What’s wrong with how we judge rebuttal?

doorMascha Bloemer

What’s wrong with how we judge rebuttal?

By Srdjan Miletic

Overall the 2015 WUDC debating manual is amazing. It’s comprehensible, comprehensive and a commendable achievement. That being said I disagree with it’s stance on rebuttal. Specifically:

“2.3 Rebuttal, Engagement, and Comparisons
If speakers make arguments and supporting reasons that are not wildly implausible or
contradictory, they are at least somewhat persuasive and should be credited by judges
unless they are successfully rebutted
WUDC speaking and Judging Manual, 2015, pg 17, section 2.3: Rebuttal

As I’ve argued before, that idea that we should judge a debate based on what arguments are left standing at the end, essentially meaning we should ignore arguments which have been successfully rebutted, seems to me to be unfair and a poor way to judge. This is because it ignores the contribution teams bring to a debate, leading to incredibly unintuitive results and hence to unfair situations where worse teams who bring less to the debate can win over better teams. For example, say 1st gov brings two very persuasive arguments, which a brilliant 1st opp convincingly takes down, while 2nd gov brings only one somewhat weak argument. If a judge were to ignore arguments which were successfully rebutted, as the manual advises, they would need to place second Gov, which brought weaker arguments and contributed less to the debate, above first gov. This is unintuitive, as a team which has bought less persuasive material is awarded a higher position, and unfair as a the respective positions of teams on the same bench can be determined not by their own actions and interactions but by who opposing teams choose to rebut.

A better way of judging rebuttal is to use the movement model and reward teams which successfully rebut an argument with the same amount of credit they would have received had they made that argument. Hence rebutting a very persuasive argument is rewarded a great deal and rebutting a weak argument is rewarded less. This approach is simple and usable but, by virtue of not ignoring teams contributions to the debate when those contribution are rebutted, it does not lead to unintuitive and unfair results.

Srdjan Miletic
Coach, Rhetorica Debating Society Maastricht

Mascha Bloemer
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Mascha is een alumnus van de Amsterdamse Studentendebatvereniging Bonaparte. Zij was redacteur van SevenTwenty (2012-2013) waarna ze in 2013-2015 de rol van hoofdredacteur op zich pakte.

Over de auteur

Mascha Bloemer administrator

Mascha is een alumnus van de Amsterdamse Studentendebatvereniging Bonaparte. Zij was redacteur van SevenTwenty (2012-2013) waarna ze in 2013-2015 de rol van hoofdredacteur op zich pakte.

2 Reacties tot nu toe

Jonathan Leader MaynardGeplaatst op4:15 pm - jan 9, 2015

Dear Srdjan,

Many thanks for both your kind overall comments on the manual, and your interest in this particular component of the manual. I and the various other authors of the manual firmly believe that aside from being widely read, the manual needs to be discussed and interrogated if it is to effectively support the development of global debating. On behalf of the Malaysia Worlds 2015 adjcore, I therefore wanted to post a brief reply to your comments.

In short, I think this apparent disagreement rests on a misunderstanding of what we intended to mean by the section of the manual you have quoted (though I can see that the section is slightly ambiguous, and it would probably be worth clarifying in future versions of the manual). I and (as far as I am aware) the manual’s other authors would agree with the substance of what you have written here. The sentence you have cited wasn’t intended to carry the meaning that *if* rebutted, arguments should be ignored, but that *if not* rebutted, they must be awarded some credit (unless wildly implausible) – they should not be discounted just because they ‘fall out of the debate’ or are not engaged with by other teams. In advancing that point we were not intending to suggest that even a totally definitive rebuttal of an argument would mean that that argument should be ignored – especially given the four potential positions in which a team can finish in BP debating and the complexity of comparing contributions of different kinds between the four teams. This is a key reason we would agree with your central claim here.

In addition, the notion of ‘successfully rebutted’ is probably too binary – in truth many arguments can be rebutted in a way that mitigates, deflects or addresses them in an adequate manner, without completely deprives the original argument of any persuasiveness. Again, then, the overarching weight of an argument, and the many ways it interacts with other arguments in the debate, must be considered in evaluating it.

So the manual was in no sense intended to suggest that team’s overall persuasiveness should be assessed by a simple ‘arguments left standing’ tally count. We share your view that evaluation of persuasiveness is a more complex and holistic enterprise than this.

Many thanks for your interest again, and best wishes,

Jonathan Leader Maynard
Chief Adjudicator, Malaysia Worlds 2015

    Srdjan MileticGeplaatst op5:14 pm - jan 11, 2015

    Thanks for the response. I’m happy to hear that the “what’s left standing” model of judging which I attacked is not what the adj core intended to promote. The reason this section of the manual jumped out at me is that I’ve met a fair few judges, some of who are both experienced and successful, who do judge debates, and rebuttal, at least partly in such a manner. While it may not have been your intention, this section of the manual would appear to support such views and I’m glad it’s been cleared up now.

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