Rebuttals are not for Repetition

One thing I have noticed a lot this summer at camp and at Greenhill this weekend is that a lot of people, even teams who clear at tournaments, fundamentally do not understand the purpose of rebuttals. Here is how most debates go


Constructives: make arguments

Rebuttals: Repeat arguments


This is wrong. A debate should look like this

Constructives: Make arguments

Rebuttals: Resolve arguments


What is argument resolution? At its most basic form argument resolution evaluates two competing claims (the one presented by your team and the one presented by the opposing team) and then gives the judge a rational for why your argument is better.


This is what argument repetition looks like


1NC: Economic decline doesn’t cause war- 08 financial collapse emp denies their impact- it was the largest dip since the great depression and it didn’t produce great power war

2NR: Extend economic decline doesn’t cause war- they’ve conceded the 08 collapse was massive and didn’t cause war- this means their advantage won’t cause war either


In reality, there is almost never a time when this argument is “conceded”. Most likely the affirmative has been arguing against this point the whole round

1AC: Economic decline causes war- Royal 10

2AC: Our impact isn’t empirically denied, the magnitude of collapse in 08 wasn’t as significant as our advantage internal link, and the global fallout was delayed over a long period of time

1AR: Our impact isn’t empirically denied- they’ve conceded Royal 10 which says the best statistical evidence proves economic decline causes war- now is the key time


The aff isn’t exactly burning down the house with their stellar analysis, but they are certainly not “conceding” the argument.


In this debate we have a claim presented by each side , the job of a rebuttal is to resolve these claims for the judge. You basically want to think about what you would like the judge to say in their RFD and make arguments that support that. So you want them to say “the neg won no impact to the economy because …”- fill in the because and you are starting to resolve things. In most debates argument resolution doesn’t need to be super high level, the sheer fact that you are making an effort will quickly differentiate you from the other team.


So to continue with the econ example, the neg could make a variety of points about why their argument is better such as

A. Evidence quality- prefer our evidence because it postdates is an example of argument resolution, so is arguing qualifications

B. Logic/Spin- this is basically where you make your own argument about why your side should win, something like “Economic decline may statistically correlate with conflict, but that doesn’t mean every decline causes war, lack of war after 08 proves this- the only example the aff can give is WW 2 which menas 1 out of 100 economic collapses cause war”

C. Impact comparison- Take the statement above- if you were to relate that to impact calculus it would be a probability argument. To make this resolution you now need to COMPARE it to the impact you are going for and explain why your impact is more probable.


How often should you be doing this in your rebuttals? Pretty often, like pretty much all the time. Lets look at a hypothetical dedev debate. Lets say in the 2NC the neg extended the following


-economic collapse causes transition to sustainable society

-limits to growth make collapse inevitable

-growth causes global warming

-growth causes disease

-Growth causes war/economic decline doesn’t cause war


Those five things may seem like a small debate, but assuming there are 2-3 neg cards for each one and also lots of affirmative answers that is actually really really big. Most debaters in a 2NR would give a “recap”- this is where they list all their arguments, assert that they were conceded, and then give some impact calculus like “prefer magnitude, warming is the only extinction and you should prevent extinction so warming outweighs not warming”.


What should you be doing instead? You should be picking a small number of warrants for each point, blowing them up,and then resolving them. This is somewhat complicated so I am going to try and break it down with a few very small examples. Lets start with growth sustainable. Lets say the debate has developed like this


1NC- Growth isn’t sustainable- there are environmental Limits

2AC: Tech innovation makes growth limitless

2NC: Extend enviro limits- here are 3 specific limits- oil, arable land, energy consumption

1AR: Extend tech innovation makes growth limitless, and a new card that the market/capitalism adapts to limits


So here you basically have the neg with 4 arguments for limits to growth (the 3 specific resources and a generic environment claim) and the affirmative with 2 generic reasons there are no limits (tech/innovation and markets solve). So what you want to do in a 2NR is pick and chose- you don’t need to win all 4- and decidedly win those points. So lets look at increasing levels of quality of 2NR speech



“Extend limits to growth- oil is a limit- its running out now, when it runs out we can’t have growth”


“Extend peak oil is a limit to growth- their generic evidence doesn’t address this specific warrant, prefer specificity because its stupid to have general faith in magic science fixing every world problem”


“Extend peak oil- we have specific evidence that its running out and will crush global growth. Tech can’t solve because the demand is so huge- we have alternatives to oil now but they are so costly they can’t compete with the millions of consumers who want oil for transport, heating, and manufacturing. Markets empirically fail- no matter how high the price of oil goes we keep consuming it and building more cars. Presume neg- absent a compelling SPECIFIC explanation of how tech or markets solve you should assume that they do not- its not logical to have faith in innovation given the track record of the last 30 years”


“Extend peak oil- most recent evidence shows oil production has peaked- our card is from this month and from an oil expert. Their innovation solves card is from 02 and from a free market hack at the cato institute. Innovation has had 20 years to solve the oil problem but so far solutions are too costly and not effective enough to replace oil which has diverse applications from personal transport to manufacturing to agriculture. Even if a silver bullet is found, billions in China and India will never be able to afford it as companies are driven by the profit motive.  Oil is a perfect example of where markets fail because of monopoly- lack of a serious alternative means people keep consuming it no matter how high the price goes. Yes high prices have produced marginal gains in efficiency like higher miles per gallon, but efficiency is outstripped by massive increase in demand from developing countries. And cartels like OPEC can manipulate the market meaning price signals don’t effectively force a shift to alternatives- everytime the price gets to high they temporarily turn on the tap to stop a shift to alternatives. Presume negative- if you can’t explain to us what the feasible alternative is to replace oil in the next 5 years than you can’t vote aff on this argument- its just wishful thinking”


Each speech gets increasingly complex, not because more arguments are being repeated, but because more levels of resolution are being added to the negatives case. Many people have trouble filling time in rebuttals, especially when the debate comes down to a few small issues like only topicality or just conditionality. If this describes you than I’m guessing a big part of the problem is lack of argument resolution. If you don’t have enough “tools” to work with for resolving arguments in the rebuttal its probably a sign that your constructives weren’t put together very well and lacked diversity.  Lets look at a more complex example, does growth cause war?


1AC: Economic decline causes war- statistics prove

1NC: Economic decline does not cause war- leaders turn inward, Growth causes war – k2 fund military budgets

2AC: Extend statistics, also diversionary theory, and empirics WW 2, US proves economic decline doesn’t cause budget cuts- people always prioritize security


Ok already we are getting pretty full and we aren’t even to the 2NC. This is more than enough material for a very in depth rebuttal. Nevertheless, lets press on



Economic decline doesn’t cause war

-extend budget cuts

-popular opinion turns against war when people are hungry

-lack of economic growth stops resource conflicts

-diversionary theory is wrong

-Empirics go neg- WW 2 occurred 10 years after the depression, multiple past collapses didn’t cause war


Economic Growth Causes War

-extend growth fills coffers for conflict

-growth fuels resource conflicts

-interdependence prompts war

-Growth fuels public support for engagement/hegemony which causes conflict escalation


That’s getting pretty big. This is where most people run into 1AR trouble- they try and repeat everything the 2AC said, this forces them to make shallow/poorly explained arguments and oftentimes they still drop things. Given that just this part of the debate will take quite a chunk of time and there is still lots more going on you have to make choices and focus on argument resolution.

So if I was giving this 1AR I would want to try and collapse some parts of the debate and focus on others. Diversionary war is an ok argument, but the neg just presented defense so its one you can kick out of. The neg made multiple points about resource conflicts so that one you probably want to spend more time on etc. Argument resolution in a 1AR doesn’t need to be as in depth as a final rebuttal but you still want it to happen. Here are some examples



“extend growth causes war- diversionary theory and statistics prove. Free markets solve resource wars through price signals”

Didn’t address many of the arguments, didn’t really explain the arguments it did make… still better than many 1ARs



“Group war- evaluate this debate through the lenz of empirics- major conflicts often follow economic decline, but no major periods of peace do. Empirical arguments are descriptive whereas negative evidence is purely normative- it describes how things could happen but it is usually wrong”


Now both forwarding empirics as a lens and the normative/descriptive distinction are good arguments- but here they aren’t really explained or flushed out fully. In addition the rest of the debate is largely glossed over- yes there is an argument for why something comes before the rest, but since that is poorly explained it would be dangerous to stake the debate on that distinction.



“Empirics come first- they are the best guide to future action. Royal does a comprehensive statistical analysis and shows growth is correlated with peace over the long haul- even if not every decline causes war its more likely than not. Prefer this evidence- their cards are theoretical but proven wrong by history- they can’t name a time great powers cut defense budgets in response to economic collapse, if anything stim programs ramp up government spending to jump start the economy. Even if some of their arguments are true the overall statistical trend still goes affirmative”


Again, doesn’t address every line by line argument but does do a much better job of explaining why winning a few key arguments should resolve the other arguments in the affirmatives favor. To make this better (29 and above) you would want to try and add more: comparisons (evidence and warrant), and address specific negative arguments you think may NOT be addressed purely by statistics. Feel free to take a shot in the comments if you would like feedback.


By the time the 2NR/2AR rolls around you want to be focusing roughly 60% of your time on argument resolution, and that’s true regardless of what sheet (k, DA, case) or what argument (no link, link turn, impact defense) . If you find you don’t have time for this then one of the following has happened

-constructives weren’t effective

-you aren’t picking and choosing enough

-you need to work on efficiency/speed



So how do you get better/practice argument resolution? The easiest way is to use old rebuttals- either from debates you were in or debates you watched. If you don’t have flows then you just need to construct your own mini debate. This is really easy to do yourself or with a partner. All you need to do is come up with some arguments ( cards even if you want) and assign them to each side. You can do it on any issue (winners win or reasonability) and for any argument (case on zero day or framework on Baudrillard). Here is an example



Terrorism causes Extinction




Terrorism Doesn’t cause extinction

-not motive

-no technical capacity

-no support for retaliation


This is pretty simple- you can make up multiple warrants for each point for either side. Examples can get increasingly complex from there. Depending on your own individual skill you want to pick an example that is applicable and work your way up. If you are inexperienced you don’t want to start trying to give a 30 level speech on an example where each side has 40 points- you’d want to start smaller and small chunk your way up.


If you do construct your own examples, with or without cards, email and I’ll publish a packet of them for people to practice with.











Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s