was strategic, and survived the group vetting process. Thus, the early retirements DA was born.
I was definitely not the only one working on this file, but, I was excited to research a cool new idea. When I got home and started working on it, I went through a familiar process:
--envision idea that makes sense,
--hit a discouraging bump in the road.
When I started to research the link between social security and early retirements, everything was coming up COVID-clogged. Google would give me hundreds of articles about the relationship of retirements to COVID, with social security mentioned in a different context. The causal relationship was pandemic => retirement, and how SS plays into that, not what I was looking for: that social security spurs early retirements.
This gave me a brief pause, and I momentarily wondered: “Is this idea a thing? Is it not a thing? Did I get this wrong?” Then I just added “-pandemic” to my search, eliminating any article talking about COVID. With that one small change (targeted to the specific research problem I was having, Google prioritizing articles about COVID), everything changed. I immediately got seven good PDFs in a row about the relationship between social security and retirements. (Why am I bothering to say that the first few results were PDFs? Because PDFs are often a shortcut for knowing something might be quality! Not every PDF is good, but it’s the format of professional publishing, whether think tanks or scholarly sources. People writing blogs in their parents’ basements definitely don’t often use the PDF format.) Not only did these PDFs have a lot of good cards, but they gave me the economic jargon I needed for good new search terms. Once I learned the language that experts writing about this subject used, that gave me search terms that unlocked truly monster articles.
Why am I choosing to highlight the hiccups and roadblocks in my research process? Because everyone faces those, but this story is demonstrative of the fact that if you stick with it, and play around with your search terms, you’ll get there. Research is a lot of brute force, and then you hit one good article and when it rains it pours: you get search terms, bibliographies, and works cited replete with more sources you can go to. You can also use Google Scholar’s “cited by” function to look at who is citing that good article you found. The process might be tough at first, but hard work snowballs.
If you’re still reading, I’m impressed! Thanks for sticking with me through the whole article. If you’re interested, here’s the first wave of work that got done on the Early Retirements DA.
If you like that, you should join Team Wyoming. You can learn more about us here, and sign up here. Team Wyoming is the University of Wyoming's program to provide free supplemental debate coaching for high school students in the Mountain West. Go Pokes!
Author: Matt Liu, University of Wyoming Director of Debate
I’ve gotten the chance to judge at a few Wyoming high school tournaments this year, and I’ve loved every second of it. When it comes to the LD rounds I’ve been lucky enough to judge, one thing stands out to me: that value criterion debates seem to be shaped more by rote habit than actual in-round strategic utility. My soul read of many of the debates that I’ve judged is that debaters have been told that the V/C debate matters, that they should spend non-insignificant amounts time on it, and they should win that theirs is better; however, many debaters don’t know why it matters or how it will shape the outcome of the round. This is not to say I haven’t heard good warrants about why pragmatism is preferable to the social contract, etc, but rather that it oftentimes seems like the V/C debating is not connected to a win condition. If you zoom out, it’s unclear why winning the V/C means winning the round. The thesis of this article will be that your V/C should either give you a win condition or you should drastically reduce the amount of time you’re spending debating it.
This is not the first time WDR will have opined about the state of V/C debating. This excellent series on the value criterion by Lawrence Zhou should be required reading for LD debaters (seriously, I know it’s three posts, but it’s worth it to read the entire thing). Given the importance of the issue, I’d like to return to it – with a little Nov/Dec ’23 topic-specific analysis as a treat.
First the basics: what is the value / criterion debate? According to Lawrence, the V/C debate is about what matters more: “[t]he role of the value criterion is to settle the question of which impact(s) matter more when there is disagreement over what ought to take priority.” The language of value/criterion is virtually interchangeable with “weighing standard,” “impact calculus,” or “framework.” I think “weighing standard” is probably more common language in local LD, but in this article I will inevitably slip into using the language of impact calculus as I find it to be a little more useful. Still, all of these examples of jargon get to the same idea: what matters most? The V/C debate is about what impacts matter more, and the contentions are about how the resolution relates to those impacts (i.e., whether the aff or neg best solves the impacts).
Does winning the V/C debate mean you win the round? No! If you win that human life is the most important value, but your opponent wins that prohibiting fossil fuel extraction from public lands more negatively impacts human life, your opponent has won their case under your value criterion. That means they win!
How can the V/C debate be strategic? According to Lawrence, “the function of a criterion is to include or inflate the relevance of certain impacts and to exclude or deflate the relevance of certain impacts. A good criterion should inflate your impacts while simultaneously deflating your opponent’s impacts.”
A lot of the time, however, the V/C debate does not meaningfully distinguish the impacts in the debate. There may very well be meaningful differences between utilitarianism and societal welfare, between prioritizing human life and pragmatism, between human welfare and the social contract; however, the differences between those six concepts do not explain a meaningful reason to prioritize the environment over the economy (or vice versa), which is the core controversy of the current topic. Both the environment and the state of the economy implicate societal welfare, a pragmatist would want to care about both of those things, human lives are affected by both, etc. The most common V/C do not meaningfully contrast environmental and economic impacts, which means they are not functioning as useful weighing standards, impact calc, or frameworks for evaluating most rounds on this topic. In these instances, the time spent on the V/C debate is not achieving a win condition: debaters are spinning their wheels but the time spent on the V/C is not meaningfully shaping the outcome of the round.
Environmental Justice: A Case Study in V/C Debating
Over the last few weekends, I did hear one value that I thought had a lot of potential to meaningfully distinguish aff and neg contentions and function as a strategic framework: environmental justice. Environmental justice is a social movement that focuses on the way that environmental harms disproportionately impact marginalized communities. This value immediately struck me as having potential to be a useful V/C because it has two useful features:
(1) It meaningfully distinguishes between aff and neg impacts. Environmental justice intuitively prioritizes redressing environmental harms (like those caused by fossil fuel extraction) over economic growth, and,
(2) There are smart warrants available to prioritize environmental justice even in the face of potential catastrophe.
One way debaters can say that environmental justice should come first is by advancing an argument that it corrects for implicit or subconscious biases. There is very good evidence that most actors have unconscious biases that affect their judgements and even policymaking when it comes to how issues affect marginalized communities. If it’s true that our implicit biases will lead us to making decisions biased against marginalized communities, erring towards environmental justice even when there’s a possibility it may lead to catastrophe might be the right decision because we might be biased to exaggerate the negative consequences of adopting a more just policy.
I also think there is a good subject formation argument for prioritizing environmental justice. To make this argument, you advance a thesis-level claim that society by-and-large devalues marginalized communities. The fact that fossil fuel extraction disproportionately impacts indigenous land is just one of hundreds of examples of this, for example. If that’s true, maybe the value of debate is not in comparing impacts, but in shaping the subject formation of its participants. There can be a debate tech-centric element to this argument. Many debaters will say because debate impacts “aren’t real” and we “don’t have our hands on the actual levers of power,” that the question of what impact is the biggest is irrelevant, and the only real utility of debate is shaping us to be better humans that care more about marginalized people. You can advance the argument that prioritizing environmental justice does this; that it pushes the “Overton window” to the left by asking us to prioritize marginalized communities even in the face of catastrophe.
Is this value strategic? Yes, I think so. If the aff wins that (1) environmental justice outweighs and (2) that fossil fuel extraction disproportionately hurts marginalized communities, they win. My hope is this example demonstrates how the V/C debate can help you win.
That said, I think exploring how the neg can win this debate is very helpful for thinking about the limits of the V/C debate. In this debate, the neg has two pathways to victory:
First, they can win that an alternative V/C is preferable. If the neg wins util (or, my preference, consequentialism), then they could win that their econ contention (etc) outweighs environmental justice. In this case the neg needs to win that some suffering of the marginalized is not more important than a greater amount of suffering by a larger amount of people (whether they are marginalized or not). In this instance, the neg is trying to win that all life has equal value. This is a highly defensible proposition, a pathway the negative could easily win – in other words, a good debate.
However, the neg has a second way to win. The neg can lose the V/C debate and still win the debate. If the neg wins that their econ DA (etc) is worse for marginalized communities than climate change / environmental injustice, than they win that their contention outweighs within the affirmative value. For example, the neg could read from this article from Ronald Bailey handily titled “Energy Poverty Is Much Worse for the Poor Than Climate Change.” That’s a pretty slam dunk “we win within your framework” piece of scholarship right there.
I like this case study and I think it demonstrates the strategic potential of a V/C debate as impact calc, but it also demonstrates the limits of the V/C debate and how contentions can trump the V/C.
The V/C debate can be useful. At its heart, V/C is impact calc, and impact calc is the heart of winning debates. The traditional V/C structure is also sometimes an easy and useful way to express that impact calc. However, just because the V/C can be useful sometimes does not mean it always is. Recall our six V/C phrases from earlier: utilitarianism, societal welfare, prioritizing human life, pragmatism, human welfare, and the social contract. These are all V/Cs I heard over the last few weeks.
Are you tilting at windmills to try and figure out a reason why V/C combo A outweighs V/C combo B, when they’re all so close as to be meaningfully indistinguishable in the context of comparing contentions? Then perhaps the V/C debate is not the most useful place to spend your time. To be clear, I think in these instances you should radically reduce or virtually eliminate the time you spend on the V/C debate. Very, very often, I think a debater is best served by a single quick line that the V/C debate is moot because they are indistinguishable or because the neg contentions better address the aff value (or vice-versa).
So where should that time go? Winning your contention, beating your opponent’s contentions, and especially doing more useful, particularized impact calculus. Consider these two NRs:
NR 1: The V/C Focus
Pragmatism is the value that should be prioritized in your ballot. Pragmatism is the best value because it helps ensure that society arrives at reasonable solutions that compare the costs and benefits of different approaches. That guarantees that whatever the stakes of a controversy are, the pros and cons are carefully weighed and the right decision is made. Human life is not the best value because there's no method to ensure that it's protected without pragmatism. Pragmatism also accesses my opponent’s value of prioritizing human life because pragmatists prioritize human life. Ensuring economic growth allows a prosperous society, which ensures human life is protected.
NR 2: Econ Turns the Environment
Economic growth solves the environment better than the affirmative- that means even if they win their value, fossil fuel extraction is better for it. Fossil fuels ensure growth which better remedies climate change for three reasons:
1. Technological innovation: growth fosters tech innovation that redresses environmental harm. This is the only way to solve climate change- we’re already past climate tipping points like melting permafrost, which means that a 5 degree temperature increase is locked-in even with zero emissions unless we innovate new ways to extract carbon from the atmosphere.
2. The Kuznets Curve: environmentalism is a luxury good- people are only willing to focus on the environment when they have a certain level of income. If you’re struggling to put food on the table for your family, you don’t have the time or resources to care about the destruction of the rainforest. Economists have modeled this empirical effect and call it the Kuznets curve, and empirical examples from forest cover to fisheries to climate change prove that rising incomes are the best shot in the arm for environmentalism.
3. Only the neg solves: reducing extraction on public lands reduces only a percent of a percent of emissions- it ignores private land and every other country. The aff can’t solve climate change because they can’t solve that China and India are building 400 new coal power plants every year- BUT- technological innovation that makes clean energy cost competitive is a top-down, holistic, and global solution- it solves all of climate change- meaning the neg solves the aff better than the aff.
You might find some value in both NR overviews; however, the true flaw with the first NR is that it's protected from "capture" by the neg. If the neg wins their contention(s) and defense to the aff contention, then voting neg is the pragmatic thing to do. On the other hand, the second NR can make more specific arguments that cannot be captured as easily because the impact calculus is catered to a particular contention, and is directly comparative to the aff contention. I think this demonstrates that although smart debaters should identify V/C that inflate their impacts (or deflate their opponent’s impacts), the smartest debaters know that the V/C debate is just one form of impact calculus, and not always the best form. [Note that the best impact calculus should center external offense, putting that first, and then "turns case" arguments are icing on the cake (though sometimes very, very effective icing!). If you're interested in doing some research that supports the claims I made, you could check out this article and this article.]
If you can’t (1) meaningfully distinguish your V/C and your opponent’s, (2) win that your V/C is preferable, and (3) win that your V/C is best addressed via your contentions (all 3 steps are required to win the debate through the V/C), then you should jettison the V/C debate and focus on the contentions or more modularized impact calc.
One final caveat: judge adaption. Judge adaptation trumps everything else. If your judge believes that V/C debate is an intrinsically necessary part of LD debate and must be a significant part of the debate, then by all means, V/C away! You should keep a squad judge book on a google doc that helps you keep up with judge idiosyncrasies. That said, by and large, I do not think judges are ideologues, and I think the better arg most often wins. That means in most debates, I think rather than erring toward rotely debating the V/C and spinning your wheels, you should only focus on the V/C if it strategically matters, and otherwise you should spend your time on arguments that have more bang for their buck.
If you're not already following Professor Graham on YouTube, you should be. Adrian Graham is a debater at the University of Wyoming and a coach at Laramie High School, and he produces amazing debate content that's useful for everyone, but geared toward Wyoming debaters. Whether you're hoping to learn the basics or win championships, Adrian's content is full of useful info, great strats, and a rambunctious corgi.
His video on judge adaptation is a great place to start for anyone, and we also love his takes on research, disclosure, and prep time. If you do policy, his primer on the Federal Jobs Guarantee part of the topic is amazing, and his take on reading the IRS DA is a must watch (it's crime that more 1NCs don't have the IRS DA!).
Thanks for producing such awesome content Professor Graham!
Author: Matt Liu, University of Wyoming Director of Debate
A few months ago, before the college national debate championship, I screen-recorded my research and file production process for one of my NDT (National Debate Tournament) assignments. My job was to produce econ "thumpers", or arguments that economic decline is inevitable (this "alt cause" is a handy tool to answer any economy argument).
I thought it might be a good example of my research process that I could turn into a research video-lecture. I'll be forthright that I'm not great with video editing software. I'm no Professor Graham! My editing is rough around the edges for sure, but I think this video-essay establishes a ton of useful concept for learning research skills.
The econ thumper file I produced took me about 4 hours start to finish, and I had 3 hours and 20 minutes of raw video of that process that I collapsed down into 18 minutes by speeding segments up. I've never been satisfied with any research lecture (that I've given or seen), and I think part of the reason why is that seeing research and file production is the best way to learn how to do it, but it's an hours if not days long process. Time lapse is a partial solution to that problem.
You can find the video here! I highly suggest downloading the video, not watching it on Dropbox.
Author: Matt Liu, University of Wyoming Director of Debate
This informal post is about advice for debating impact turns. It is intended for debaters who already have some experience and know what an impact turn is, and would like to get better at executing impact turn strategies. If that sounds like you, here are 7 thoughts on debating impact turns:
We want to hear from you! Disagree with something we said? Have a question? Feel free to jump in in the comments, we'll be sure to respond!
Do you have a topic you’d like us to address in a future post? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Competition buildings are: Classroom, Engineering, Ross, Wyoming Union, and Business (circled below).
Central gathering: there will be space for everyone to gather in the Central & East Ballroom of the Wyoming Union (Second Floor).
Student Drop-off: the best place for busses to drop off students is the Wyoming Union parking lot (circled below). Setting Google Maps to the “Wyoming Union” will take you straight there. It’s off N 15th St in between Ivinson Ave and Willet Dr.
Bus Parking can be found at either of the purple parking lots circled below (Armory & 30th St, or Armory & Television Rd).
This year's WFI had a panel of guest coaches gather together to talk about conditionality and the status of counterplans. Our amazing guests included:
The “Western Series” seeks to spotlight online tournaments that are accessible and ensure high-quality judging. Our goal is to make it easy for coaches across the country to find online tournaments they can afford, but that will still be professionally run and high quality. Thus, UW will seek to sanction a few tournaments a semester as “Western Series” tournaments. Our hope is this will be a helpful resource for coaches navigating an evolving online tournament environment, especially those whose programs are interested in dipping their toes into national circuit debate.
Announcing the 2022-23 Western Series:
The Ivy Street Invitational (hosted by the Marist School), 9/24-26
The Heart of Texas Invitational (host by St. Mark's), 10/21-24 [Hybrid]
The Spartan Classic (hosted by Michigan State University), 12/2-4
The Conway Classic (hosted by Gonzaga University), 1/6-7 [Hybrid]
The Stanford Invitational aka Palm Classic, 2/11-13
The Digital Speech and Debate Series #2 (hosted by the University of Kentucky), 2/24-26
The Ivy Street Invitational
Host: The Marist School
Events: Policy, PF, LD
Policy TOC bid: Finals
Entry fees: $30 Policy and PF. $20 LD
Independent entries: yes
Policy TOC bid: Semis
Entry fees: $20
Independent entries: no
The Heart of Texas Invitational
Host: St. Mark's School of Texas
Events: Policy, LD
Policy TOC bid: Octos
Entry fees (online): $50
Independent entries: no
The Spartan Classic
Host: Michigan State University
Events: Policy, Congress
Entry fees: $25 Policy, $10 Congress
Independent entries: case-by-case
The Conway Classic
Host: Gonzaga University
Events: Policy, LD, PF, Congress, Individual Events
Policy TOC bid: Semis
Entry fees: TBD (updated fee structure posted on website by early fall)
The Stanford Invitational aka Palm Classic
Events: Congressional Debate, LD, Parliamentary, Policy, PF, Speech (All), World Schools
Policy TOC bid: Semis
Entry fees: $100 with a 100% fee waiver to at-need schools upon expression of need
Independent entries: yes
The Digital Speech and Debate Series #2
Host: University of Kentucky
Events: Congress, LD, PF, Policy, Speech
Policy TOC bid: Quarters
Entry fees: TBD (aiming for $25/student)
Independent entries: yes
The Damus Hollywood Invitational (hosted by Notre Dame High School), 11/11-13. This tournament has a limited hybrid division- apply soon to ensure you get in if you're looking to compete online! Events include policy, LD, and WSD. This is an excellent tournament that is professionally run, has great judging and MPJ, and won't gouge you. It does not allow independent entries.
The Urban Debate Dragon Invitational (hosted by DC International), 11/11-13. This hybrid tournament offers Policy Debate divisions and promises affordability and accessibility. Entry fees have not yet been locked and independent entries will be on a case-by-case basis.
First and Second Year Nationals hosted by Woodward Academy, 3/17-19. We decided to only announce regular season tournaments as Western Series tournaments, but Woodward's First and Second Year National Championship is an excellent tournament that will either be online or hybrid (Policy, LD, PF). It will likely $50 per entry, and independent entries are not allowed.
The Digital Speech and Debate Series hosted by the University of Kentucky. We have announced their second tournament (2/24-25) as a Western Series tournament, however they will also be hosting on 12/2-4 (semis bid) and 3/10-12 (quarters bid).
Wyoming Debate Roundup is dedicated to providing quality debate content to Wyoming and Rocky Mountain area high school debaters. We’re a resource for Wyoming debaters by Wyoming debate coaches.