The great debaters?
October 29, 2008 4:35 PM   Subscribe

First-year debater looking for advice on rebuttals.

My team - none of whom had debated before - is having an easy time with constructive speeches, but not rebuttals. We're in the Chicago Debate League, which helpfully provides evidence to read from which can be mixed-and-matched for affirmative speeches, but we have nothing to refer to for rebuttals and we don't know what they ought to look like. I know what their goals are - I just don't know what to say in them to extend them beyond "Our 1AC evidence says this, which goes against your evidence."
posted by LSK to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ignore their evidence. Arguing their points of evidence is, more often than not, a waste of your time. You need to quickly decipher the main thrust of their case, as a whole, and attack that. The trick is to make it so that you can say "Oh, I agree with all the points you've made, it's just that your interpretation of the evidence is absurd because of x, y and z." - ie argue the proposition, not the points your opposition wants to talk about.
posted by pompomtom at 4:40 PM on October 29, 2008

pompomtom: That's fine and dandy as the negative, but the affirmative has to win all five burdens (inherency, harms, solvency, topicality, disadvantages) and cannot ignore the negative's points.
posted by LSK at 4:44 PM on October 29, 2008

Oh well, this is the problem with relying pre-packaged evidence. You don't just win by matching evidence to evidence. You win by persuading. So your rebuttal is about proving why your evidence and arguments are better than theirs, not by just saying "we have evidence to counter their evidence." If you have really absorbed and know your affirmative (as opposed to having mechanically constructed it from pieces of evidence), I think you'll find that the rebuttal comes very easily. And do the rules actually say that you have the burden to reassert all your points in the rebuttal? I would guess that you meet your burden in the affirmative, and the rebuttal is just about persuading further.

But then again, I was part of a sort of rebel-slacker debate team in HS, so I might not be giving the best advice. We laughed at the guys who talked really fast and lugged dollies full of evidence.
posted by footnote at 5:03 PM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Regardless of what team footnote was on, he has the right idea. The idea is to know what you're saying, know what your opponent is saying (which is, more often than not, radically different and sometimes opposite from what their evidence actually says), and be able to say why you're right in spite of what they say. There should be no "gotchas" in a good round, nor should there be any "they read 28 pieces of evidence and we read 28 back, so we win" arguments.

If I read a card that says the American economy will melt down to the introduction of cheap goods from communist USSR, you shouldn't give up in the debate. You should say the USSR no longer exists. It's not an evidence war (even though it often seems like it), it's a warrants (reasons/justification why your claim is true) war.
posted by saeculorum at 5:13 PM on October 29, 2008

Debate! When I debated it was evidence up against evidence as well as persuasion. If you are not allowed to research evidence to rebut likely affirmative arguments (which is really the most fun). I think the best argument I ever saw done, was one where the #2 on the Neg team ran down the flow and destroyed, using the evidence already presented, 99% of the Affirmative's arguments, arguing persuasively as to why his evidence was better. The judge at the end showed his flow of the round, A's in black, N's in blue and said that the 2N guy had got it totally right, and that he "had a blue flow."
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:54 PM on October 29, 2008

I'm not familiar with the rules of your league, so please bear with me.

Both you and pompomtom are right. Yes, you will sometimes need evidence to counter the evidence the Negative are introducing. However, you'll also need to take apart the Negative case logically if you want to win.

One of the easiest ways to have some counters to Negative evidence is to not reveal all the evidence supporting your case in the Constructives. Still, you'll have to find counters to the most common evidence and arguments used against your case.

If it is allowed, seriously consider picking up something like Baylor Briefs or a similar product. You might also look on sites like Debate Central, Cross-X, and university debate sites such as UVM Debate, all of which have some evidence resources. It may also be worth your time to see if there's a nearby university with a law library where you can do some of your own research. You may need help getting entrance into the stacks. Ask or have your Coach ask their debate team for help.

In any case, you should be sure to keep the best notes you can and ask for cards/cites so you can look up your opponents evidence later.

However, pompomtom is also right in that, especially as a 1A (which is what I'll cover since I'm an old 1A man myself), you'll never win just trying to cover all the Negative points. You have to find the cracks in their arguments and demolish them logically rather than merely try to counter their evidence.

As a 1AR your main goal is to not drop any points from the Negative Block so that your partner isn't having to dig out of a hole. Your best bet in doing this is to do as tom says and group the evidence into arguments and counter those by logical refutation, e.g. correlation does not imply causation. An excellent article on this technique is "Practical Refutation and an Effective First Affirmative Rebuttal" by Lisa Seeland, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

The whole idea is to pull apart the Negative case altogether. This will allow your partner to talk nice and slow, reminding the judge of the merits of your case, and finishing with a nice rhetorical flourish. Done right you'll win more rounds and garner more speaks.

Anyway, that's the ramblings of a debater that hasn't stood behind a podium in twenty years, so take from it what you will.

Good luck in the next round, LSK.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:17 PM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rebuttals should start to narrow down the round, and provide the voting issues. Tell the judge exactly why you should win. Lots of the details will depend on the judge. A more debate-savvy college judge will focus more on the flow to judge the round, while the "bus driver" judge will need the higher level story spelled out. This is where judge adaptation will come into play.

For specific speeches:

1NR - Pull forward any theory arguments (topicality mainly), or solidify an argument brought up by the 2NC. Start putting on the analytics and begin the process of weighing the round. The goal here is partially a head fake for the 1AR, since they have to be able to cover everything, you should at least touch every argument the neg has brought up in the round, even if it won't be pulled all the way through to the end. That way the 1AR has all those points on their flow, and gives them a better chance of misallocating their short time.

1AR - Cover everything. This is the hardest speech in the round, simply because you're coming off 12-13 minutes of negative with only a few minutes for yourself. Focus on pulling through previous answers. Answering brand new 2NC arguments w/ a card is ok, but keep cards VERY short, and VERY rare. You shouldn't need more than 1 or 2. If they did 8 minutes of brand new stuff in the 2NC, think about going for a theory arg. Might be worth going after, if you can't answer everything they dumped on you. At least a 20 second "this is totally unfair" before going into answers might provide you a little something if they keep hammering you on it.

2NR - Drop everything except the 2 or 3 things you are winning. Retell and wrap up the story you've developed in the round. Refer back to evidence brought up earlier, but focus on telling the judge why your negative story outweighs the world the affirmative brings up. For instance, show that your disadvantage has horrible impacts, and clearly place the advantages of the aff right up next to your DA, and weight them. There are lots of "classic" cards that provide good starting points for these kinds of arguments. You would have read them a lot earlier in the round (as part of the initial DA probably).

2AR - Very similar to the 2NR, just go through the worlds created by each side. Show how your plan has awesome advantages, and can solve what you need. Go through the arguments the 2NR brought up, and pick the top 2 points on each one that you've already answered. For instance, against that DA, show that the link is weak, by pulling forward evidence and analytics from earlier in the round. "They claim that XYZ will happen, but that's simply absurd. We've shown that the link is tenuous at best to our case, pull through the evidence from the 2AC...."
posted by cschneid at 6:55 PM on October 29, 2008

Another consideration, in addition to all of the good advice presented above: make sure that you've constructed a case that makes good (rigorous) logical sense, as footnote said — if you can express this thread of logic clearly in all of your speeches, it will be that much easier to point out logical problems with your opponent's speech.

I'm a former Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum debater myself, whereas you seem to be doing something more like Policy, but bear with me: one of the most common problems I saw in opposing teams when I moved from LD to PF was a lack of logical flow. Teams would throw out arguments of little relation and varying merit, and then my partner and I would come back and say, "No, that doesn't make sense. We, on the other hand, suggest that since A and B are true, C cannot happen" — showing the connection between the evidence. Whether or not your format is "supposed to be" as logically strict as LD doesn't matter. Logic is convincing, especially when combined with good evidence.

Finally, don't underestimate the power of simple questions: "Why should we believe this?" or "Why is this a good thing?" can provide just the right kind of "shock" to point out a flaw in your opponent's argument. Trust your logical instincts, and good luck!
posted by hatta at 7:19 PM on October 29, 2008

I used to do cross-examination debate. I don't know the specific rules of the Chicago Debate League, but this is a failsafe thing to do for anyone if their opponent brings up evidence against their case, and they don't have new competing evidence:

- Just because they use evidence from a published source doesn't mean the source makes good sense. See if there are any holes in the logic or methodology the evidence uses.

- Just because something is published doesn't mean it's credible. Some sources are better than others, some sources have idealogical biases, and some things are just crackpots that self-publish. This requires some familiarity with those sources, however. For what it's worth, this is part of the learning process of being a debater. The longer you do it, the more familiar you'll be with everything.

- Depending on the circumstances, you can concede some of their points on the grounds that it doesn't matter, your case outweighs the harms they bring up. This can be iffy, though, because they often plan to expand on something you conceded and bring up worse harms. It looks like CDL is standard debate rules, people go on to nationals and all that, so you already know that eeeeeverything the negative brings up usually ends in nuclear war. Does your case prevent nuclear war, or something else that you have evidence of being the Worst Thing Ever? Write up a block of why it outweighs nuclear war.

- Finally, the most important thing you can do is independent research. If you lose a round because you don't have evidence, write down their sources, go to the library, and research. Read opposing literature, make photocopies of relevant arguments (make sure you cite them correctly), and make your own evidence files. Encourage other people on your debate team to do the same, and then share your files with each other.

I debated for Bellaire High School in Texas, and while I was on the debate team, we didn't ever buy evidence or go to debate camp and we always qualified teams that did well at state and nationals. (There is a different coach there now, and I think they may buy evidence or go to camp now.) We always had research assignments and were always at the library. This worked out very well for us because we had one of the biggest debate teams in the nation so we had manpower to cover all the cases and arguments we encountered. However, even if you have a smaller squad and can't manage this, doing what independent research you can is better than doing nothing.

The upside of doing your own research is that the other schools that buy their evidence aren't going to be familiar with your evidence. They won't have specific responses and, if they have anything at all, will try to reply using somewhat related things that don't really address your arguments. Instead of you losing rounds because of that, they'll lose.

This will also teach you a lot about the qualifications of different sources. More than that, you'll understand issues more clearly since you'll have read books on them. This will give you a lot to work with even when you don't have evidence. You can also make the opposing team look uninformed during cross examination.

Those research skills and the knowledge you gain will serve you well in life, too.

Hope this helps!
posted by Nattie at 9:00 PM on October 29, 2008

Lots of good suggestions above, to which I'd just this: your team should be watching out rounds. You'll start to see what consistently works, on all levels. Also, everybody should be flowing the out rounds, comparing notes, and writing out shared blocks. The more team unity you can build, the more fun the entire thing is.

That kind of unity is handy when you're going into a round and your team knows that your opponents tend to run a hegemony kritik. Especially if you have no idea what that is until a teammate lays out the basics ten minutes before your round starts. Hooray institutional knowledge!

Good luck and have fun.
posted by averyoldworld at 5:56 AM on October 30, 2008

There's a lot of good advice in this thread. I'm an LD coach, so this may not translate exactly, but I tell my kids they need to stress impacts (why the argument matters) in the rebuttals. That should definitely be a part of the arguments in the constructive, and you should still definitely attack/defend the arguments themselves in rebuttals, but I like to shift the importance to impacts in rebuttals. Why is that argument important? Does it save/kill lots of people? Does it hurt the economy? Does their lack of funding mean that Aff can't actually solve for their harms? Notice I mentioned 2 types of impacts: real world impacts (does it kill people) & in-round impacts (they don't prove solvency). A big mistake I see a lot of first-years make in every type of debate is that they don't tell the judge why their arguments matters. If you can master that early you'll have a huge leg-up.

If you ever need some help with LD stuff, drop me a line.
posted by lilac girl at 7:12 AM on October 30, 2008

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