analysis (2)

This is an issue that many debaters struggle with, especially when both sides are using research that seems to support their side but from different sources. For example with the Spring 2016 topic, that China should introduce a Carbon Tax,  a lot of debaters argued "Country X's carbon tax doesn't apply to this debate because it's not China and so it's not relevant!" This argument annoys me, and I think that in its most basic form, it isn’t valid. It's only valid when made in the presence of specific, detailed analysis.

There's an idea called the "principle of relevant difference" which is that you should only treat two things differently if there is an important difference between them. This is actually a very obvious and common-sense idea. If I asked you to choose between a plate of salad and a plate of dog poop, you would choose the salad. If I asked you to choose between a plate of dog poop and a plate of cat poop, you wouldn't care which one. Dog poop is different from cat poop, but that difference isn't important in this context: they're both disgusting.

So you can only dismiss an example from a different context if there's a good reason why it doesn't apply: a relevant difference. The key assumption of a carbon tax are that if prices go up, demand will go down. This is a basic economic law and I cannot think of a single country where this law is false.

In fact, it is often better to make predictions based on analogous cases than based on the case you are planning for. InThinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman calls these "The outside view" and "The inside view". Governments, for example, consistently underestimate the time and money required to for big projects like railway systems. Kahneman shows that looking at the time and money required to do a similar project in a different country gives better estimates than building up your own estimate based on what you know about your project. When asking a question with a quantifiable answer, taking the outside view–-studying other cases–-is actually more accurate if there is a collection of reference cases available to consider.

If you want to say that Sweden or Denmark or Ireland's carbon taxes are different, you will have to work harder than that. You will have to do more than just say "but it's a different country!". I admit this argument will work on unprepared debaters–I have watched it defeat them many times–but you need a way to beat strong debaters too, and strong debaters will not fold so easily.


Denmark is more windy than most countries, both in Europe and around the world. Besides this, winds are stronger off of the coast, and Denmark has a high ratio of coastline to interior land. Because of this, Denmark has a lot of land where windmills will return a lot of energy and therefore money compared to the price of building them. In other words, Denmark has special access to cheap wind power which other countries do not. Since Denmark's alternative energy miracle would not have happened without wind power, this shows that Denmark's success doesn't apply to any other country. This sort of argument would be sufficient to disqualify Denmark.


By the way, this is a very portable lesson. All sorts of debate topics are full of example cases, and those example cases are always different from what you're proposing. Otherwise, the resolution would propose that we do something we are doing right now! In every topic, remember the principle of relevant difference, and use it to separate good examples from bad ones.


Of course, you can argue the reverse. You can argue that examples should be assumed to be irrelevant until they are proven to be relevant by showing relevant similarities. This strategy was used successfully by the winning team in the final round at Dalian. But this approach is a double-edged sword: it can hurt you as much as your opponents. They can say that the same rule applies to the examples in your case.


This is a specific instance of a general lesson: if your opponents impose a tough standard on you, impose it right back! If your opponents complain that your evidence is too old, make sure all of their evidence is newer. If they demand that your impacts be countable and specific, demand the same of them! Or attack the standard and argue that neither team should have to follow it. But never agree to have the debate under a set of rules that disadvantages you.

Originally posted by Evan Streams on the NHSDLC Website

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What is analysis?

“More analysis” has become a bit of a cliché in giving debating feedback, but its almost always true that the team who does the most wins the debate. But what actually is it?

At its simplest, analysis is “telling the judges why what you say is true.” 

The opposite is an assertion. So if I say that “If we do this people will be happier” that's an assertion. If I say “When we do this it will cause A, A will cause B because of C, […...] and then X will happen which will make people happy because Z.” See what I mean?

Metaphors I find useful are building links in a chain, or piling bricks on top of each other. A lego house made of small bricks connected together and reinforcing one another is going to be stronger than a loose pile. 

Saying more words, or saying longer words, isn't the same thing as analysis. 

Explaining something in a roundabout rambling way that doesn't actually include the important content of what you are saying. Just because you've talked about something for four minutes doesn't meant you have actually explained what it is in any level of detail. "A then B then C" is different from "A! C! !B Z! A!"

Long and technical words may make you sound clever, but they don't actually make what you are saying any better unless they are explained or bring something extra with them. "The economically disenfranchised are systematically excluded from the political discourse" doesn't actually tell me anything more than "poor people don't have much power in politics."

Strategically deploying analysis 

Now you obviously don't need to do a huge amount of analysis for every claim you make, you can probably get away with saying “water is wet” or “death is bad” without much explanation. And in the limited amount of time you have to speak you need to strategically decide which of your points need to be analysed more. So you focus your time on points the other side are likely to oppose.

So your opponent will be more likely to question a point that is important to the debate (e.g. free speech is an inherent right). This also means that a point that doesn't need analysis in some debates will need a lot in others, so in a debate on military intervention people are unlikely to question that death is bad, but in one on bioethics they might say it either isn't bad in itself or less bad than other things.

On the flip side, if I spend half my speech proving in detail that "Democracy is good" and my opponent doesn't contest that, but contests how well my method achieves democracy then my analysis won't really help me win.

Proving importance

With any point the two things you need to prove to the judges are: 
1) Why is this true 
2) Why is this important. 
(Though admittedly the boundary between them is often fuzzy).

We've already talked about proving why something is true, and proving why it is important works the same way. Often its easier to prove importance than truth since its often more intuitively obvious, ("X will cause a civil war" is a difficult thing to prove, "civil war is bad" is easier). You may also have to prove why something is more important than another thing, which is normally called "Comparative" but that needs a separate article.

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