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Author Topic: Affirmative Ground and Side Skews  (Read 8625 times)
glarson
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Posts: 477


« on: April 04, 2013, 08:12:49 AM »

I'm reading with significant interest the discussion that says in essence that aff teams run framework and other K's because contemporary topics don't give the aff enough ground, interesting ground and/or morally defensible ground.  I suspect that there is a germ of truth in all of that, but we need to be careful in how we manage the future.

The "outcome" at present is that affirmatives that have been dealt a poor hand by the topics are finding more than adequate compensation in the ballots they receive.

The recently concluded NDT may have had an unprecedented level of affirmative success (I don't have time to paw through the archives).  But in elim debates, a quick count suggests that AFFS had a 23-4 total record (85%+).  Now to be sure, before that translates into an impact statement, it is necessary to control for seeding, pref differences, etc.  But round 5, a straight high-high round with the higher seed flip-flopped debate by debate, we had a 69-48 aff/neg split in total ballots awarded.  CEDA Nats wasn't as dramatic as the NDT but elim rounds at CEDA had a 34-19 aff/neg split.

So, if anything, we've created a world where affs are competitively advantaged.  Now that doesn't mean that topics are biased aff.  Debaters and judges have remarkable abilities to compensate for perceived problems with topics by adjusting their arguments and theories of the round.

But we do need to be careful with the argument that says, "if we wrote better topics, we would have fewer teams running frameworks."  The biggest reason for running various K and framework arguments on the aff is that right now they win.  I strongly suspect that nobody is going to voluntarily reliquish their successful arguments in favor of a "better" topic.  Now perhaps the community at large will adjust and judges will reward teams differently if we change/eliminate agents, if we broaden resolutions, if we accept bidirectionality, if we move away from policy ...  But we can't guarantee that any of that would happen automatically.  In the meantime, it would be difficult to prove that affs are disadvantaged by topics such as the one we just finished.  They did quite well, perhaps "too" well.
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kevin kuswa
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« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2013, 08:49:26 AM »

Regardless of framework arguments, the contention being made by a larger and larger portion of the community is that our topics are out-dated in terms of the agent of action.  There are other agents we can and should debate--whether we do so using an explicit framework apparatus or not.  The bigger position here is not about side equalization, but about meaning, focus, and pedagogy.
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kearney
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« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2013, 11:23:54 AM »

Side equalization would still be a nice thing to consider. I'll save my opinions about bi-directionality, agents, etc., but I think people should think more about [qualitative] limits. We should debate about big changes (minor repairs are supposed to be for the negative's case anyway). Signing a treaty is big. Creating a federal mandate requiring a reduction in fossil fuel consumption is big.

In recent years people have pushed for [quantitative] limits. The affirmative flex contingency inevitably protests, and the committee strikes a middle ground. This year, I hope Gary's post might provide some momentum for a new approach to limits. Focusing on the number of potential affirmatives isn't getting the job done (think about how many times you've heard someone say, "let's see, there's SMRs and offshore <insert energy source here>"). It's about time we think about limits more productively, and, I think, that means we gotta stop trying to make the topic smaller in terms of numbers and start trying to make the topic bigger in terms of change.

« Last Edit: April 04, 2013, 11:26:49 AM by kearney » Logged
glarson
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« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2013, 11:26:05 AM »

I respectfully disagree with one of Kevin's observations.  He said that it is more about meaning, focus and pedagogy than it is about side equalization.  While I agree that sticking with USFG may well be out-dated, I still want the topic committee to spend a lot of time worrying about side equalization.  It isn't just a question of competitive equity (though that is important).  Our pedagogy does depend on debatability.  Having a topic which is sufficiently "true" that the aff wins two-thirds or more of the time is an effective tool of consciousness-raising or social advocacy but it is not an effect vehicle for "debate."
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neil berch
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« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2013, 11:32:58 AM »

Aff record in outrounds at the other national circuit tournaments held this semester:
USC:  15-14
Fullerton:  12-16
Northwestern:  15-16

Total for those three:  42-46

--Neil Berch
West Virginia University
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glarson
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Posts: 477


« Reply #5 on: April 04, 2013, 11:39:29 AM »

Point taken but it illustrates a dynamic the topic committee always finds hard to manage.

Strategies end up evolving all year and the inclinations of judges to accept or reject those strategies in response to their internal sense of the topic changes throughout the year as well.

Perhaps in another month, everyone's arguments and/or judging sensibilities would further evolve so that side equalization would be re-established, but as of late March, affs were managing quite well.

GARY
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Jessica Kurr
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Posts: 89


« Reply #6 on: April 04, 2013, 11:47:00 AM »

Teams save their best aff stuff for the NDT. The reason this is so successful could be debated for days, but that would detract from the broader point of forming a good topic.
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Ryan Galloway
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« Reply #7 on: April 04, 2013, 12:09:53 PM »

I think Kearney hits the nail on the head.  We should demand big change from the AFF.  I've pushed for years for the Affirmative to have to defend the opposite of the status quo.  Many team's policy AFF strategy is to defend that they are a tiny change and that the status quo is already moving heavily in the direction of the proposed change.  Roll back the tape of the 2ar in the semis round between NU LV and G'town this year.  The 2ar says that drilling in our area is a tiny change and drilling is inevitable now.  Two comments:

1) This is devastating for NEG ground, at least of a "policy" variety.  As another example, the finals of the NDT in 12 had the AFF read several uniqueness cards that the status quo was already moving in the direction of the AFF in three different ways in the last week.  Almost every SMR team I saw all year said funding for DOE SMR's was coming in the status quo, but they did it for the DOD.  It is virtually impossible to find a unique disad out there.  Advocates frequently point to the mystery disad that only they've found specific to the AFF, and if only teams worked harder they'd find it.  The best teams in the United States don't have these arguments at the end of the year.
2) We don't debate the core of the controversy.  When we debate small issues at the margins of the controversy, we don't really get at the core questions.  How does an aff that claims to increase natural gas drilling a tiny amount when the status quo is already massively drilling get to the question of whether or not we should drill for natural gas?  The educational question of the topic is circumvented via small changes.

I think we should debate topics that go the opposite of the status quo.  It's one of the reasons I defended treaties, taxation, and will defend affirmative action this year.  The size of the topic (number of AFF's) is less relevant than what the AFF's are.  Another potential solution is to come up with a word stronger than substantial to require the AFF to defend big changes.  I also think the AFF should be ALLOWED to defend big changes, but that's a topic for another post.
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tcram
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« Reply #8 on: April 04, 2013, 12:23:44 PM »

Is 'big change' a sufficient condition for accessing the heart of a controversy without also rethinking what passes for counterplan competition?  The status quo of "policy arguments" seems to be small changes for both the aff and the neg.  Do we set the aff up for failure if we require something big while also allowing vast genres of process counterplans that evade competition? 

And what was saved for the NDT was the "best"?  Oooff.
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Ermo
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Posts: 243


« Reply #9 on: April 04, 2013, 12:31:55 PM »

Regardless of framework arguments, the contention being made by a larger and larger portion of the community is that our topics are out-dated in terms of the agent of action.  There are other agents we can and should debate--whether we do so using an explicit framework apparatus or not.  The bigger position here is not about side equalization, but about meaning, focus, and pedagogy.

Is it the topics themselves which are outdated, or just the people who prefer to debate and coach USFG-actor topics? Or both?
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ScottyP
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Posts: 52


« Reply #10 on: April 04, 2013, 12:34:27 PM »

Kearney and Galloway have nailed this one(and I can scratch that sentence of the list of things I figured I would never say)- forcing the aff to defend a larger change= better debates. Just look at it this way
Sanctions-good
Greater horn-bad
Natives-bad
Treaties-good
Europe-bad
Fossil fuels-good
China- bad except for Tibet
Legal topic- i dont remember because i eternal sunshined this year from my memory

This can be a "negative" action that bans something the gov is doing or initiating a new policy. Not to be a broken record, but putting the word "substantially" in a resolution does not actually fix this problem- it is a placebo.

I don't think the size of the aff has much to do with process cps -they seem to be run regardless but if anything larger affs generally have better answers (say no, maybe even a card about the process since more people write about them). But yes, these cps are bad and should be defeated on theory.
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ScottElliott
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« Reply #11 on: April 04, 2013, 12:53:20 PM »

What I want to know is why the Topic Committee almost NEVER sees these problems in advance. I know I bitch a lot, too much, about the topics/resolutions chosen. But, it seems like what is obvious to me at the very beginning of the year, and during the topic selection process itself, somehow mystifies the Topic Committee every damn year. Any idiot with a google search engine could have told you that the status quo was moving to decrease restrictions on many of the topic area fuels. Any idiot with access to a newspaper could have told you that the Obama Administration was funding the hell out of solar and wind power.
Two years ago, on the democracy assistance topic, I and others were constantly complaining--during the actual process--that there were zero solvency advocates for democracy asssitance; and that democracy assistance was literally thumb-ink. Well, it only took the fourth round of the first tournament of the year for people to say, "Hey! There ain't no solvency advocates for this topic." I just do not understand why people who are normally pretty smart about debate go into a hotel ballroom and become a herd of cows. Ask yourself this question before you write a resolution: 1) is there old school inherency and/or uniqueness for Affirmative advantages? 2) does the resolution, as written, allow for the negative to have unique disadvantage ground. Galloway is right that the affirmative should have to do something different from the status quo. But, there is something about the Topic Committee process that results in us being saddled with topics that either have no solvency mechanisms for the aff, or no real negative ground.
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kearney
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« Reply #12 on: April 04, 2013, 01:13:20 PM »

I think the topic committee K is outdated (and unfair and unreflective and unproductive and especially unkind). So, since I have faith in the deliberation of dedicated debate people, I will instead suggest one way to test the "big change" proposition:

What is the disadvantage to the resolution?

I won't go so far as to say this should be our starting point for crafting a resolution (though I am tempted), but I think this simple question could help guide the process. The "disadvantage" need not be singular or specific. It should, however, be researched just as solvency advocates are researched during the topic process. Writing a resolution will never be easy (or appease Scott Elliot), but some easy questions can help point us in the right direction.
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Malgor
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Posts: 220


« Reply #13 on: April 04, 2013, 02:09:49 PM »

agree with many of the thoughts here, even some of scott's (never thought I would say that).

Kearney, i generally sympathize with the job of the committee, but you can look at the forums posts and comments made by observers at the topic meeting and it becomes clear people have voiced very legitimate concerns that have maybe been deliberated....but certainly ignored when viewed from the outcomes of deliberation.

the recent trend of topics shows they are getting smaller in both magnitude of change required of the aff and sheer quantity of aff's allowed.  I think this is partly the preferential leanings of the committee, partly the nature of guessing a topic months in advance, and partly a consequence of compromises reached.

my god, at one point the committee was considering a fossil fuels only topic, which I can confidently say would have been possibly the worst topic constructed of all time.

to cram:  your comments on neg ground are very important, and I agree, but it's not a thought that should shape the topic process, it's a thought that should shape how judges evaluate debates on a topic.  the neg is allowed to do incredibly minor changes through process counterplans.  Not only is it insulting to the pedagogical and research process to have counterplan debates about whether or not the plan should be hidden in some agency review or not, it also greatly constrains the type of affs policy teams are willing to run.  Using that as a justification for maintaining the status quo trend of smaller topics with no uq would be a bad result (and no i don't think you are advocating this).

to everyone else:  i think there is a relatively simple solution, and it echoes what Mr. Galloway and Mr. Kearney have pointed out:  peer-reviewed research.  We all work in these things called universities where qualified individuals do research that is then reviewed by other qualified individuals and published in these handy things called journals.  But for some reason, we don't give two craps about this research in the construction of the topic or in regular season debates.

I harped on this a lot on the energy policy paper- we voted on a paper and constructed a resolution mostly written by lobbyists who do pseudo-research so they can make sweet, sweet cash. Democracy assistance was an awesome idea but so recent no high quality scholarship came out about until the end of the season.  Immigration was good but still avoided the central question on immigration that academics were concerned with: illegals!

the core controversy areas (aff and neg ground) and terms of art should be derived from academic literature.  i'm tired of reading through affs that make broad sweeping claims (nuclear power will make us a manufacturing economy again allowing us to contain China!) only to find they are from sources that don't provide citations, or footnotes, or are not peer-reviewed, or are a lobbying organization that is paid to generate said research. 

We are training ourselves to be irrelevant in terms of generating viable, real-world practices that help people. The research process has devolved into rewarding teams for finding someone on the internet that agrees with their argument, as if that's some sort of challenge that invigorates our critical thinking skills.  We are all in the university setting, we all recognize that authority of the speaker and quality of THEIR research process is of central importance when determining what constitutes a reliable basis for policy change.  Yet we emulate the worst scholarship, often blatantly biased and paid for.

When we have lax standards in debate, the result is often teams running affirmatives that no serious researcher would bother refuting.  It's a race to the most irrelevant and implausible solution to the controversy presented by the resolution (looking at you SMRs).  Worst part is those affs are competitively rewarded precisely BECAUSE no one takes them seriously in academic circles.

Im not trying to dictate what kinds of arguments other teams run.  Not even saying i'm not implicated in this myself, and i recognize that those other sources will always have a place in debate (it aint all bad, and the negative will want to use it to defend the status quo), but we could at least encourage the community to do relevant, quality research by basing our core topic arguments and terms of art around that research.

You can even view this entire idea as separate from "what we read in rounds."  Even if no one agrees about the current trends in research and evidence, it's undeniable that academic research is a) still the most written about because even think tanks and lobbyists have to deal with it and b) generates the highest quality ideas for how to solve real-world problems.  If your core controversy is centered on emphasizing the ideas in academia, then it will generate higher quality ideas for the topic writ-large regardless of what type of evidence teams choose to read.

Even academic research is being co-opted more and more by the private sector as government grant money dries up....but it's still superior most sources. 


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stables
Administrator
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Posts: 334


« Reply #14 on: April 04, 2013, 02:12:37 PM »

The post CEDA/NDT time is a great moment for folks to reflect on all of our practices. I know the topic committee appreciates the community feedback. What I would encourage, however, is the reflection that there are competing perspectives that don't always decide to fight in this forum. If you prefer big topics (as defined today by requiring or allowing the affirmative to promote very large degrees of change from the status quo) that is something you should definitely air on this forum. I, like many members of the committee, find it incredibly helpful to be able to cite views from the community in our decisions.

Everyone should communicate that as well to the people you elect to represent you at the meetings. Two such elections are ongoing now and I have already posted the full list of all committee members. Each of whom is directly elected by the membership.

I also encourage folks to air their perspectives during the paper selection and wording process. To be honest, some of the difficulty of today's conversation is about how folks seemed to feel the topic controversy itself was too narrow, not just the final wording. There is ample room for community discussion at both stages and the great part is, despite what Scott says each and every year, the community not the committee makes most of these big decisions. The goal of forcing the committee to stick to the controversy paper that the community votes for is that when we have these discussions we can confront the reality that whatever the tone of these posts today, the topic will be larger (as defined above) if the community wants a larger topic. If not, your colleagues (not the committee) disagreed with you. As such, let me encourage this discussion to go about persuading your colleagues who will voice their perspective to disagree with you.

Thanks all. Keep up the great discussion.

Gordon
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Gordon Stables
Assistant Dean for Student Affairs
Director of Debate & Forensics
Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
University of Southern California
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