Know Thy Evidence

Okay, so we've finally got our feet on the ground and are beginning to get our heads around the new policy topic. For you late-arrivals, this year's topic is, “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its non-military exploration and/or development of the Earth’s oceans.” While this writing will be published during this topic, the instructions and advice contained herein shall apply henceforth – forever and ever and ever and ever.

A lot of you policy debaters probably obtain some type of debate briefs that you do not personally construct. I am not against this at all. In fact, I believe you can discover vast amounts of evidence and arguments within these briefs to help you understand the topic and win debates. However, too many of you fail to understand your own evidence. Here I'll discuss the most common problems associated with failing to understand, or at least familiarize yourself with, your evidence.

First and foremost is mislabeled cards. This is a big one, folks! It infuriates me when I listen to debaters read a tag like “OVERFISHING IS LEADING TO EXTINCTION” and follow it with evidence that states the contrary. Evidence that is filled with information about how overfishing is actually causing an alternate habitat allowing for the growth of new species and an abundance of life. Believe it or not – companies that produce briefs make mistakes! You will find negative evidence in affirmative cases and solvency cards mixed in with harms and so on. Another neat trick is what is known as “power tagging”. This occurs when the card's tag overstates a claim from the cards content. As an example, the tag may read, “OCEAN EXPLORATION LEADS TO HABITAT LOSS” and the contents are, “Scientists agree that certain types of reckless drilling resource extrication from our oceans damage the ecosystems. However, they note that responsible drilling and safety protocols will allow for humans and ocean ecosystems to co-exist”. By the tag, we are led to believe that ANY type of exploration will damage the ocean habitat. However, the actual context of the evidence is strictly about resource extrication. The evidence even goes on to say that, if done properly, we can extricate without damaging anything. Things like mislabeling and power tagging are why I strongly suggest that you study all of your briefs. Make sure the evidence is equal to the tag. Advantage I: after studying your briefs, you will have a better understanding of the topic and have a general idea of where to find evidence within your briefs.

Secondly, there is the matter of source qualification. Finding a good source for your evidence is a must if you expect to win. You should research the sources of your evidence. Make sure you can be confident in the quality of your evidence. Expertise matters! Ensure your evidence comes from a solid, qualified source. Does the card contain fact or opinion? Is it empirical data or theoretical guesswork? You should be able to convey to the judge that your evidence is based upon sound reasoning and that it is superior to the opposition do to peer review, scientific fact, objective observation, and so on. Subjective, non-qualified opinion falls short of acceptable evidence.

Lastly is the amount of gobbledygook that sprays from your lips because you haven't ever seen a certain name, word, or acronym. This ocean topic includes a fair amount of acronyms and biological terms. The last thing you need to be doing is stumbling over these terms and phrases. If you do, I'll be sure to ask you to explain each and every one in the cross-examination. When you can't tell me what any of it means, I'll use my constructive to educate you about your own evidence – then turn it on you. If you don't know the terms and phrases you'll find yourself in a world of hurt. This works on both sides. As negative, you may find yourself against a case you don't understand and make logical errors attempting to apply evidence that is totally unrelated to the case. As affirmative, you may find yourself being attacked by evidence you may not find relevant, simply because you don't know what you're debating. Research your terms and phrases. Know how to pronounce names. This helps the flow of your arguments and gives you the upper hand when you have to educate your opponent about their own evidence.

In closing, know your evidence, know your evidence, and know your evidence!!