Some thoughts on evidence quality part 1 -Bad, bad judges

Well i think its safe to say evidence quality is dead, TOD years ago. I used to still hold out some small amount of hope that even if in general evidence quality norms had collapsed and people were now reading largely garbage that at least if a team did stick it out and only read good evidence they would still be rewarded by judges for doing so. I’m forced to admit this belief was pretty naive. Judges don’t seem to care- and lest you think this was some sort of “sour grapes” rant let me clarify at the outset that the examples I will give in these posts all stem from either debates I judged and thus had no interest in the outcome, or from situations described to me by others. I write this post not as a get off my lawn style complaint but more of a challenge to judges – your current weak sauce needs some fixing.

Let’s start with some very basic concepts, the most fundamental of which would be “what is a good piece of evidence”? To simplify this, lets say the topic is a given- the sky is blue. What I mean by “the topic is a given” is that oftentimes a question of which card is better can be resolved by looking at which card is most precise/actually about the issue in question- let’s bracket that issue for now. So assuming all evidence is about the topic , what factors make a card better or worse?

1. Author quals- I know, I know – you already thought I was old and now I’m bringing up author quals. Quals matter- not just because smart people tend to write better cards, but also because being an expert in the field should be a deciding factor in which piece of evidence you trust. So for example, we have two competing pieces of evidence

Card A: says the sky is blue
Card B: says the sky is not blue

Well qualifications give you a window into which piece of evidence should be trusted, because they give you insight into who is making the determination. So for example, if card A is from someone qualified- say an atmospheric scientist, and card B is from someone completely unqualified, say Schlaag, then card A would be better. This may seem like an odd/exaggerated example, most people surely agree that if there is a question of “fact” that qualifications have some bearing on that? Not in the debates I’m judging they don’t. Nor when I ask people about this issue does there seem to be much broad agreement. The sky is blue may seem like an absurd example, but its not that much different from questions that come up in every debate like “is China revisionist” or “does Obama have political capital”. While you can certainly quote facts/statistics to support either side of those questions, there is no truly objective barometer that measures those kind of issues. Qualifications are important because theoretically when someone qualified makes an assessment like “China is not revisionist” they have surveyed relevant factors and used their expertise gained from years in the field to make a determination. Now a newspaper article, on the other hand, is using the term revisionist in a relatively arbitrary way- i.e. Those authors don’t have the background in the field to make an educated determination about the issue- bracketing issues of bias (or desire to sell papers) the average staff writer isn’t focusing on a specific topic enough to develop the expertise of someone with a PhD. They could be basing their use of the term on another article they read where someone equally unqualified used the term incorrectly- anyone who has ever played telephone will know what I mean.

Furthermore, quality publications entail some editing or review process. This means someone not the author looked at the work and either gave commentary, fact checked it, or said it did/did not meet a set of criteria for publication. Many internet sources (even ones that seem qualified like major news outlets or online versions of traditional newspapers) have almost no editorial or review process. This matters. A lot. Hyperbolic claims are more likely to go to print in a publication without review, if debaters are then mainly cutting/citing these hyperbolic sources the picture of the debate will be severely distorted.

So how much should qualifications matter? Well in the case of very qualified vs very unqualified IMO quals should be dispositive- i.e the unqualified piece of evidence should lose regardless of how much “better” it is on other criteria. This should be pretty self explanatory given the explanation above- unqualified evidence can come from anyone and say anything. Once we cross the Rubikon of saying ev quality can trump quals then naturally everyone will look for the “best” evidence and ignore qualifications. The politics disadvantage is a perfect example of this- for the last 4-6 years the “political capital” disad has been a 100% garbage lie and anyone who doesn’t recognize this should immediately be disqualified from debate instruction. No matter what Obama said, did, arm twisted or horse traded he wasn’t getting agenda items like gun control, immigration reform, or supreme court appointments. Despite this fact, obvious at the time and in hindsight, think about the number of disads run, pieces of evidence cut, and rounds won on the “political capital” disad. It would be one thing if this was happening because the aff was ignoring the link and just impact turning the disad. However, in this time period aff’s have dug in on reading poli sci theory ev about political capital, issue compartmentalizations, and the uniqueness of the Obama presidency. This evidence was largely ignored by the majority of judges because “Well the neg has a specific card on XYZ so… I vote neg”. This is a debate war crime, and if you are giving decisions like this as a judge you are a big part of the death of evidence quality (if not debate as a whole). This “specific” evidence comes from a random news paper writer who has no stake in being accurate, researching their claims to see if they are justified in political science literature, and most seem to barely know what political capital is other than its a SEO term they have to add in whenever possible. Just because they say it, doesn’t make it true – and WHO says it should be a larger part of the discussion than it is in most debates.

So in a debate where we have competing cards saying yes/no on issue X, qualifications should be the first tiebreaker. To debate qualifications you need to cut qualified evidence, look up the author qualifications, read them in debate, and then argue about them. Would this simple fix be a panacea for debate evidence quality? No, of course not- there are plenty of qualified people speaking nonsense. But would it go a long way toward fixing it.

Does recency matter? Can it trump quals?

Of course, but not nearly as much as people think. Regency only matters when new information has changed what we previously thought. This requires a 2 part determination

1. What is the new event
2. is it significant enough to change previously held belief X?

Now, this gets somewhat tricky as there are a lot of subjective elements involved. These things should be debated out-is event X enough to convince us that China is no longer rising peacefully but is not a challenger to the US? I would like to propose a 2 part burden structure

1. It is the burden of the team reading the post date evidence to explain what the new event is, if they don’t than they don’t get any benefit from the post date
2. It is the burden of the team arguing against the post date to argue that the event is not significant, if they don’t than the post date can trump.

Here are some examples of how this could play out in a debate

Aff: China is rising peacefully-Johnson 14
Neg: China is now a hostile rival- Smith 15

In this situation neither team has met their burden, the ne doesn’t get the benefit of a post date

Aff: China is rising peacefully- Johnson 14
Neg: China is now a hostile rival- Island building shows territorial expansion is a national goal- Smith 15

Here the neg has advanced a reason for why the post date could matter, the aff has not responded, Neg wins

Aff: China is rising peacefull- Johnson 14
Neg: China is now a hostile rival -island building shows territorial expansion is a national goal- smith 15
Aff: China has regional territorial ambitions, but still accepts US led liberal order as a framework for pursuing them

Here both teams have met their burdens, so the postdate alone should not be decisive for the negative- they should have to argue further their case to win uniqueness

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