Adam Torson ParadigmLast changed 9/12 4:28P UTC
1998-2003: Competed at Fargo South HS (ND)
2003-2004: Assistant Debate Coach, Hopkins High School (MN)
2004-2010: Director of Debate, Hopkins High School (MN)
2010-2012: Assistant Debate Coach, Harvard-Westlake Upper School (CA)
2012-Present: Debate Program Head, Marlborough School (CA)
General Preferences and Decision Calculus
I like substantive and interesting debate. I like to see good strategic choices as long as they do not undermine the substantive component of the debate. I strongly dislike the intentional use of bad arguments to secure a strategic advantage; for example making an incomplete argument just to get it on the flow. I tend to be most impressed by debaters who adopt strategies that are positional, advancing a coherent advocacy rather than a scatter-shot of disconnected arguments, and those debaters are rewarded with higher speaker points.
I view debate resolutions as normative. I default to the assumption that the Affirmative has a burden to advocate a topical change in the status quo, and that the Negative has a burden to defend either the status quo or a competitive counter-plan or kritik alternative. I will vote for the debater with the greatest net risk of offense. Offense is a reason to adopt your advocacy; defense is a reason to doubt your opponent's argument. I virtually never vote on presumption or permissibility, because there is virtually always a risk of offense.
Moral Skepticism is not normative (it does not recommend a course of action), and so I will not vote for an entirely skeptical position. Morally skeptical arguments may be relevant in determining the relative weight or significance of an offensive argument compared to other offense in the debate.
I am skeptical of impact exclusion. Debaters have a high bar to prove that I should categorically disregard an impact which an ordinary decision-maker would regard as relevant. I think that normative ethics are more helpfully and authentically deployed as a mode of argument comparison rather than argument exclusion. I will default to the assumption of a wide framework and epistemic modesty. I do not require a debater to provide or prove a comprehensive moral theory to regard impacts as relevant, though such theories may be a powerful form of impact comparison.
Arguments that deny the wrongness of atrocities like rape, genocide, and slavery, or that deny the badness of suffering or oppression more generally, are a steeply uphill climb in front of me. If a moral theory says that something we all agree is bad is not bad, that is evidence against the plausibility of the theory, not evidence that the bad thing is in fact good.
I default to evaluating theory as a matter of competing interpretations.
I am skeptical of RVIs in general and on topicality in particular.
I will apply a higher threshold to random theory interpretations that do not reflect existing community norms and am particularly unlikely to drop the debater on them. Because your opponent could always have been marginally more fair and because debating irrelevant theory questions is not a good model of debate, I am likely to intervene against theoretical arguments which I deem to be frivolous.
Tricks and Triggers
Your goal should be to win by advancing substantive arguments that would decisively persuade a reasonable decision-maker, rather than on surprises or contrived manipulations of debate conventions. I am unlikely to vote on tricks, triggers, or other hidden arguments, and will apply a low threshold for answering them. You will score more highly and earn more sympathy the more your arguments resemble genuine academic work product.
Counterplan Status, Judge Kick, and Floating PIKs
The affirmative has the obligation to ask about the status of a counterplan or kritik alternative in cross-examination. If they do not, the advocacy may be conditional in the NR.
I default to the view that the Negative has to pick an advocacy to go for in the NR. If you do not explicitly kick a conditional counterplan or kritik alternative, then that is your advocacy. If you lose a permutation read against that advocacy, you lose the debate. I will not kick the advocacy for you and default to the status quo unless you win an argument for judge kick in the debate.
I default to the presumption that floating PIKs must be articulated as such in the NC. If it is not apparent that the kritik alternative allows you to also enact the affirmative advocacy, then I will regard this argument as a change of advocacy in the NR and disregard it as a new argument.
To the extent possible I will resolve the debate as though I were a reasonable decision-maker considering only the arguments advanced by the debaters in making my decision. On any issues not adequately resolved in this way, I will make reasonable assumptions about the relative persuasiveness of the arguments presented.
The speed at which you choose to speak will not affect my evaluation of your arguments, save for if that speed impairs your clarity and I cannot understand the argument. I prefer debate at a faster than conversational pace, provided that it is used to develop arguments well and not as a tactic to prevent your opponent from engaging your arguments. There is some speed at which I have a hard time following arguments, but I don't know how to describe it, so I will say "clear," though I prefer not to because the threshold for adequate clarity is very difficult to identify in the middle of a speech and it is hard to apply a standard consistently. For reasons surpassing understanding, most debaters don't respond when I say clear, but I strongly recommend that you do so. Also, when I say clear it means that I didn't understand the last thing you said, so if you want that argument to be evaluated I suggest repeating it. A good benchmark is to feel like you are going at 90% of your top speed; I am likely a significantly better judge at that pace.
My threshold for sufficient extensions will vary based on the circumstances, e.g. if an argument has been conceded a somewhat shorter extension is generally appropriate.
It is primarily the responsibility of debaters to engage in meaningful evidence comparison and analysis and to red flag evidence ethics issues. However, I will review speech documents and evaluate detailed disputes about evidence raised in the debate. I prefer to be included on an email chain or pocket box that includes the speech documents. If I have a substantial suspicion of an ethics violation (i.e. you have badly misrepresented the author, edited the card so as to blatantly change it's meaning, etc.), I will evaluate the full text of the card (not just the portion that was read in the round) to determine whether it was cut in context, etc.
I use speaker points to evaluate your performance in relation to the rest of the field in a given round. At tournaments which have a more difficult pool of debaters, the same performance which may be above average on most weekends may well be average at that tournament. I am strongly disinclined to give debaters a score that they specifically ask for in the debate round, because I utilize points to evaluate debaters in relation to the rest of the field who do not have a voice in the round. I elect not to disclose speaker points, save where cases is doing so is necessary to explain the RFD. My range is approximately as follows:
30: Your performance in the round is likely to beat any debater in the field.
29: Your performance is substantially better than average - likely to beat most debaters in the field and competitive with students in the top tier.
28: Your performance is above average - likely to beat the majority of debaters in the field but unlikely to beat debaters in the top tier.
27.5: Your performance is approximately average - you are likely to have an equal number of wins and losses at the end of the tournament.
26: Your performance is below average - you are likely to beat the bottom 25% of competitors but unlikely to beat the average debater.
25: Your performance is substantially below average - you are competitive among the bottom 25% but likely to lose to other competitors
Below 25: I tend to reserve scores below 25 for penalizing debaters as explained below.
Rude or Unethical Actions
I will severely penalize debaters who are rude, offensive, or otherwise disrespectful during a round. I will severely penalize debaters who distort, miscut, misrepresent, or otherwise utilize evidence unethically.
A debater has clipped a card when she does not read portions of evidence that are highlighted or bolded in the speech document so as to indicate that they were read, and does not verbally mark the card during the speech. Clipping is an unethical practice because you have misrepresented which arguments you made to both your opponent and to me. If I determine that a debater has clipped cards, then that debater will lose.
To determine that clipping has occurred, the accusation needs to be verified by my own sensory observations to a high degree of certainty, a recording that verifies the clipping, or the debaters admission that s/he has clipped. If you believe that your opponent has clipped, you should raise your concern immediately after the speech in which it was read, and I will proceed to investigate. False accusations of clipping is a serious ethical violation as well. *If you accuse your opponent of clipping and that accusation is disconfirmed by the evidence, you will lose the debate.* You should only make this accusation if you are willing to stake the round on it.
I am happy to answer any questions on preferences or paradigm before the round. After the round I am happy to answer respectfully posed questions to clarify my reason for decision or offer advice on how to improve (subject to the time constraints of the tournament). Within the limits of reason, you may press points you don't understand or with which you disagree (though I will of course not change the ballot after a decision has been made). I am sympathetic to the fact that debaters are emotionally invested in the outcomes of debate rounds, but this does not justify haranguing judges or otherwise being rude. For that reason, failure to maintain the same level of respectfulness after the round that is generally expected during the round will result in severe penalization of speaker points.