Its debatable…Speak Up!

June 13, 2009

Gordon Mitchell on Ethics and Evidence – Repost from edebate 5-18-09

Filed under: Academics,Blogging,Debate,Pedagogy,Research,Technology — bk2nocal @ 1:23 pm

The following is a repost of an edebate post from Gordon Mitchell, Director of UPitt’s William Pitt Debating Union.  It is one of the most comprehensive and useful posts on ethics and evidence I have seen to date.  I believe this will be a big issue in the coming years in debate and getting ahead of the curve as far as evaluating evidence is concerned will be helpful.


What is a legitimate source to cite as evidence in a policy debate contest round? Should forensic specialists publish material that addresses the topic area on which they are currently coaching? How can members of the policy debate community relate their simulation-based research to “real world” decision-making and analysis of relevant policy issues?

These questions about publicity and publication have received extended treatment recently on debate lists and discussion boards, with conversation sparked by specific events. On the high school level, controversy swirled in the wake of revelations that a high school coach apparently published a topic-relevant article using a pseudonym with fictitious credentials (Marburry, 2009). Then two Center for Strategic and International Studies analysts (CSIS JY, 2009, 8) successfully persuaded college debaters and forensics specialists to select nuclear weapons policy as the 2009-2010 intercollegiate policy debate topic area, in part by claiming, “there will be a demand for your expertise in the policy analysis community.”

Roughly speaking, the act of publishing entails preparing material for public uptake, and then announcing the event to facilitate circulation. For many years, this process was structured largely as an economic transaction between authors and printing press owners, with editors often serving as gatekeepers who would vet and filter material. Readers relied on markers of professionalism (quality of print and ink, circulation, reputation of editors) to judge the relative credibility of publications. In the academy, referees employed similar metrics to assess a given writer’s degree of scholarly authority, metrics that were rooted in principles of publication scarcity and exclusivity – that a scholar’s caliber was in part demonstrated by his or her ability to persuade editors to publish their work.

Acceleration of Internet communication and the advent of digital online publication destabilized these arrangements fundamentally. Publication, previously a one-to-many transaction, has become a many-to-many enterprise unfolding across a complex latticework of internetworked digital nodes. Now weblogs, e-books, online journals, and print-on-demand book production and delivery systems make it possible for a whole new population of prospective authors to publish material in what Michael Jensen (2008), National Academy of Sciences Director of Strategic Web Communications, calls an “era of content democracy and abundance.”

In content abundance, the key challenge for readers and referees has less to do with finding scarce information, and more to do with sorting wheat from the proverbial chaff (the ever-burgeoning surplus of digital material available online). The pressing nature of this information-overload challenge has spurred invention of what Jensen (2007) calls “new metrics of scholarly authority” – essentially, new ways of measuring the credibility and gravitas of knowledge producers in a digital world of content abundance.

For Jensen, traditional “authority 1.0” metrics, such as book reviews, peer-reviewed journal publications, and journal “impact factors,” are gradually being supplanted in popular culture by “authority 2.0” metrics such as Google page ranks, blog post trackbacks, and diggs. Jensen’s point is not that these new metrics of scholarly authority are necessarily superior to the old measurement tools, or that they are especially reliable or appropriate for assessing any given author’s credibility (especially in an academic context). His point is that they are developing very fast, and becoming more widespread as markers of intellectual gravitas: “Scholarly authority, the nuanced, deep, perspective-laden authority we hold dear, is under threat by the easily-computable metrics of popularity, famousness, and binary votes, which are amplified by the nature of abundance-jaded audiences” (Jensen, 2008, 25).

While Jensen (2008, 25) sees this current trend from an era to content scarcity to an era of content abundance as a “revolutionary shift,” a “cultural U-turn so extreme it’s hard to comprehend,” he also eschews determinism by stipulating that this “is a transformation we can influence.” One key avenue of influence entails invention and refinement of what Jensen calls “authority 3.0” metrics – sophisticated instruments that track and measure knowledge creation and dissemination in ways that blend traditional “authority 1.0” principles such as peer review with newfangled digital tools like Reference Finder (a National Academies Press “fuzzy matching” search tool) and Microsoft’s Photosynth.

How does this relate to the world of policy debate? Certainly the new metrics present tools for debaters to measure the credibility of online publications, a task that is becoming increasingly salient as digital material increasingly finds its way into contest rounds (see e.g. Alderete, 2009; Phillips, 2009). But there are also other connections. Jensen’s brother was a successful high school debater under Randy McCutcheon at East High School in Lincoln, Nebraska, so Jensen knows all about inherency, index cards and spewdown delivery. And in the debate community’s early efforts at collaborative online knowledge production (such as DebateResults, Planet Debate, and caselist wikis), Jensen sees seeds of new metrics of scholarly authority.

Consider what takes place in a debate tournament contest round, one held under today’s conditions of digitally networked transparency. Debaters present their research on both sides of a given topic, citing evidence to support their claims. Those claims (and increasingly, the precise citations or exact performative elements supporting them) are often transcribed and then uploaded to a publicly available digital archive. The yield is a remarkably intricate and detailed map of a whole set of interwoven policy controversies falling under the rubric of yearlong national policy debate resolution. Who cares about this? Of course debaters and forensics specialists preparing for the next tournament take interest, as the map provides a navigational tool that leverages preparation for future contests. But recall the CSIS JY (2009) pitch to college debaters and forensics specialists researching nuclear weapons policy: “There will be a demand for your expertise in the policy analysis comm
unity.” Let us reflect on how this demand could manifest, and how intercollegiate debate might meet it halfway.

* Professional training. On a most basic level, the CSIS JY “public merits” case for the nuclear weapons policy topic area is colored by the legacy of William Taylor, former vice president and now senior adviser at CSIS. Taylor created a fellowship program that brought recently graduated intercollegiate debaters to Washington, D.C. for work at his highly influential security think tank. Since 1997, a host of former debaters have utilized their debate research skills in applied policy analysis for CSIS, often on nuclear issues. Meanwhile, other former debaters have ascended to prominent posts in academia, where they often mentor scholars on nuclear policy. In this respect, debate training on nuclear policy today might result in career advancement in a research field tomorrow, where there is “demand” for the unique type of skill-set honed in the crucible of debate competition. These types of opportunities could be cultivated further by through informal recruitment channels, inf
ormation exchange, and perhaps development of additional fellowship programs modeled on the CSIS Taylor initiative.

* Digital debate archive (DDA) as a public research resource. With refinement (perhaps through incorporation of Django, GeNIe and SMILE web tools), online caselist wikis could be transformed into publicly accessible databases designed to provide policy-makers, journalists, and others resources for interactive study of the nuclear weapons policy controversy. Let’s say a reporter for the Global Security Newswire is following the START arms control beat. She could visit the DDA and not only pull up hundreds of the contest rounds where arms control was debated; she could click through to find out how certain teams deployed similar arguments, which citations were getting the most play, which sources were cited most frequently by winning teams, and which citations on arms control were new at the last tournament. Such post-mortem analysis of the debate process could enable non-debaters to “replay the chess match” that took place at unintelligible speed during a given contest round (
Jensen, 2009; see also Woods, et al., 2006).

* Authority 3.0 metrics. The marriage of a DDA with Jon Bruschke’s ingenious DebateResults online resource could pave the way for a host of new statistical measures with great salience for a wide array of audiences. Internally, the debate community could benefit from development of a new set of measures and corresponding rewards associated with research outcomes. Who are the most productive individual researchers in the nation? The most original? Which debater or forensics specialist has the greatest “research impact factor” (a possible metric measuring the persons whose arguments tend to be picked up and replicated most by others in contest round competition). A system for tracking and publishing answers to these questions could open up a new symbolic reward economy, with potential to counter the drift toward sportification entailed in strict tournament-outcome oriented reward structure. The same system could be used to track frequency and mode of source citations, yielding
statistics that could answer such questions as: Which experts on nuclear weapons policy are cited most frequently in contest rounds? Which experts are cited most broadly (on a wide range of sub-topics)? When a given expert is sided by one side, who are the experts most likely to be cited by the opposing side? Scholars are increasingly using similar data to document their research impact during professional reviews (see Meho, 2007). Since the intercollegiate policy debate is driven by an intellectual community committed to the rigorous standards of evidence analysis and argument testing, a strong case could be made that citation in that community is more meaningful than an website hit indicating that a scholar’s work product was viewed by an anonymous person browsing the Internet (this is a good example of the difference between a 3.0 and 2.0 scholarly metric).

* Publication of policy analysis. One exemplar of this mode of engagement comes from the 1992-1993 intercollegiate policy debate season, when the University of Texas extended its advocacy of a Flood Action Plan affirmative case beyond the contest round grid: “The skills honed during preparation for and participation in academic debate can be utilized as powerful tools in this regard. Using sophisticated research, critical thinking, and concise argument presentation, argumentation scholars can become formidable actors in the public realm, advocating on behalf of a particular issue, agenda, or viewpoint. For competitive academic debaters, this sort of advocacy can become an important extension of a long research project culminating in a strong personal judgment regarding a given policy issue and a concrete plan to intervene politically in pursuit of those beliefs. For example, on the 1992-93 intercollegiate policy debate topic dealing with U.S. development assistance policy, th
e University of Texas team ran an extraordinarily successful affirmative case that called for the United States to terminate its support for the Flood Action Plan, a disaster-management program proposed to equip the people of Bangladesh to deal with the consequences of flooding. During the course of their research, Texas debaters developed close working links with the International Rivers Network, a Berkeley-based social movement devoted to stopping the Flood Action Plan. These links not only created a fruitful research channel of primary information to the Texas team; they helped Texas debaters organize sympathetic members of the debate community to support efforts by the International Rivers Network to block the Flood Action Plan. The University of Texas team capped off an extraordinary year of contest round success arguing for a ban on the Flood Action Plan with an activist project in which team members supplemented contest round advocacy with other modes of political org
anizing. Specifically, Texas debaters circulated a petition calling for suspension of the Flood Action Plan, organized channels of debater input to ‘pressure points’ such as the World Bank and U.S. Congress, and solicited capital donations for the International Rivers Network. In a letter circulated publicly to multiple audiences inside and outside the debate community, Texas assistant coach Ryan Goodman linked the arguments of the debate community to wider public audiences by explaining the enormous competitive success of the ban Flood Action Plan affirmative on the intercollegiate tournament circuit. The debate activity, Goodman wrote, ‘brings a unique aspect to the marketplace of ideas. Ideas most often gain success not through politics, the persons who support them, or through forcing out other voices through sheer economic power, but rather on their own merit’ (1993). To emphasize the point that this competitive success should be treated as an important factor in public
policy-making, Goodman compared the level of rigor and intensity of debate research and preparation over the course of a year to the work involved in completion of masters’ thesis” (Mitchell, 1998).

Regarding the latter engagement mode, publication of policy analysis, it is illuminating to compare the 1992-1993 Texas Flood Action Plan initiative with Justin Skarb’s recent publication of debate-related research on solar-powered satellites with Space Review. While the work products stemming from both projects evince a level of polish and detail that is de rigueur for advocates trained in the art of policy debate, there are significant differences. One significant difference concerns representation of authorship status to external audiences, with the Texas project backed by the actual identities of the debaters and forensics specialists who worked on the development assistance topic, and the Skarb piece carrying the pseudonym “John Marburry” (replete with fictitious qualifications). Although use of pen names by authors is uncommon, it is sometimes justified under special circumstances, and even celebrated in fantastic cases. However, in these exceptional instances (e.g. for
mer CIA analyst Michael Scheuer’s publication of a book by Brassey’s as “anonymous”), usually readers gain confidence that the editor knows the author’s real identity, and sanctions use of a pen name for a justified reason. As Space Review editor Jeff Foust’s account attests, this did not appear to be the case in the Skarb affair:

“I added the note crediting Skarb the same day the article was originally published (April 27), after getting a request to do so from ‘Marburry’ (he said that the omission was an oversight because ‘neither of them’ were sure the article would even be published, and that if it was not possible to do so it was fine with him.)  At the time I had no reason to believe that Marburry was not who he said he was, or that he was the same person as Skarb.  I am waiting to hear back from Marburry/Skarb regarding this situation.” (Foust, 2009)

A second level of distinction is that the Texas project transparently links contest round research with public advocacy, drawing explicitly upon the academic debate experience to ground public claims regarding undesirability of the Flood Action Plan. In contrast, the Skarb piece is opaque with respect to its origin as a work product flowing from debate research on the 2008-2009 interscholastic alternative energy topic. The result of such opacity is a missed opportunity for Skarb to highlight the methodology of debate as constitutive of his work product, an aspect that CSIS JY suggests may be especially appealing for external audiences.

To more fully unpack this final point, it may be useful to revisit David Zarefsky’s (1972, 1979) theory of academic debate as hypothesis testing. During the heyday of policy debate’s “paradigm wars,” hypothesis testing had its share of adherents, some in the judging ranks who applied the paradigm as a tool for adjudication of individual contest rounds, and others in the debating ranks, who used the paradigm to justify certain argumentative strategies (e.g. multiple, conditional and contradictory negative counterplans).

Lost in this process of reduction was Zarefsky’s vision of academic debate as a vehicle to transport the theory and practice of argumentation to wider society (see e.g. Sillars & Zarefsky, 1975; Zarefsky, 1980). Hypothesis testing, in this wider frame, was a construct for establishing the gravitas and authority of forensics specialists in conversations about the nature of argumentation beyond the contest round setting. Here, the analogy linking debate to scientific hypothesis testing was not designed to show how debate itself was a scientific process, but rather to alert external audiences to the fact that academic debate, while deviating significantly from established patterns of scientific inquiry, features its own set of rigorous procedures for the testing of argumentative hypothesis. Skarb missed a chance to leverage his claims regarding solar power satellite policy by making a similar point, an oversight that future attempts of a similar sort might do well to bear in min


Alderete, T. (2009). Just musings and questions. Standards for Evidence thread. website. May 13.

CSIS JY. (2009). Nuclear policy topic paper — draft. April 23. Cross Examination Debate Association website. Online at

Foust, J. (2009). Personal correspondence with the author. May 14.

Jensen, M. (2007). The new metrics of scholarly authority. Chronicle of Higher Education, June 15. Online at:

Jensen, M. (2008). Scholarly authority in the age of abundance: Retaining relevance within the new landscape. Keynote address at the JSTOR Annual Participating Publisher’s Conference. May 13. Online at:

Jensen, M. (2009). Personal correspondence with the author. February 27.

Marburry, J. (2009). Space-based solar power: right here, right now? Space Review, April 27. Online at:

Meho, L.I. (2007). The rise and rise of citation analysis. Physics World, January, 32-36.

Mitchell, G.R. (1998). Pedagogical possibilities for argumentative agency in academic debate. Argumentation & Advocacy, 35, 41-60.

Phillips, S. (2009). SPS article controversy. The 3NR: A Collaborative Blog about High School Policy Debate. May 11. Online at:

Sillars, M.O. & D. Zarefsky. (1975). Future goals and roles of forensics. In J.H. McBath (Ed.), Forensics as communication: The argumentative perspective (pp. 83-93). Skokie, Illinois: National Textbook Company.

Woods, C., Brigham, M., Konishi, T., Heavner, B. Rief, J., Saindon, B., & Mitchell, G.R. (2006). Deliberating debate’s digital futures. Contemporary Argumentation and Debate, 27, 81-105.

Zarefsky, D. (1972). A reformulation of the concept of presumption. Paper presented at the Central States Speech Association Convention. April 7. Chicago, Illinois.

Zarefsky, D. (1979). Argument as hypothesis-testing. In David A. Thomas (Ed.), Advanced debate: Readings in theory, practice and teaching (pp. 427-437). Skokie, Illinois: National Textbook Company.

Zarefsky, D. (1980). Argumentation and forensics. In J. Rhodes & S. Newell (Eds.), Proceedings of the summer conference on argumentation (pp. 20-25). Annandale, Virginia: Speech Communication Association.


March 30, 2009

Black Participation in CEDA 20 Years Later?

Filed under: Academics,Debate,Research — bk2nocal @ 10:44 am

Peter Loge wrote this paper in 1990 for the Speech Communication Assocation conference.  It seems that this coming year would be a good time to revisit it – two decades later.  With Towson teams deep in outrounds at both CEDA Nationals and the NDT, but without the changes suggested in Peter Loge’s paper in place on a large scale, have we improved?  And if we have not made major improvements, were Peter Loge’s suggestions inappropriate or just not instituted on a large scale?  Some interesting questions and possibilities for research this coming year!

March 16, 2009

Back from Birth and PDF to Word Computer

Filed under: Debate,NFA LD,Research,Technology — bk2nocal @ 5:08 pm

So, I was due to have a baby on April 12, but she decided to arrive about seven weeks early!  Mackenzie Claire was born on February 19 at 32 weeks and 4 days…I was in the hospital for about a week and she was in for three, but we are both at home and doing pretty well now.  Being more-or-less without tech for a number of weeks made me realize how much I appreciate it!  So, I thought I would share a tech idea with you all today!

For those of you who, when cutting evidence, find it totally frustrating when a PDF will not transfer to Word for your purposes, I have found this free PDF to Word converter.  I have not tried it yet, but it comes recommended by CSU Chico’s Technology & Learning Blog, so it should work pretty well.

Enjoy!  And good luck to everyone at the various national tournaments coming up in the next few weeks!

June 27, 2008

Series: Web 2.0 for Forensics – Part I

I’ve been trying to incorporate a little more of the web 2.0 programs in my academic life, and this has led me to consider the way these same programs can be used for forensics.  So, I am going to start brainstorming ideas for using different tech to make our forensics lives easier and turn them into a series of blogs.  I’m sure that many of these are already being used by those who are more advanced in the web 2.0 experience than I am, but hopefully it may spark some ideas for you to expand your technological helpers for forensics.  Please feel free to post any additional items in the comments section and the series will continue on a weekly-or-so basis and as other items strike my fancy!

This first blog in the series will include wikis, facebook and


I began using a wiki in my Argumentation and Debate class last semester to collect the evidence that students turned in.  I had them turn in the evidence on the wiki on a page with their name on it.  This allowed me to collect evidence without having to carry around a bunch of papers, make corrections to the materials electronically, and be sure that they were doing the evidence assignments electronically.  In addition, the students could search through all of the evidence from the class using the “search” function on the wiki.  So, when they were constructing affirmatives and negatives, they could easily do word searches on the topic they were working on and get all the different evidence found by their classmates.

I am also starting a wiki for our team.  This will be a clearinghouse of information, where I can post tournament invitations, articles for debate or speech topic ideas, results from tournaments, pictures from tournaments, etc.  Individuals on the team can have access to add things themselves.  It makes it so much easier than having a file cabinet in my office or an in-basket as everyone has immediate access from wherever they are. I think this will make things much easier on me and the students.


I was late coming to Facebook.  In all honesty, I avoided it like the plague for the past few years.  But, I am a convert.  I am convinced that this is the new email.  The listservs of the 90s changed the face of forensics, with national participants able to communicate with everyone else in the nation in one message and with quick response.  Facebook allows that same level of communication, but adds so much more of a personalized exchange and a way to access those who don’t even know you exist.  I am going to focus on using facebook as a recruiting and PR tool, because that has been my experience with it so far.

Facebook is one of the most popular social networking programs in the world.  If someone isn’t on Facebook at this point, they probably will be in the next five years.  One of the first things I did when I got on Facebook was form a group for “Past and Present Members of CSU Chico Forensics” and invite everyone I knew who was on or had been on the team in the past.  From there, they informed their friends and others requested membership.  Now, I have a single location to post information and requests for alumni whenever I have something.  In addition, I have been contacted by incoming freshman who found the group and are interested in joining the team when they get here in September.  Its an easy way to get the information out that used to require a ton of posters and flyers and visits to classrooms, etc.  I look forward to using Facebook as a PR tool next year as well.


If you have not used, you probably have seen it on the bottom of an article or blog you have read.  It is a tool that appears across the web and allows you and your students easy access to collecting information.  It is a “social bookmarking” program, that allows one person to bookmark articles and then make those bookmarked articles available to a group of people.  The program uses “tags” to identify the important information in the article (answers the “why did you bookmark this article?”) so you can search by tags an find all the pertinent articles on that subject.  Using you and your students can create a “webliography” of speech topics or debate topic articles that can then be easily accessible by everyone on the team.

I have to admit I have not used much, but I just read a blog on using it as a learning tool and it inspired me to consider using it for the team this semester.

There are a TON of different tools out there for incorporating web 2.0 into education and therefore forensics.  I think the key is to consider a few things before starting to use any of these tools:

(1)  What is this going to SAVE me having to do in the future?  If the answer is nothing, than it may not be worth it.  After all, we all have way too much to do to be adding things on to that list.  But, if its going to save you some time and effort in the future (e.g. using the wiki to post invitations saves printing, copying, etc. of schedules for the students – they can just log on and get it themselves whenever they want – all I have to do is post a link) than its worthwhile to learn a new skill or introduce a new routine.

(2)  How difficult is this going to be to use?  Is this something you or your students are already using for other purposes.  So, Facebook makes sense to me versus finding another social networking program because most of my students are already there, most of my recruits will be on there and many of my colleagues are/will be on there.  So, why use a different program that requires an additional logon, an additional post, and learning new methods of posting, groups, etc.?

(3)  Is this really adding value?  Sometimes I tend to use tech for tech’s sake.  I’m just fascinated by new things and since I can remember a time when most people didn’t own a computer, I am amazed at the access to information and different gadgets/programs we now have.  But, I often have to ask myself whether what I’m doing is really adding value to my life/academic experience or whether it is just something that is catching my eye.  I guess this is kind of the same as #1, but I think of it more as asking if it adds something of value to my life.  So, even if it doesn’t save me having to do something, if its something I find enjoyable or attractive or fun, I am more likely to continue doing it in the future.  If it doesn’t do any of that for me, than I’m probably going to spend a bunch of time learning how to use it, etc. and then not come back to it often enough to make it worth my while.

Look for Part II, where I’ll go googly over Google – docs, reader and calendar!

January 10, 2008

Debatepedia – Take a look!

Filed under: Debate,Information literacy,Instructional Ideas,Research — bk2nocal @ 11:41 pm

This message appeared on edebate this week and I thought I would pass it on to those of you who may not be on that listserv.  I took a look at it and I think it would be helpful for your classes, parliamentary debaters, as well as novice policy debaters!  Thanks Brooks!

I would like to introduce to you, “the Wikipedia of debate”. Debatepedia offers citizens the opportunity to volunteer their intellect as editors on the site, for the purpose of building an encyclopedia of debates, arguments, and evidence that helps thousands of other citizens deliberate on complicated public debates. Have a look, and please consider volunteering your time to this important social cause.

Brooks Lindsay, Founder and Editor of Debatepedia.

December 4, 2007

Importance of research on forensics – A DOF Perspective

Filed under: Academics,Communication Studies,Forensics - General,Research — bk2nocal @ 1:02 pm

A few posts ago, I posted the link to an article discussing the importance of research to the graduate student assistants who work with forensics teams.  In that same issue of the National Forensic Journal, an article discussed the importance of research from a Director of Forensics perspective.  Robert C. Aden, former Director at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire included the following reasons that research in speech and debate is valuable for reasons other than just achieving tenure:

  • “…forensics research assists coaches by offering perspectives for approaching the various events.”   I think this is of particular importance to someone like me.  I have competed at least a few times in every type of event, but I have obviously invested much more time in debate than any of the individual events.  This puts me at a disadvantage when coaching IE competitors in the same way that having a primarily IE background puts someone at a disadvantage when coaching debate, even if they have a limited debate background.  I think that there are some great panels at conferences and coach’s workshops on much of this, but I would love to have access to that same material in print or online via video.  Although many do not think of this as “research” – doing a comprehensive examination of judge’s preferences for certain arguments or speech structures would produce really valuable information.  We make a lot of assumptions about what judges want from our competitors, but in the end, they are just that – assumptions.  And we all know what assumptions make us.
  • “…forensics research provides a valuable resource for students.”   Although this particular point is not as important in the age of internet and listservs, I do think that a more formal outlet for some of the discussions that take place in online forums would be helpful.  For example, there are some really valuable conversations (some might say arguments) that take place about debate theory on both edebate and netbenefits, but many of those discussions seem to fade away without offering anyone but the most avid and dedicated reader any conclusive advice on argumetnative choices.  Someone who was able to take those discussions and structure them into a useful article would be providing an invaluable service to the community.  Even better, someone who could take those discussions and pull out key areas for exploration via a more structured research effort could have a lasting effect on our community. 
  • “…forensics research enhances student and coach understanding of the connection between theory and practice.”  As the author points out, this was particularly important for debate at that time, although some individual events did include this type of discussion.  There is much grumbling about forensics having “lost its way” from some administrations across the country.  Some programs are having to do “hard sells” to continue funding or bring back funding that has been lost in the past.  Being able to provide quality, up-to-date research tied to other areas of the Communication field can not hurt in these discussions.  Through a demonstration of current forensics and the way that current theory is being applied in the activity, one may have an easier time justifying Communication departments handing over some of those difficult-to-come-by dollars. 

These are pretty general ideas, but they are good reminders of WHY we should continue our efforts at research in the different areas of forensics. 

November 21, 2007

Research on forensics – a little inspiration

Filed under: Academics,Communication Studies,Debate,Forensics - General,Research — bk2nocal @ 11:39 pm

A few days ago, I posted an article from the National Forensic Journal on how to effectively do research on forensics.  Although the article was from 1990, I thought much of it was still valuable information.  Another article in that same issue of the Journal also has some valuable insights into doing research on forensics, so I thought I would include it here as well.  Written by The Head Jayhawk, Donn Parson, this article updates information that came out of a conference from the 1970s, “The Sedalia Conference”.  The article, “On publishing and perishing: Some approaches in forensic research,” does an excellent job of recognizing and identifying what Parson refers to as, “non-traditional circumstances” that are experienced by forensic coaches and adminstrators (and often not at all understood by academic peers).  The next time someone says, “I just don’t get what you do,” it might be good to excerpt this article.

The other thing I liked about the article is that it is written by someone in charge of a very respected graduate studies program in Communication (University of Kansas) and very clearly identifies the benefits and importance of debate in both the careers of undergraduates and graduates.  If nothing else, perhaps this article can serve as an inspiration to someone who is teetering on the edge of a debate position in graduate school or a debate career in academia.  I will certainly be putting it in my files under “inspiration” to remind me why I do the things I do and what makes it worthwhile!

November 17, 2007

Forensics Research – What NOT to do (and some things you should do)

Research is important.  It is important to our activities, it is important to our professional positions and it is particularly important to our graduate students.  Many students who devote a significant amount of time to this activity look to include the activity in their graduate research projects.  After all, it offers them an easy audience from whom to collect data, it is something that interests them and sometimes they even see some value to others in having answers to the questions that have been rattling around in their heads.  I definitely think research on our activity is important.  Many of us make assumptions about what “we know to be true” without having any real data to back those assumptions up.  In my argument class, as well as the debates I judge most weekends, this would not pass muster.  So, we need studies to be done.  But, I think its important that we consider those studies and make sure that academic research within our area are just as (or even more) legitimate as that being done in other areas.  I came across this (somewhat old) article and thought it might be useful in guiding research for both graduate students and professionals in debate. 

The four areas for focusing research:  (1) real world application, (2) argumentation theory, (3) forensics pedagogy, and (4) tournament practice.  It seems to me that many edebate discussions are rife with information to spur some research in these areas.  Using the archives, perhaps one can find something that interests them and use it as a jumping off point to create a study and complete that study in such a way that it has real world and meaningful application theory, pedagogy and/or practice.

October 11, 2007

University administrators: Do they value speech and debate? 16 years later…

Filed under: Debate,Forensics - General,Funding issues,Research — bk2nocal @ 11:05 pm

An article in the 1991 edition of the National Forensic Journal by Robert Littlefield looked at the results of surveys sent to each school listed as a member of the Speech Communication Association, gathering information including: “demographic information about the institution, the status of forensic activities on the campus, and the levels of support for forensic programs.”  I found this particular study to be something that would provide valuable information to those of us currently participating in forensics.  The support area of the survey asked administrators to identify barriers to maintaining/expanding forensic programs as well as what THEY see as the benefits of the program to their schools and universities.  This would not only provide some interesting information, but may finally give us some more straightforward and meaningful answers to the age old question of why programs die.  There have been a number of claims made – from budgets, to lack of interest due to the difficulty inherent in the activity, to the topic or speed of talking in policy debate.  It would be great to hear directly from administrators, what drives them to support or not support the programs on their campuses. 

So – someone looking to do some survey research and contribute valuable information to the speech and debate community, this could be the research for you!  The original 1991 article is available at:

October 7, 2007

CEDA 40 – A Research Initiative

Filed under: Academics,Debate,Research — bk2nocal @ 5:14 pm

This post went out on edebate in early September, but I missed posting it here on the blog.  Gordon Stables, 2nd VP for CEDA as of this year, is rallying our members for research on our activity.  In the interest of maintaining his message, I am simply pasting it below.  It is my intent to provide in this space research ideas for such efforts.  I have posted a couple of old published articles that I think would be interesting to revisit via research and I’m sure there are a ton more of those.  The activity has also gone through dramatic changes in the past decade, so there is ripe material for new and different examinations.  Gordon provides some great categories for people to consider.  I encourage you all, students and coaches alike, to consider getting involved in proposing and completing some research.  I was lucky enough to have this type of encouragement from Pat Gehrke (Grad Asst coach at Chico when I was competing, now faculty member at U. of South Carolina) when I was an undergraduate and it helped me to get onto panels as an undergraduate and even get an article published in a forensics journal as an undergraduate.  This is great material for those graduate school applications and great practice for professional presentations in the future.  Here begins Gordon’s email:

If past practice is any indication, once the topic is announced the discussion will focus on more immediate questions and analysis. Before we, as a group, make that adjustment let me introduce a significant research and analysis process to our membership. In just a few years (2011) CEDA will celebrate its 40th anniversary. One of the primary tasks of the 2nd VP is to coordinate research conducted at the CEDA Nationals tournament and through the organization’s efforts. It is my belief that my beginning an organized campaign now we will have a process that will allow the organization to have acted on those ideas before it turns 40. That project is something called CEDA-40.

I am not a fan of totalizing historical comparisons about debate, but it is hard to dispute we do precious little to analyze our own activity in any organized form and then share those insights with the larger community. Throughout the history of organized intercollegiate debate a variety of written forms existed to let the community learn and share from each other. Some were formal, refereed journals and some took the form of articles in handbooks. I suspect among many of us learned not only from the people we interacted with, but also by reading the work of some very talented people. In order to have a truly proud celebration of CEDA we need to take the time to apply our impressive analytical and research skills inward, even if just for a short time.

I do not romanticize the idea that we can, or should, encourage our diverse community to narrow their efforts into a single rigid professional discipline. The fact that we all have different professional relationships to debate does not, however, mean we cannot take time to examine the activity we care do deeply about and then share those conclusions. When I first became involved in the topic process I was amazed how much research and analysis our community produces each year. Last year on the court topic, for example, dozens of folks contributed hundreds upon hundreds of pages of research analysis. Ever had that moment where you google a debate subject and find a wording or controversy paper? I think it is time for the community to google our practices, institutions, and goals and have the same success. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, alum, professor, professional coach, volunteer, attorney, parent or just an interested party – we need to rebuild our collective community knowledge base.

For easy reading here are some questions and answers about this initiative.

What is CEDA 40?
A collection of community research and opinion organized into a strategic planning document. The document will:
1. Conceptualize important challenges and opportunities confronting the CEDA community
2. Begin to develop reforms designed to promote the organization’s goals in time for the organization’s 40th anniversary (in 2011)
In other words, it is a collection of original perspectives and research by the CEDA community. This document is an organized means of allowing the community to learn to the experiences, perspectives and research by other community members.

What kind of topics should people research and analyze?
This is the question to be determined by you as members of our community. Instead of relying on informal conversation, momentary chats on edebate or other informal forms, this process gives people the opportunity to take a more orderly and well-developed assessment. Some of the possible areas for analysis include:

· The Organizations that make up the community (CEDA, NDT, ADA, AFA, etc.)

The procedures, practices, leadership structure, schedules, etc.
· Our Competitive Practices

Tournaments, Judging, Argumentative Practices
· Membership (The CEDA Community)

Schools, Coaches, Debaters – Who are these populations? How are they changing?
What form should these efforts take?
· Summaries of current practices

Once upon a time vicious battles raged over debate theory in journals and other sites. There are occasional posts, but we could certainly use some contemporary means of assessing the desirability of argumentative trends.
· Statistical analysis (metrics or surveys)

How much debate is there in a given season? Do we know much bigger or smaller a region is in the last decade? Do shorter topic wordings produce greater novice retention? Are there positive or negative trends in nature of gender participation? We see lots of opinions, but much less in the way of orderly analysis. We have the wonderful tool of debateresults to allow folks to build these research questions from several years worth of data. There are, of course, earlier records that may provide interesting points of comparisons.
· Case studies

There are plenty of occasions where conventional wisdom is produced by the most basic of information. We have amazing folks in the community who have started programs, re-started programs, helped them expand, and yes, seen programs wither and die. What happened? What makes the difference? I know there are about 1,000,000,000 edebate posts on the subject but what about a 5 page detailed explanation about how the successes or failure took place by a debater or coach involved in that effort?
· Reaction (editorial) essays

Perhaps you would like the opportunity to write a lengthy defense of the organizations goals, missions, or trends. Perhaps you have experiences with teaching, recruitment or recruitment that you would like to share. Maybe you just want to rant. Here is your chance.
· Reform proposals

When I witnessed the discussion of NDT redistricting a few years ago one I was unprepared to appreciate how much of our planning is directed at short-term efforts. By necessity we are all worried about the next topic, the next season, the next tournament, the next class, the next meeting, the next paycheck, time with our family, sleep, etc. There are plenty of items that can and should be debated for reform in the near-term, but there are also some fundamental questions that cannot (and shouldn’t be) done at the last minute. Do you think we should fundamentally revisit some form of how we organize, compete or teach? We need the type of developed proposals that can serve as the foundation for important efforts.

Submitted materials will be organized and included in an edited volume that thematically organizes the materials. It will be produced as a free, publicly available e-book. Thanks to the cooperation of incoming CEDA journal editor Al Louden, outstanding submissions will be considered for inclusion in a future issue of Contemporary Argumentation and Debate: The Journal of the Cross Examination Debate Association.
The deadline for submissions in December 15, 2008. This gives everyone almost 18 months to develop, plan and produce research. This also allows individuals, or groups, to conduct research at the 2007 CEDA Nationals tournament. This will allow a number of 2009 events to be influence by this research product. It will be available in time to influence the development of the 2009 NCA Panels, the 2009 Summer Argument in Alta (which is bi-annual) as well as the business meetings of both CEDA and the NDT.

This is a call for everyone involved with the CEDA community to find the time between now and December of 2008 to stop, reflect and add to the body of knowledge that makes up our activity. Maybe you like summarizing and explaining current practices. Great. Maybe you want to analyze the demographics of a specific tournament or region. Awesome. Maybe you have some ideas abut how to restructure our organizational or regional processes. Wonderful.

Tomorrow the topic will be out and the next set of urgencies will fill all of our lives. I am not asking anyone to write a report this weekend. I am asking that everyone stop and assess if you can add to the body of knowledge that our community relies upon. I will regularly post and encourage participation, but please consider taking part. This is your community and it needs a small fraction of the research and analytical skills that we possess.

Thanks for reading.

Gordon Stables, Ph.D.
Director of Debate and Forensics
Annenberg School for Communication
University of Southern California
Office: 213 740 2759 Fax: 213 740 3913

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