Thursday, 18 December 2014

On (the) Comparative

"The comparative in this debate is..." "On the comparative...." "You need to be more comparative..."

What is comparative? It is "comparing" two or more different things and saying which is better. Simple enough right? But it's a surprisingly important part of debating. 

It is very easy to give the judges simply a long list of good things and bad things without saying which I should care about more. On very simple things (e.g. there will be more dead people) it is okay to let the judges do this themselves, but the more complex arguments you make the more you need to say what is important and why. 

This is also where impacting comes in, translating a harm into obvious real world terms. Random example, if you tell me X will result in disillusionment with state institutions, that sounds vaguely bad. But I'm not very sure how much I care, but if you tell me that because people are disillusioned with the state they won't report crimes to the police, they will turn to vigilante justice, and that will cause bad things, I now know why I care.

Comparative then is taking the impacts of two different points, or of the opposing sides of the debate and saying which is more important. Example: "Even if we buy their analysis, their only harm is that a small number of people will be upset because of an abstract violation of their bodily autonomy, compare that to the harms we bring you of mass death if people are not vaccinated." 

CC - Flickr user Infobunny
Things vary in importance depending on the framework you judge them in, which will depend on the debate. If you ask me which is better, chalk or cheese I can't answer (and may think you are crazy), but if you tell me that we are trying to make pizza, the answer is obvious. Similarly you may sometimes need to put things in more of a context or framing than just our default assumptions about what things are bad. For example, if you can make me believe that the most important thing in this debate is the impact on the poor, (for reasons a, b, and c) then I will judge the arguments in the debate based on their effect on that.

Another way in which a point can be "non-comparative" is if it is true, but it is true on both sides of the debate, so it doesn't matter. Example: "They say that our policy will economically coerce people, but people aren't making a free choice in the status quo anyway so that point is non-comparative." If you explain why the form of coercion on their side is more harmful, or affects more people, or whatever it is then comparative. 

Comparative is essential in a summary speech, where you are explicitly telling the judges why point X beats point Y and why. But it is also important to do in every speech. Its also an element of judging, deciding what is important in the debate, but if you do that yourself you can ensure that the judges think your stuff is the most important. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Roles on the table in British Parliamentary Debating

This post list the very basic requirements for each role on the table, more advanced articles are on the way but I thought it would be useful to have this to start with as a reference/index.

With thanks to Mark Haughton for the pretty diagram

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Debating Glossary

Picture unrelated but adorable.
This is a list of terms commonly used in competitive debating based on my crowd-sourced Debating Glossary google doc, but edited to be more concise and less libelous. I am grateful to (almost) all of the contributors.

I suggest using CTRL+F to find particular terms as the list is fairly long.

Please comment below with any additions, requests for clarification, etc.

Term Definition
Ad hominem Arguments that attack the character of a person, not their arguments. Considered very bad form in competitive debating. 
Adjudication team A team of senior judges who set the motions for a competition and decide who judges which debate. (Also called 'CA Team' or "Adjudication Team")
Analysis Explaining why a thing you say is true. See previous post for more details.
Analysis motion/debate A motion/debate about proving a statement is true/false e.g. “This house believes violence is never the answer” is about the truth of that statement, not proposing that a particular action (e.g. “going to war”) is good.
Announce Room The room, generally a large lecture theatre, in which the tab rolls and the CA team and Convening team announce things to the competition.
Assertion When you make a statement but provide no analysis as to why it is true.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Interviews with Debaters - Part 1 - Jason Vit & Jordan Anderson

Jason Vit 

Ancient debater, formerly of the English Speaking Union, winner of numerous competitions, particularly known for training schools and novices.  

Jordan Anderson  

Not quite as ancient, Word's Masters finalist, won numerous competitions, particularly known for expertise in International Relations.

I'm planning a series of interviews. Comment below with any suggestions for victims interviewees and questions. 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Judging Competitive Debating - Part 3 - Chairing

This is part of my series of introductory articles, which explain the basics of competitive debating and follows on from "Judging competitive debating - Part 1 - A general framework" and "Judging Competitive Debating - Part 2 - The process of judging."

Pictures chairs when discussing how to chair?
Wow. So hilarious. Very original.
CC Wikimedia commons

Chairing is one of the odder roles in competitive debating, on good days it takes practically no work, but it can also be incredibly difficult.

In theory, the chair is responsible for keeping the debate running smoothly, dealing with any issues that arise and running the judging discussion in such a way that the correct call is made. In practice the actual chairing of the debate is a fairly minor part at an actual competition, as speakers know what order to go up in, and issues of keeping order rarely happen.

Conducting the judging discussion is more difficult, not everyone who is an amazing judge is an equally good chair as it requires not just coming to the correct call and understanding the debate, but requires interpersonal skills for managing the discussion and dealing with disagreements. 

Chairing is a difficult and responsible role, so its perfectly natural to be nervous when doing it for the first time, just like when speaking. Just remember to work through the substance of the decision and not be intimidated.

This is harder to make strict rules on than some of the other stuff I've written about, as it varies from debate to debate, but I've tried to give some general guidelines. If you want to learn to chair in more detail the best way is to watch and imitate experienced chairs in how they run the discussion and ask them questions.