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Author Topic: Winning debaters speak incomprehensibly fast  (Read 27292 times)
ApostateAbe
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« on: May 06, 2014, 12:21:17 AM »

#Invalid YouTube Link#

I know this topic has been discussed before, as it has apparently been an issue for decades. When I watched that video of the final round of the 2014 CEDA, it comes off as an embarrassment to everyone involved in the debating system. The debaters speak too fast for comprehension. I can catch a few words here and there, and I can get only a vague questionable idea of the points they are making. Both teams spoke incomprehensibly fast, and in this case the team that spoke fastest and least comprehensibly took home the trophy.

But, I am outsider to the college debating scene, and maybe there is something I am missing. So, um, WTF is going on here?
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jamesherndon3
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« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2014, 07:56:50 AM »

Waiting on topic votes, so I'll try and answer.  Couple of things come to mind.

a.  Comprehension is subjective.  When performing people perform for the audience that matters.  In this case, the audience that matters were first the judges with ballots, the audience at hand, and a group of people with debate training.  Towson was obviously not 'incomprehensible' but instead performed perfectly as they are, in fact, champions.  If you had a ballot to decide the championship, then I guarantee it would have been delivered in a style you found both pleasing and comprehensible.

b.  Speed and comprehension have been issues for decades, the fix isn't an easy one.  Timed activities force changes in delivery that privilege speed over presentation - particularly while constructing arguments.  While I don't have cites handy, my understanding is this has been true of all forms of debate at some point.

c. the timing is unfortunate.  These criticisms could have been forwarded for decades.  Plus, they apply much stronger to the finals of the NDT [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIC2kG3kZMQ].  There is some pain associated with the arguments being made when two black women are champions for the first time.  As an outsider, I doubt you are familiar with this move, so I won't assign malice, but explain why it pains me [among others].
I think of it this way.  Imagine I am a person who has a ton of complaints about professional baseball.  It's corrupt, favors the wealthy, and boring.  However, I wait until the integration of players of color before forwarding these criticisms.  Are they valid? Maybe.  Is the timing awful?  Yes.  Is it a double edged sword where integration brought attention to forefront therefore making me more likely to make my complaints?  Sure, but it's still painful, particularly for those players.

d. Could all of debate benefit from improved lay comprehension?  Absolutely.  But the CEDA finals was the opposite of an embarrassment to me as a person involved in the debating system.

*i speak only for myself in all of these points.
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ApostateAbe
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« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2014, 10:39:36 AM »

Yes, I agree it is unfortunate that the criticisms pour in as soon as black women win and gain media attention, and I really could be prejudiced in that respect. When I saw that video, my first thought was, "Is this really how blacks debate??" But, yeah, then I found that the problem stretches back decades, when the debates were dominated by whites, and a statistical analysis of the incomprehensible speeds was done on these debates in 1991 to complain about the problem!

I am very skeptical of the point that the judges can sufficiently comprehend what these contestants are saying as opposed to the rest of us lay members of the public who cannot. I am a smart guy. I am a member of Mensa, and I am a dick about it. I suspect the main problem is that members of the judging panels do not want to admit that they can not understand it. It is an "Emporer's New Clothes" principle. Again, this is speaking from a perspective of outsider ignorance, so maybe I am coming off like a total asshole.

This is the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon that comes to mind:



The cartoon was inspired by the author seeing those phrases actually used in academic literature.

The solution to the problem seems simple. If you speak incomprehensibly, you lose!  Angry
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JonZ
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« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2014, 11:18:26 AM »

Quote
I am very skeptical of the point that the judges can sufficiently comprehend what these contestants are saying as opposed to the rest of us lay members of the public who cannot. I am a smart guy. I am a member of Mensa, and I am a dick about it. I suspect the main problem is that members of the judging panels do not want to admit that they can not understand it. It is an "Emporer's New Clothes" principle. Again, this is speaking from a perspective of outsider ignorance, so maybe I am coming off like a total asshole.

After debates are over, judges disclose their decisions. They explain how they saw the arguments interacting, and they have a discussion with the debaters. Judges have to have a good grasp of what happened in the round, because if they don't they'll get called out on it by the debaters. It does sometimes happen, judges miss an argument, but for the most part they're able to give a pretty accurate overview of what happened in the round.

Quote
If you speak incomprehensibly, you lose

Yeah, that is what happens. If a judge can't catch your arguments and write them down, they don't get evaluated, and you lose.
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ApostateAbe
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« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2014, 02:38:33 PM »

Quote
I am very skeptical of the point that the judges can sufficiently comprehend what these contestants are saying as opposed to the rest of us lay members of the public who cannot. I am a smart guy. I am a member of Mensa, and I am a dick about it. I suspect the main problem is that members of the judging panels do not want to admit that they can not understand it. It is an "Emporer's New Clothes" principle. Again, this is speaking from a perspective of outsider ignorance, so maybe I am coming off like a total asshole.

After debates are over, judges disclose their decisions. They explain how they saw the arguments interacting, and they have a discussion with the debaters. Judges have to have a good grasp of what happened in the round, because if they don't they'll get called out on it by the debaters. It does sometimes happen, judges miss an argument, but for the most part they're able to give a pretty accurate overview of what happened in the round.

Quote
If you speak incomprehensibly, you lose

Yeah, that is what happens. If a judge can't catch your arguments and write them down, they don't get evaluated, and you lose.
JonZ, what you are saying seems to imply bad consequences against judges who punish a contestant without understanding the contestant's arguments, but no bad consequences against judges who reward a contestant without understanding the contestant's arguments. This would amount to a systemic bias in favor of incomprehensible debaters.
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Ermo
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« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2014, 04:20:58 PM »

A judge who rewards Contestant A without understanding Contestant A's argument would need to be able to explain their decision in favor of Contestant A to Contestant B.

Some judges are better at flowing/understanding/explaining their decisions than others, and those perceptions have a significant impact on who is placed to judge rounds. Just as the umpires perceived to be the best end up as umpires in the post-season of sports, the same happens (generally) in debate. There are many cases where, I assure you, you would find the comprehension of the judge (and their ability to account for every utterance over a 90 minute period stunning. But, if they genuine cannot comprehend a team, their decision would reflect that.
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ApostateAbe
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« Reply #6 on: May 06, 2014, 04:42:12 PM »

"A judge who rewards Contestant A without understanding Contestant A's argument would need to be able to explain their decision in favor of Contestant A to Contestant B."

So, what if the judge makes up a lot of bullshit about what Contestant A said? Is Contestant B expected to see through that bullshit, even though Contestant B could likewise understand hardly anything Contestant A said?
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BrianDeLong
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« Reply #7 on: May 06, 2014, 06:35:32 PM »

Contestant B will actually have access to the evidence that contestant A is using to defend their arguments. This allows contestant B to reveal any "BS," as you call it, during cross examination periods and in their speeches. Furthermore, if contestant B believes no "real" arguments were being made in their debate and the other team (A) still managed to win, they can ask the judge questions, as well as change their judge preference system to exclude this judge from judging them in future debate rounds. The judge has to provide a coherent decision that satisfies both teams, otherwise that judge will not be placed in the back of the room for that team in the future. In other words, both teams selected these judges who are watching the round because they believe they will receive a "fair" shake against the team they are debating.

The debaters recognize the importance of having a critical ear that can understand what they are saying and thus they speak at a level that is comprehensible to these judges. The rate of delivery is always up for debate and some teams will lose because they fail to communicate their arguments at a speed that the judge can understand.
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adenney
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« Reply #8 on: May 07, 2014, 02:56:27 PM »

I am very skeptical of the point that the judges can sufficiently comprehend what these contestants are saying as opposed to the rest of us lay members of the public who cannot. I am a smart guy. I am a member of Mensa, and I am a dick about it. I suspect the main problem is that members of the judging panels do not want to admit that they can not understand it. It is an "Emporer's New Clothes" principle. Again, this is speaking from a perspective of outsider ignorance, so maybe I am coming off like a total asshole.


I am one of the eleven people who judged that debate - to be clear, I am speaking only for myself and not for anyone else on the panel - but I think that it is important as part of that panel I offer my perspective on the debate and on the issue of comprehension generally.

I had no problem following the debate; my notes are pretty good. I don't have access to them right now because the computer I had them saved on is currently being repaired, or I would offer to back channel them to you.

Being accustomed to debate practices and norms is not the same as just being smart. It takes an ear for speed to be able to understand what is going on and while I would like to see debate be more accessible to the public, this was definitely not an issue for me as a judge, and I suspect for the other judges on the panel. There have been times when I voted against teams because their arguments were too blippy or poorly explained or because they sped through them so quickly and unclearly I couldn't understand what they were saying. That was not the case in this debate. The debaters in finals are there for a reason - they are skilled at argument and while they speak quickly, they are also clear and understandable by the standards of those doing the evaluating.

 

NOW - aside from a defense of myself as a judge, I also want to second the critique that this is only getting negative attention now that the winners are two black women and all four debaters were black students. I've read articles in the past and seen conversations like this that note how fast debaters speak. It's almost always been treated as sort of an amusing oddity when the subjects of those articles and videos have been white students. Only now when it's black students being featured are there these critiques that it's somehow embarrassing or unintelligent. That is anti-black and racist and needs to stop.
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johnpkoch
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« Reply #9 on: May 07, 2014, 03:17:21 PM »

Research shows that the average person speaks and can reasonably understand a speed of about 150-160 words per minute. However, research also demonstrates that a person is capable of listening to and understanding 400-600 words per minute. The range for policy debaters is about 350-500 words per minute. This means that policy debate requires its participants to sharpen their listening and comprehension skills to the higher levels of human capability. The end result of this is that debaters are able to listen, comprehend, and analyze information at higher rates of speed than a lay person. Since thinking on your feet is an important life skill, debate is an important pedagogical tool for developing it.

Adler, Ronald, et al. Understanding Human Communication.
Wong, Linda (2014). Essential Study Skills.
Chafets, Zev (2006-03-19). "Ministers of Debate". The New York Times.
Emily Demarest (2006-11-07). "What Ivy League? BUís Debate team is among best in the country." BU Pipe Dream.
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loghry
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Posts: 47


« Reply #10 on: May 07, 2014, 07:03:50 PM »

Research shows that the average person speaks and can reasonably understand a speed of about 150-160 words per minute. However, research also demonstrates that a person is capable of listening to and understanding 400-600 words per minute. The range for policy debaters is about 350-500 words per minute. This means that policy debate requires its participants to sharpen their listening and comprehension skills to the higher levels of human capability. The end result of this is that debaters are able to listen, comprehend, and analyze information at higher rates of speed than a lay person. Since thinking on your feet is an important life skill, debate is an important pedagogical tool for developing it.

Adler, Ronald, et al. Understanding Human Communication.
Wong, Linda (2014). Essential Study Skills.
Chafets, Zev (2006-03-19). "Ministers of Debate". The New York Times.
Emily Demarest (2006-11-07). "What Ivy League? BUís Debate team is among best in the country." BU Pipe Dream.



/thread
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mOnTIqUE wiLLiaMs
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« Reply #11 on: May 08, 2014, 04:39:55 PM »

There is some pain associated with the arguments being made when two black women are champions for the first time.  As an outsider, I doubt you are familiar with this move, so I won't assign malice, but explain why it pains me [among others].

I think of it this way.  Imagine I am a person who has a ton of complaints about professional baseball.  It's corrupt, favors the wealthy, and boring.  However, I wait until the integration of players of color before forwarding these criticisms.  Are they valid? Maybe.  Is the timing awful?  Yes.  Is it a double edged sword where integration brought attention to forefront therefore making me more likely to make my complaints?  Sure, but it's still painful, particularly for those players.

ApostateAbe made no mention of the Blackness of the 2014 champions in his post (and why don't you capitalize the proper noun, 'Black,' jamesherndon3? Are Jews merely 'jews' to you? Are the French just 'french'?). He talked about 'incomprehensibility' and the least capable being awarded victory, and an embarrassing display of pointlessness. You are the one who immediately linked these things to Blackness.

Why? What prejudices, what learned intolerances, what insecurities, what reactionary fascistic pathologies triggered that response in you? I urge you to reflect.

You have provided a textbook and timely example of just the kind of oppression, negativity and white Supremacy the sisters rapped about. Do you see that? Will you accept that truth? Will you change as we demand you do?

I'm interested in hearing your explanation as long as it's respectful and shows you have understood and taken on board what I have said here.   
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Jim Schultz
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« Reply #12 on: May 08, 2014, 06:05:54 PM »

which sisters rapped?
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jamesherndon3
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« Reply #13 on: May 08, 2014, 06:16:24 PM »

Capitalization: thanks for bringing that to my attention.  Read several articles on it.  As a former 9th grade English teacher (loaded I know) lower case is my default.  Though on my phone (as I am now) I doubt I would capitalize those other things either.  Though the article I liked the most made an argument for capitalizing Black and not other adjectives, though it also made a printed material distinction as well.  And then others made an argument about not capitalizing it.  I'll think about it.

As for  Abe's argument I'll defend it.  it was expressly about CEDA and said Towson was "the most incomprehensible."  The recent discussion of the Atlantic, negative media, and the Sxhiff show I listened to, etc.  And Korey Johnson's post about the same time (I forget her exact words, but essentially it was that people didn't apply the same standards to the NDT) all made me think about the argument/analogy I shared.  I felt the alternative was not mentioning it.  As I pointed out, the criticism was much more applicable to the NDT finals.  

I will  continue to do my best to point out negativity when I see it.  I'll contact either Korey or  Ameena and see  if an apology for speaking up is in order.  At the time, I honestly thought I should have gone in more detail on that point.

Have a good one.
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jregnier
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« Reply #14 on: May 09, 2014, 02:21:49 PM »

which sisters rapped?

Jim, it's so racist of you to assume that by "rapped," they meant musical rap.  Clearly you're importing your own racist assumptions about what rap means, whereas the obviously color-blind author of that post just meant "rapped" in sense of "communicated"...
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