Sunday, March 14, 2010

Finally, a rule to be enforced

I could write a lot of fuss about all the pointless rules that exist in a variety of debating formats. But some days ago I had a very inspiring discussion with one of our numerous international members at the Union who contribute so greatly to the diversity of this club, and this discussion alerted me that there is indeed one rule in debating that might require a more rigid enforcement.

Our discussion was about cheating - at school, university, and finally at debating tournaments. With all those iphones and netbooks around and wireless internet everywhere it has truly become a piece of cake to look up missing information during the preparation time. I am pretty sure that many debaters do this. Some of them cheat consciously, others probably don't even know that only written material may be used.

Using online sources is unfair and harms the quality of debating, as it provides some teams with expert knowledge. Adjudicators should raise consciousness that electronic devices are not allowed during preparation time.


  1. First
    I agree that awareness should be raised.

    I seriously doubt that using an internet-enabled phone can win you the debate. Looking up sophisticated analysis you've never dealt with before, understanding it and creating arguments out of that is really not easy in 15 minutes.

    I see though that it might be helpful to mediocre teams, who thus have a winning example or some facts&figures.

  2. Agreed. But...

    Depends what you take as a "good" team.
    Is that a team with the most background or fact knowledge ? Or ist it about the process
    of analysis and rethoric skill.
    I myself am quite uninteressted in aquiring
    loads of additional background or specific facts and i find myself quite lost on facts
    when it comes to EU taxes, specific laws or
    UN procedures.

    So sometimes some simple facts can rescue your team, especially if you do not know the status quo well. I experienced that first hand in a debate where my team was open-gov. and we had no clue. If we could have searched google or wikipedia, even if we only had 2 minutes for that, the debate would have been totally different for us.

    So yeah i think it can make a difference in nearly every team, and sometimes i'd rather have this difference in the debate. But that is a personal thing, i am not interessted in: "who can memorize more facts". The skill i am looking for is more on the side of "what do you make out of that".

  3. Given the choice between an entirely clueless 1st Gov (or any clueless team for that matter) and a team with an iPhone-inspired knowledge of some relevant facts, I vote iPhone. At the point where simply knowing what the motion is about is winning you entire debates, I think it is safe to say that the other teams in the debate should probably start looking into another hobby.

    Rest assured, there will always be teams like the profis in Manchester, who, despite an info-screen explicitly describing the UK's 1998 ban of medical testing on great apes, proposed a case -- you guessed it -- banning medical testing on great apes. Ugh.

  4. I also missed it, but also left my glasses at home...

  5. But I second everything Bruno said. The worst thing that may happen to (esp. as 1st opp) you is a first gov that messed up the whole debate...

  6. Debates that tie everything back to spec knowledge are crap. Using electronic devices might encourage constructing debates in that way. However, judges don't usually value such debates, which seems like a strong enough discouragement.

    Another danger: all teams access the same databases for arguments. Such online databases could grow extremely comprehensive, far beyond the size of any case file debaters might be carrying around. After some period of time, 10 years say, such a database might be so huge that it becomes hard to come up with topics that are not already completely laid out. In such debates, focus merely shifts to oratorical skill. On a whole, thinking for yourself is discouraged then because it is less of a criterion for success. That I would find very sad.

    I guess the only possible way to go is therefore what's done with doping in sports. Even though we cannot completely control it, we still keep it banned. Because allowing such tools might change the whole discipline for the worse.