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11/1-11/8: LD & PF Tournament Results and Frontlining and Asymmetrical Burdens in Public Forum
Lincoln Douglas Debate
This weekend, LD debaters competed at the Apple Valley Minneapple Tournament.
Congratulations to Harrison’s Jack Borman and Lake Highland Prep’s Prateek Seela for co-championing the tournament. In semifinals, Jack defeated Harker’s Sofia Shah on a 2-1 decision (Evnen, Vincent, Mirza*) and defeated Isidore Newman’s Andrew Brandt on a 3-0 decision (Castillo, Nails, Waters). Additional congratulations to Jack for being the top speaker.
Full pairings and results can be found here.
Public Forum Debate
This weekend, PF debaters competed at the Apple Valley Minneapple Tournament.
Congratulations to Zellie Olson & Eva Redmond from Blake for championing the 2023 Apple Valley Minneapple Tournament. In finals, they defeated Ezekiel Ehrenberg & Alex Calder from Delbarton on a 3-0 decision (Carlson, Rusk, Stubbs). Additional congratulations to Delbarton’s Romir Patel for being the top speaker.
Full pairings and results can be found here.
Best of luck to everyone competing next weekend! Stay tuned for future tournament results.
Frontlining and Asymmetrical Burdens in Public Forum
by Lawrence Zhou
There seems to have emerged a norm in contemporary Public Forum debate that teams have a responsibility to “frontline in second rebuttal.” (Here, I am using the term frontline to mean “when you defeat attacks against your case while blocking is when you attack the other side’s case.”) At the very least, the norm seems to suggest that teams have a responsibility to at least frontline all offense in the second rebuttal.
I think this norm is arbitrary and lacks grounding in any logical principle of argumentation; however, that will not be the central focus of this post. Instead, I provisionally grant that teams may have some responsibility to frontline in the second rebuttal. Failure to frontline constitutes, for all practical purposes, dropping an argument.
Instead, I argue that this norm should be logically extended to also apply to the second constructive speech—that the burden of rejoinder implies that teams carry a responsibility to refute arguments at the first available opportunity.
In other words, if you think that the second rebuttal has a responsibility to frontline, i.e., to respond to attacks against your case, then you should also think that the second constructive has a responsibility to block, i.e., to refute the opponent’s case, and that the first rebuttal has an obligation to frontline what was said in the second constructive.
Personally, I do not think that teams have any responsibility to do anything other than to read their case in the constructive speech and to refute their opponent’s case in the rebuttal speech, but supposing that additional burdens do exist, those burdens ought to be logically and consistently applied.
The thrust of my argument is that the burden of rejoinder should be consistently applied and the only non-arbitrary way (in the context of a debate round) to determine that is to hold teams to the same standard: arguments should be rejoinder, i.e., refuted, at the first available opportunity. We apply this standard for every other speech, so why shouldn’t it apply to the constructive speech as well?
In practice, this would look like a debate round where the first-speaking team introduces a four-minute constructive speech, followed by the second-speaking team introducing a shortened case and refuting the first-speaking team’s case.
Then, in the first rebuttal speech, the first-speaking team would be expected to frontline their own case as well as refute the second-speaking team’s case. And in the second rebuttal speech, the second-speaking team would be expected to frontline their own case and extend the refutations they made earlier in the debate.
This, to me, seems like the most predictable and consistent way to apply the burden of rejoinder—requiring every team to refute arguments at the first available opportunity.
There are also three practical benefits to this model. First, this would equalize the burdens of the first- and second-speaking teams. In the status quo, the team that speaks first has an enormous advantage because they can spend all four minutes of their rebuttal speech hammering way at the second-speaking team’s case; however, the second-speaking team has comparatively less time to refute the first-speaking team’s case because they must spend some time of their rebuttal speech frontlining.
This implies that it is in the natural interest of second-speaking teams to want to refute in the second constructive speech. Right now, the first-speaking team has a massive advantage because the four minute rebuttal enables them to pummel the second-speaking team’s constructive into the ground, while the second rebuttal must necessarily be split between frontlining and refuting. Refuting in the second constructive puts additional pressure on the first rebuttal, which helps deflate that substantial advantage that first-speaking teams currently enjoy.
Second, it would do much to increase the quality and depth of debates. By forcing teams to defend their arguments earlier on and for more speeches, it could help reduce the widespread proliferation of underdeveloped refutations that dominate the meta and incentivize teams to research and write more cogent arguments knowing that they must withstand an entire extra speech’s worth of rebuttals.
Third, it would help clarify ambiguous norms surrounding dropped arguments. PF already has extremely unclear norms about what constitutes a “dropped” argument because it is unclear what is “sticky” and what is not. Having clear and consistently applied burdens would help reduce some of the ambiguity about whether arguments from the first half of the debate were or were not dropped by the time they make it to the summary and final focus speeches. Under this model, if an argument is not refuted at the first available opportunity, it constitutes a dropped argument.
I do not know of any serious objection against this position. My position strikes me as something quite reasonable and consistent with the way we conceptualize the burden of rejoinder both in other debate events as well as in the real-world. However, there might be some detractors of this view, and so I shall mention them briefly here.
Perhaps the term constructive implies that it should only be used to introduce one’s own case. This ignores that every other debate event, e.g., policy, Lincoln-Douglas, and even World Schools Debate, encourages or basically mandates that the constructive speeches refute what was said in the speech immediately prior to it. Besides, the term “constructive” only means that debaters should “construct” their arguments for or against the topic—there is no reason those could not also include constructing arguments refuting what the opponent has said.
Another concern is that this unfairly advantages the first-speaking team who has four minutes to develop a case while the second-speaking team might have only two minutes to do so, perhaps resulting in a massive time skew for the second-speaking team. To begin, I cannot think of a coherent reason why something creating a time skew has anything to do with the consistent application of principles of argumentation.
But I also think this worry is overblown. One reason to think that this won’t manifest in unequal win distributions is that policy debate—which has a similar speech structure (an eight minute affirmative constructive followed by an eight minute negative constructive) where the negative team gets the same amount of time as the first-speaking affirmative team, and yet is expected to develop their own case as well as refute the affirmative case—does not see skewed win percentages for the first-speaking team. Additionally, the perceptual benefit of speaking last in a debate helps mitigate this tradeoff.
Finally, such a time skew already exists. The second rebuttal already has to frontline four minutes worth of responses to their case in addition to refuting the four minute constructive speech. If anything, this proposal reduces time skew by equalizing the burden of rejoinder for both sides such that the first speaking team must now frontline in their rebuttal speech as well.
Perhaps there is a concern about having to write two cases for each side—one that is four minutes long if you are first speaker, and one that is perhaps two minutes long if you are second speaker. This is additional prep burden is both not unique—teams already write longer and shorter versions of blocks depending on whether they are first or second speakers in the rebuttal speech—and also very minimal since it literally just requires removing a contention from a case (which I would argue is independently good as modern PF rounds often contain far too much breadth at the expense of depth).
In short, I think understanding the burden of rejoinder as requiring teams to respond to arguments at the first available opportunity would do much to clarify the ambiguous nature of the status of arguments in PF and align the burden of rejoinder with how we conceive of it outside of PF. I also think it would foster higher quality debate by forcing teams to defend their arguments across more speeches and would be in the self-interest of second-speaking teams anyways.
Lawrence Zhou is the former Director of Lincoln‐Douglas Debate and Director of Publishing at Victory Briefs. He debated at Bartlesville HS where he was the 2014 NSDA Lincoln‐Douglas national champion. He is formerly a Fulbright Taiwan Debate Trainer, the Debate League Director at the National High School Debate League of China, a graduate assistant at the University of Wyoming, head coach of Team Wyoming, a CEDA octofinalist and Ethics Bowl finalist while debating at the University of Oklahoma, and an assistant coach at Appley Valley High School and The Harker School. His students have advanced to late outrounds at numerous regional and national invitational tournaments, including finals appearances at the NSDA National Tournament and semifinals appearances at the Tournament of Champions.