Alyson Escalante Paradigm

Last changed 16 September 2020 10:27 AM PST

My views about debate have changed fairly radically since the end of the 2019/2020 season. I will give a detailed explanation of these changes here, but if you want a TLDR dos and don'ts list, I’ll put that at the end of my philosophy as well.

Accessibility note: I suffer from carpal tunnel. This means that on a good day, flowing high speed rounds involves minor but mostly not distracting discomfort. On a bad day, this means flowing high speed rounds is exceptionally painful to the point that the pain absolutely acts as a distraction from the round and significantly slows my flowing speed. If I am having a bad day, I will let you know before the round and I seriously and sincerely ask that you consider accessibility concerns and slow down in that round or if you are cleared by me. I will not vote on arguments I could not get on my flow as a result of debater disregard for accessibility.

Overview: My position for years has been that NPDA debate should be a technical exercise in which the content of an argument is largely insignificant. I have generally been of the opinion that the role of a judge is to bracket out their own views and preferences and to vote based on the technical execution of a strategy regardless of the pedagogical or ethical validity of said strategy. I no longer believe this, and I am adapting my judging paradigm accordingly.

I believe that NPDA debate is a unique format that has many benefits which cannot be derived from other forms of debate, and I believe the preservation of NPDA as an event should be a central goal for all participants in the activity. NPDA provides scholarship opportunities, travel opportunities, and intensive pedagogical development that many students might not otherwise have access to. Debate is not just a hobby we participate in on the weekends, it is a gateway into academia, politics, and a longstanding community.

My concern is that I believe the proliferation of certain pedagogically vacuous trends within NPDA constitute an existential threat to the continued existence of the event, and I feel personally that being a responsible judge with a commitment to the activity and community means no longer facilitating the spread of these trends. My philosophy has changed in order to account for this shifting understanding of what it means to be a good judge.

Theory: Theory has become my main site of concern in terms of proliferation of vacuous strategies. I vote on theory a lot, based on my judging record, and that will probably not change, but there are certain theoretical arguments I am fundamentally opposed to and will not vote on.

  1. I will not under any circumstance vote for NIBs (Necessary but Insufficient Burdens) read by affirmative teams.

  2. I will not vote on specification arguments which demands specification for anything other than funding, enforcement, and actor.

  3. I will not vote on theory positions with a violation derived from the formal behavior of competitors in the round (as opposed to violations derived from the argument choice of competitors). What I mean by this is theory such as “The affirmative must read their plan within X amount of time” or “The negative must take at least X questions during flex” or “The affirmative must pass us a copy of their plan text”

  4. I will not vote on disclosure theory or any theory with a violation which occurs outside of round.

  5. You should not include more than 2 new theory sheets (defined as independent interpretations and violations) in any constructive speech.

Theory should indeed be about establishing ideal debate norms through a competing interpretations framework as opposed to being about correcting in round abuse, but there is a limit to the scope of what we can consider legitimate norm setting. I will still be evaluating theory under that paradigm, but parli has clearly passed this threshold to the point that particularly inane instances of theoretical debate has become particularly harmful to the pedagogical value of the activity.


I believe that critical debate is highly valuable and when well executed can offer some of the most interesting rounds in debate. My stance here remains largely unchanged. This is the type of debate I have judged the most of, and it is the literature base I am most familiar with.

It is, however, important to me that your criticism makes sense. I won't vote on a criticism that I fundamentally cannot understand, and even if you win the formal and technical components of a criticism, if I cannot explain in non-technical terms to the other team why your criticism wins, I’m not going to be comfortable voting for this. Basically this means that your criticism should have a core thesis summarizing the central components of your argument. This also means that your links should be contextualized to the other team in such a way that it is clear how their rhetoric, ontology, epistemology, etc in particular reproduces the impacts that you isolate.

Non-Topical Affirmatives:

I think that it is best for the affirmative to be topical unless the topic is flawed to such a degree that the affirmative is at a thorough disadvantage. That said, I am not so strongly committed to this that I am unwilling to vote for non-topical affirmatives. If you want to read non-topical affirmatives in front of me, you should have a clear reason why you ought to be exempted from upholding the topic.

Counterplans/Advocacy Status:

There are no forms of counterplans that I have an a priori opposition to beyond delay counterplans (which you should not read in front of any judge). I believe that conditionality is important for the negative flexibility and encourages more dynamic negative strategies. That said, I do not believe that an unlimited amount of conditional advocacies is a tenable norm for debate. As such, teams should not read more than two conditional advocacies in front of me. To make this concrete, you may read 2 counterplans/alternatives as a part of your LOC, but I believe the MO should always still have the option to kick both and defend the status quo.

Tech VS Truth:

I previously held that only the technical dimensions of debate mattered, and I was fairly antagonistic towards arguments in round that truth ought to be weighed over and against technical debate. I no longer hold this position to be true.

Technical debate can be utilized as a way of beating down teams in a manner which reproduces various forms of social violence and marginalization. For example, I have seen and voted for utterly vacuous critiques that were read as a means of dodging a grounded discussion of anti-black violence in debate purely on the basis that these criticisms won on small technical concessions and extensions despite offering no read pedagogical value to the debate round.

I’m not going to be auto-dropping all arguments I see as vacuous, because that would be utterly subjective and unpredictable in a way that is not fair to competitors, but I am significantly more open to tech vs truth arguments that claim that the use of technical debate can be an instance of violence in round, and I am much more willing to consider claims that flow centric debate ought to be de-emphasized, either in a specific round or as a broader norm.

Summation: I think this has hit on the major changes to my judging philosophy and the bright lines that I have drawn and am willing to enforce. I know these bright lines will make me a worse judge in the eyes of many competitors, but I also believe many competitors have a short sighted view regarding the future of NPDA and that some level of paternalism from those of us who are committed to ensuring the future survival of this activity is necessary.

TLDR Dos and Dont’s

  1. Don’t read NIBs

  2. Don’t read spec besides A, F, or E spec

  3. Don’t read disclosure or out of round abuse theory

  4. Don’t read theory about the conduct of debaters as opposed to their arguments

  5. Don’t read more that two conditional advocacies in the LOC

  6. Don’t read more than two theory sheets in any constructive speech

  7. Do make arguments about why truth ought to be weighed over tech if technical debate is being used as a form of violence

  8. Do slow down if I ask, it's a disability thing. I will not vote on arguments I could not get on my flow as a result of debater disregard for accessibility.

  9. Do include a clear thesis in your criticisms and make your links contextual

Full Judging Record

Tournament Lv Date Ev Rd Aff Neg Vote Result