Judge adaptation, by my lights, is better saved for “smaller” or “more technical” aspects of debates, as opposed to being something that should inform your overarching strategy. Besides, it pains me to watch a poorly executed version of an argument that I agree with, whereas a poorly executed version of an argument that I disagree with strikes me as a matter of indifference. So, your best bet is probably to argue whatever you like to argue if I’m your judge.
I incline, as much as I can, against intervening in debates that I judge – though I oscillate as to whether I take this to express some vague pretension to intellectual integrity or mere laziness. This isn’t to say I don’t intervene. (For example, I have yet to develop a criterion for new arguments that amounts to anything more than thinking “I saw it coming, so you should have too.”) Nevertheless, it is to say that I try not to intervene more than I must to make a decision. If your argument is valid or strong, I’m willing to vote for it. (Soundness and cogency are far too high a bar for most arguments to pass, and I can’t make claims about the soundness or cogency of your arguments without portending to know things about the world, which gets us all in hot water.) So, again: read what you’d like.
If no one in the debate tells me how to judge it, as is the case more often than not, I default to some sort of opportunity-cost calculation thingy, maybe with some offense-defense jargon thrown in so that I sound like I know what I’m talking about. To be clear, I consider such methods inadequate to the task of doing justice to the messy value oriented questions that debates typically devolve into. Nevertheless, I resort to such crude methods because I think it’s fair to presume that most policy debaters take some such paradigm for granted – and it’s not my place to ruin your fun. (For my part, when I read the room, I often think something like: “Are these calculators trying to make heads or tails of ethical questions? Fascinating.”) If someone in the debate tells me I shouldn’t do the cost-benefit-analysis thingy, great. But you’ve been warned about what I’ll do if left to my own devices. Chalk it up to the aforementioned inability to distinguish intellectual integrity from laziness.
In descending order of preference, I suspect that these are the kinds of rounds you want me to judge for you:
1. “Clash” of “Civilizations” Debates
2. Critique v. Critique Debates
3. Policy v. Policy Debates
Here’s some explanation for this ranking.
1. “Clash” of “Civilizations” Debates – On the one hand, I didn’t read plans, topical or otherwise. I was what some call “a critique debater.” On the other hand, my familiarity with the standard policy-debate replies to critical arguments is developed enough that I don’t hesitate to vote for policy teams against critical arguments. Indeed, I often find myself voting on arguments that, in my bones, I believe are false. To cite a sadly common example, I don’t think fairness is an impact; if a game is shown to be unethical, bellyaching about equal due within the game seems to me to be beside the point. Similarly, the argument that “clash is unique to debate, so it must be its purpose” is worse than Aristotle’s argument from function, which I bet you don’t believe either. Yet, I vote on fairness and clash as impacts regularly. “Topical versions of the affirmative” and “switch side debate solves” arguments are counterplans in disguise – and I expect critique debaters worth their salt to be wise to such tricks by now.
2. Critique v. Critique Debates – I list these debates second because they tend to be messy, with teams struggling to generate clear competition claims. The struggle is often bad enough that judge intervention is required at a more fundamental level of the debate than usual. So, if you have me in these debates, try to hold my hand when it comes to explaining how the arguments in the debate ought to be compared. Otherwise, I’ll intervene in an unexpected place based on what I consider to the philosophical ground-floor of the debate – and to wit, I’ll blame you for my doing so. Another reason I put these second is that there are many different kinds of critique arguments and you likely don’t want me to judge all of them. I was what some call a “high theory debater.” I mostly read Baudrillard, Bataille, and other bastard children of Nietzsche born in France. As a result of these research interests, which I still champion, I dislike critical strategies that shrilly moralize or rely heavily on some taken-for-granted notion of identity. Don’t worry, though. Should you choose to moralize your opponents and should they choose to grovel apologetically, I’ll vote for you – quickly, too.
3. Policy v. Policy Debates – I like to think I can judge debates about counterplans, disadvantages, and case. Nevertheless, and regardless of what year it is, I probably haven’t done any research on the topic. There are too many things that I want to read for me to whittle away my eyesight reading about process counterplans. Technical terms from topic literature, acronyms, tricky procedural distinctions – you will have to explain these things to me patiently. Otherwise, I approach these debates like a toddler in a knife store. Let me be explicit: I enjoy a case beatdown as much as the next judge, but you may need to catch me up to speed before I know what, exactly, is going on.
Many of the debates that I judge are what I call “a double loss.” A double loss occurs when neither team has effectively precluded the possibility of me voting for their opponents (without intervening for them, that is). If I judge you and the debate is a double loss, I will likely tell you as much. This isn’t intended to hurt your feelings. But it is intended to remind you: you left enough doors open that you’re letting me decide the debate haphazardly. My RFD is bad, you say? You should have written a better one for me.
After a debate is over, I tend to ask myself: (i) “what is the central question of this debate?” and (ii) “which team requires me to do less work in order to write a ballot for their side?”
If the debaters themselves have not told me the answer to the first of these questions, and in keeping with my feeble attempt to fall back on some ill-defined policy-debate-norm that I assume policy debaters take for granted, then I answer the first question with something like: “the central question of the debate is how effectively avoid bad stuff, like a big boom-boom with horror-show theatrics.” Don’t like that? Nor do I. But if you don’t tell me not to do the cost-benefit analysis calculation-thingy, that’s what I’ll fall back on. You’ve been warned twice now.
Unfortunately, debaters often require that I do a great deal of work to rationalize voting for them. I’m frequently left doing impact comparisons, having to think through the priority among arguments, asking what arguments undercut others… These are all signs that I’m judging “a double loss.” Woof. So, like I say, I ask myself (ii) “which team requires me to do less work in order to vote for them?” I then incline toward thinking whatever team that is has likely won the debate. Just to be sure, though, I go back through my notes and see whether there are adequate answers to all of the bits and pieces the other team may whine about in an attempt to convince me, after the fact, that they won the debate. If the answers are adequate, I vote for the team who lost less, that is, for the team who requires that I do less work for them. If the answers aren’t adequate, then I ask myself why it took so much effort to discover this team’s winning argument... and, very likely, still vote for the other team because they didn't need me to do so much work for them.
I’ve made at least three wrong decisions when judging debates. If I do this to you, I will let you know once I realize as much.
Good on you for reading more than the bare minimum.
My name is James. I was a critique debater who read high theory arguments and called everything an impact turn.
Don’t lose the forest for the trees.
Try to enjoy - well, everything you do, but also - your debates.
Here's my old judging paradigm, which is now a simulacra of sorts.
I don't have much time...
I agree with Calum Matheson's debate paradigm, for now, with a certain degree of deviation which needn't really concern anyone. It reads:
Do as thou will shall be the whole of the law. All styles of debate can be done well or done poorly. Very little offends me. If you can’t beat the argument that genocide is good or that rocks are people, or that rock genocide is good even though they’re people, then you are a bad advocate of your cause and you should lose. If it’s so wrong and you’re so right, then it should be easy for you to win. Is that really too high a bar? If so, then I have a 26.5 here for you. Do you like it? I made it myself. Just for you.
Debates are almost always decided in part by preconceived ideas which we presume to be shared. The same holds true for debate-theoretical issues. Due to time pressure, size, or whatever, many debates leave some element that a judge must decide for themselves, like “What is the standard for a new argument?” or “What does it mean for something to be conceded?” As a result, I have rewritten this to focus on those factors. All of these are defaults. Contrary arguments by a team in a debate always override them. I would like to intervene as little as possible, but am unwilling to pretend that anyone's objective.
1. An argument contains at least a claim and a reason. It constitutes intervention for a judge to ignore a dropped argument on the basis of its soundness, rather than its validity. If you don't know what that means, you should look it up--it might be helpful more generally.
2. One makes an argument, and then reads evidence to support it. The evidence is not the argument. Many judges read too much evidence, which invites them to intervene. In thebest case, reading fifty cards and taking forever to make a decision means you’re reading too much into cards, forgetting the debate, and thus taking the debate away from the competitors. You should use your evidence carefully and sparingly with me. I’d rather you read a few high-quality cards than a big pile of crap. The quality of arguments matters, not the quantity of evidence.
3. “Any risk” is inane. Below some level of probability, signal should be overwhelmed by noise, or perhaps the opposite effect might occur. Pretending that one can calculate risk precisely is stupid. Are you really sure that the risk of a disad is fifteen percent? Are you sure it’s not, say, twenty? Or maybe ten? Or, God forbid, twenty-five? If you are able to calculate risk with such precision, please quit debate and join the DIA. Your country needs you, citizen. If not, recognize that risks can be roughly calculated in a relative way, but that the application of mathematical models to debate is a (sometimes) useful heuristic, not an independently viable tool for evaluation.
4. Uniqueness cannot determine the direction of a link. This is not an opinion, just a statement of fact. Some outcome is more or less likely to happen in the future, but because it’s a prediction, the probability is almost never 100%. The link is a net assessment of how the plan changes this—it’s a yes/no, up/down thing. So if one team wins the direction of the link, they should win the argument (although winning the sign of the change doesn’t mean that its magnitude is necessarily enough to result in a particular outcome).
Here’s an example: the Aff has three advantages. The Neg has a counterplan that definitely solves two of them, and definitely does not solve the third. The Neg only has inherency arguments on that advantage, which is the only net benefit to the counterplan. Does the Neg win? No. They have no offense so the counterplan can’t possibly be better than the Aff alone. This situation is identical to the case when a counterplan solves all of the case, the Neg wins uniqueness to the net benefit, but the Aff wins (non-unique) link turns.
5. An argument that is conceded is “true” for the purpose of the debate and joins the set of other usually unspoken presuppositions, like “things can cause things,” “death is bad,” “the Obama mentioned in the cards is the president of the United States,” and so forth. This means that if something is conceded by the negative bloc (for example) and then becomes relevant again as a reaction to the 2nr, the Aff’s extension of it is not new.
6. My criteria for “new” applications of an argument: if I could see it coming when the team made the argument originally then their use of it later on is not new. I know this isn’t a perfect standard, but I can’t think of a better one. If a claim or reason is not made until the rebuttals then that component of the argument is new, but not necessarily the whole argument. It’s not enough to say “this is new.” You must say that that’s bad for some reason.
7. Offense/defense isn’t always appropriate for theory arguments. The team that makes the argument has the burden to show that it’s okay to do that, but they don’t need to prove that something is particularly good—just okay. Theory arguments should be rooted in something fundamental. There are hypothetical benefits of debate, then practices that further them, then specific arguments that are examples of those practices. These principles rarely result in a counterinterpretation that isn’t an arbitrary, self-serving turd shat gracelessly into a shallow theory debate.
8. The idea that the Aff determines the meaning of words in the plan is wrong. If so, then nothing would stop them from saying “by Iraq we meant Iran,” “decrease means make more,” or whatever. Topicality arguments would be impossible. Competition and disad links even worse. Cleverly written Affs could have some ambiguity in their advantages so that words in the plan could be suddenly and arbitrarily redefined in ways that still allow the plan to have advantages. The meaning of the plan wouldn’t be predictable. Here’s the plan you hand the Negative before the debate: “The USFG should set fire to children. Survivors will be eaten by cobras.” The Neg spends half an hour prepping (some “cobras aren’t big enough to eat kids” cards, maybe a PIC out of children who agree to join the Marine Corps, a "Russia likes cobras/hates children" card, etc) and then the debate starts and the 1AC is about why the war in Iraq is immoral and we should ban depleted uranium shells. Seems to me that a better interpretation is that both sides should debate over the meaning of the words in the plan text—which the Aff should be ahead on since they chose the words.
9. Unless the Negative makes an argument to the contrary, going for a counterplan in the 2NR means that the only relevant comparison is the counterplan versus the plan. If the plan is better than the counterplan, the Aff does not need to be compared to the status quo. It is “logical” for the judge to compare the plan to the status quo if the counterplan is a bad idea, but it’s similarly logical for the judge to vote for only part of the plan, or the plan plus some undiscussed-but-implied alternative, delay the plan for a couple of months, or to unilaterally decide that a disad isn’t intrinsic. Saying “status quo is always an option” doesn’t resolve this—an option for who? The 2NR or the judge? If you want the status quo to be considered along with the counterplan, you should say so clearly.
10. Debates should be about opportunity cost. Disadvantages should be intrinsic to the plan. Many people seem not to understand what this means. If the impact to a disad is that the same actor doing the plan would then do something bad, this disad is not intrinsic—i.e., nothing about the plan means that the disadvantage necessarily results. Example: the plan has the US Congress withdraw US troops from Iraq. The Neg says “Congress would then choose not to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment and that would hurt US-Russian relations.” This disadvantage is not intrinsic, because the same actor—Congress—could do the plan and still repeal Jackson-Vanik. A legitimate Aff response is “Congress could do the plan and still repeal Jackson-Vanik.” Here’s where some people seem to get stuck: the Aff argument “we could do the plan and Congress could give Alaska back to Russia” is not a legitimate argument. Intrinsicness arguments are like permutations of the status quo—they test to see if the Aff could do the plan and still maintain the decision that the negative says the plan trades off with (Jackson-Vanik). They can’t introduce new options to solve the same impact because that tests the necessary magnitude of the cost, not whether or not two courses of action are actually exclusive of one another. The “plan plus return Alaska” argument tests competition with a hypothetical world where we’re giving back Alaska, which is not the world that the Negative defends. There are many, many ways around this intrinsicness requirement for the Negative, and I have very rarely voted Aff on this argument.
11. In critical debates, the role of the judge is very important (“critique” is not spelled with a “k” in English, and we didn’t fight the Boche on and off for thirty years just to revert to their barbarian customs). If the alternative uses an agent other than that proposed by the Aff, it is necessary to make this clear and justify the change. I don’t think the default position for the judge is as a government policy maker—without further instruction, I will suppose that the judge should just select the best option regardless of the agent, but this presents a number of serious problems that are worthy of attention by both teams, as whoever wins the “role of the judge” generally wins the debate.
12. All debates are impact debates. If team one wins that (impact x risk) of their arguments is larger than (impact x risk) of team two's arguments, team one wins. Although the standards for evaluating impacts is different in different debates (e.g., "liberty outweighs life," "moral action outweighs consequences"), this is true in theory debates, policy debates, and critical debates because the "impact" is just the reason to care about whatever you said. Impact calculus is thus very, very important, probably more important than any other aspect of a debate. Oddly enough, I think this is also the least-developed part of most debates. Bear in mind how conceded arguments influence impact uniqueness--in many debates, someone kicks a disad with a nuclear war impact by conceding that it's not unique and doesn't link. This means that the judge is making a decision about two opposing contingent worlds, both of which contain a nuclear war, usually in the next few years. Shouldn't timeframe matter more then since we'll all be fighting Super Mutants and learning to make our own bullets in a couple of years? In a related note, it's strange to me how little people exploit the impacts that they do win since the scale of impacts people discuss would clearly effect one another not just at the internal link level (e.g. "econ collapse hurts heg") but at the level of terminal impacts vs. internal links (a nuclear war might cause pandemics, or collapse the economy, or whatever--at the very least, we'd probably quit enforcing the plan once the time came to discuss the finer points of radioactive cannibalism).
13. Nearly always, what Aff teams call "not unique" arguments are actually brinks. Because most disads are cartoonishly stupid, they are also unique, because the magnitude of change that they're talking about is extreme. Example: "the plan spends money; hurts the economy; econ collapse = nuke war." If the Aff says "economy low now," that's probably good for the Neg, because their impact ev is talking about a situation where the economy has completely collapsed, so the Aff claim arguably adds plausibility to their argument. Link uniqueness is different of course.
14. Debate is ultimately about communicating your ideas to a judge to persuade them to vote for you. If I cannot understand you, I will not be persuaded to vote for you. It is the burden of debaters to communicate clearly. I will not say “clear.” I will just ignore you without remorse, since the most basic goal of a debater is to be understood by the judge. This doesn't apply if it's not your fault, e.g., you're too far away and I can't hear you.
15. A few notes on language: Speaker points are entirely subjective. They reflect how much I like a set of speeches as a performance; feel free to fight with me about them but be aware that I have never cared. If you have an accent, speak a dialect, or whatever, I would not penalize you. That said, if you think that the first syllables of "tyrant" and "tyranny" are pronounced the same way, I wish you ill. Similarly, the aff does not "cause the Holocaust," unless this is an unusually bizarre counterfactual debate. "Knight Ridder" is a news agency; "Night Rider" was an 80's television series. "G.A.O." is an acronym, not a name. "Genocide" is a noun. The adjectival form is "genocidal." "Genocide" is not a verb. "Critique," as previously mentioned, is spelled with a "C," and as a rule, unnecessary use of German never made an argument sound less insidious. "Spec" is an annoying abbreviation; "tix" is one whose users should be condemned to a short life of hard labor in a Siberian uranium mine.
Again, all of these are defaults, and I ignore them when teams I judge make contrary arguments. Please do feel free to contact me with questions about how I judge or ideas for change. I will update this periodically.