John Harper's Posts (15)

What is AI?

The precise definition of artificial intelligence (AI) is disputed among researchers in the technology industry. Some common questions asked by researchers are ones like: What distinguishes AI from other computational software? What does it mean for a being or a computer to be intelligent?

It is important to think about these questions as you conduct research for your cases, but the following standard is broadly accepted in the field. An AI system can identify patterns in large, complex data sets without explicit programming instructions, and use those patterns to respond to changes in its environment. Based on this definition, a robot that performs a repetitive task on a car assembly line does not qualify as AI, while a self-driving car does.

The computer program AlphaGo is another illustrative example of AI. Created by Google DeepMind, AlphaGo defeated the human grandmaster of the complex strategy game Go in 2016. AlphaGo analyzed millions of games to identify successful strategies, and was able to apply its learned knowledge in the context of a live game.

Today, AI systems have narrow applications. But researchers at Google and other technology companies hope to develop “Artificial General Intelligence”: systems that mimic human sentience, and can perform general tasks in a general context.

Current Applications of AI

One of the more visible applications of AI that has been in development for the last few years is self-driving (autonomous) cars. Autonomous cars have driven millions of miles on American roads, and they have become better at identifying and avoiding potential hazards. These cars are considered to be safer and much less prone to accidents when compared to human drivers. Individual states in the US are now considering regulations to allow autonomous vehicles to operate on roads without backup drivers.

Another example of AI systems currently being developed are AI systems designed to analyze MRI  and CT scans. It is predicted that they will soon be able to identify diseases more effectively and efficiently than human radiologists. Eventually many functions of diagnosis and health evaluation will be taken over by computers.

AI systems are also being used in many business and government settings to manage large quantities of data. For example, AI can be used to decide payouts on insurance claims. Computer systems have been developed that can look through documents related to a case, take note of relevant information like length of hospital stay and injury type, and use this information to calculate a payout. This information is processed much more quickly and with fewer errors compared to human employees, leading to increased efficiency. In March of this year, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance company replaced the 34 employees that calculated payouts with an AI system based on IBM’s Watson Explorer. The company believes that the AI system will provide a 30 percent increase in efficiency, and a return on their investment within two years.

Social, Political, and Economic Implications of AI

AI poses many of the same threats as mechanical automation, but it is significant in both the number of jobs it could possibly render obsolete, as well as the types of jobs it is eliminating. According to different estimates, approximately half of all jobs could be replaced by computers in the next twenty years. The impact of self driving cars alone could lead to the elimination of entire job categories in the transportation and shipping industries. Further jobs that are threatened by automation include: loan officers, claims adjusters, bond traders, and hospital technicians. Essentially, any job where the task is a repetitive one is at risk of being done by a computer in the future.

Many critics of AI also point to the possible military or surveillance applications of the technology. While the mass collection of personal information has been considered harmful in the past, the combination of these practices with a system capable of analyzing the data in close to real time could allow governments to monitor individuals like never before. For example facial and voice recognition technology, combined with current monitoring techniques such as CCTV could allow a government to track an individual with complete precision.

There is also a fear that data from social media and other sources could be used by governments to create registries of individuals belonging to certain political organizations or religions, aiding in persecution or abuse. A study from Cambridge University showed it was possible in over 80 percent of cases to predict a person’s religion based on what they “liked” on social media. As AI based systems can analyze huge amounts of data from various sources and use it to make predictions, there is a fear that this ability to categorize individuals will only become faster and more accurate.

The Frankenstein Scenario

Some skeptics are not just concerned about the short-term implications of AI. Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Nick Bostrom, and others have argued that the development of super-intelligent machines could pose an existential threat to humanity.

Their argument goes like this. An advanced AI that is given a harmless objective, and is equipped with the ability to constantly self-improve, might develop harmful instrumental goals. This is possible because machines do not have ethical values. In Nick Bostrom’s hyperbolic example, an AI system tasked with manufacturing paperclips might eventually enslave all humans to achieve its goal more efficiently.

Debaters should engage with the Frankenstein scenario, of AI systems turning on their human creators. Naturally, most AI researchers consider it to be ludicrous. Such an AI system capable of this level of complex thought is still probably hundreds of years away, and this system would not necessarily be hostile towards humans.

How far away are we from developing Artificial General Intelligence? Will these systems be controllable? Can protections be built-in?

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Using evidence to win debates

When to use evidence

If you say the sky is green, and your opponent says the sky is blue, even if you backup your claim with what seems like sound reasoning, it might 

still not be believed by the judge. Citing a qualified author at the right moment, or referencing a study when rebutting a point by your opponents can often make the difference between winning and losing a debate.

This doesn’t mean that you have to use a piece of evidence in every argument you make. But as long as what you say is a piece of common knowledge, or your point is backed up by sound logic, evidence is not always necessary. For example if I claim that “Russia and America often disagree about international issues,” that is something that anyone who reads a newspaper would know, so I don’t need evidence. And based on that I use analysis to make predictions about how Russia and America would behave in the security council.

But often facts on their own or or someone’s personal opinion is not enough to win a debate and could be interpreted in a variety of different ways. For example if I argue that, based on my analysis above, the UN Security Council can never get anything done because Russia and China would not agree. Then my opponent could argue that actually they agree on a lot of things. So being able to tell the judge about a piece of evidence from a qualified source could help persuade them. For example, evidence of a time when Russia and America disagreed and it has caused problems. Or a report from an expert on the UN on how the security council works in practice.

What is good evidence?

The evidence you use should be: Fairly recent; from a qualified or relevant source; and sound in its reasoning.

Date: If the research you are citing is ten or twenty years old, many things will have changed so it won’t be very accurate. This varies a little depending on the topic. An article written last year about the Syrian civil war will probably be very out of date, but one on American infrastructure investment is probably still valuable.

Credible sources: Avoid websites like wikipedia or Baidu Baike as these encyclopedias can be edited by just about anyone, whether they are qualified or not. So although they are often accurate it is not guaranteed. Good sources are often newspapers or magazines, academic publications or information from organisations that do research into relevant issues.

Relevant sources: Stephen Hawking is a great physicist, but his opinions on history, politics or economics aren’t necessarily going to be better than an average person’s. The same is true for publications. Many have specialist areas of expertise, but won’t be as good in other areas. 

Reasoning: Just because a source is generally good doesn’t mean it is right about everything. Even smart people and credible publications make mistakes. The Cato institute believes “the UN is bad because it limits individual nations economic sovereignty,” is better than “The Cato institute believes the UN is bad because it's secretly plotting world domination.” It is always more convincing to explain the reasons behind a source’s conclusion than to simply quote it.

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Writing blocks

Students often find the rebuttal speech, and other later speeches in the debate more difficult than the constructive speeches because the speeches require quickly responding to arguments the student has just heard. One way to make this easier is to prepare “blocks”.

A “block” is a prepared bit of speech that you can use in your rebuttal speech in response to an argument. (The name “block” comes form the idea of building a speech out of smaller parts in the same way you might build a house or tower out of blocks.)

If you have prepared both sides of a topic you can make reasonable guesses about what arguments the opponent will make. So you can prepare replies to them in advance. This means you don’t have to think up new arguments in the moment, you can use stuff you have already prepared. 

Let’s say you are preparing to debate “The United Nations is no longer important.” You would start by looking at the sample cases and research, and think of arguments for both sides. Once you have thought about which arguments each team is likely to make, as well as writing the best versions you can for when you are debating that side, you can prepare blocks to reply to them.

For example, maybe you think that many Con teams will talk about the World Food Programme (WFP). You should then write a block responding to the arguments they’re likely to make. 

Firstly, you might find some evidence of where the WFP is inefficient or has failed, and write the analysis and impact explaining that. Secondly, you could write out an argument that, even if the WFP is good, that doesn't mean the UN is important. Because any organisation that is given that much money could be equally successful, or better. 

Notice here that one is attacking their warrant, by disagreeing that the WFP is effective, and the other is attacking their impact, linking the success of the WFP to the importance of the UN. This is often a good way to split up rebuttals, because it forces the opponent to defend in two ways at once.

When you are writing these responses you should write them just like any other argument in a debate. So include your claim, your warrant (why it is true, with evidence or analysis) and the impact (why this matters in the debate).

Remember that blocks are relevant to what your opponent’s argument. Avoid just hearing a particular key word, like “economy”, and then reading out a block that is generally about the economy but not relevant to what the other team actually said. This means that links and impact are even more important than normal, to make it clear to your judge why what you're saying is relevant.

You might aso find that the same block can be used in response to multiple different arguments, and even in multiple different debates. For example, if I write a short clear explanation of how the UN is funded I can use that in many different ways on the topic "The UN is no longer important", for example in responding to arguments comparing it to other organisations, or when talking about the priorities of the UN. I could also use that same block in other topics, for example if I later have a debate about refugees, I can use my analsyis about how UN aid agencies are funded there. 

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This article was written by our amazing intern Cindy Zhang, one of the best high school debaters in China soon to be studying at Georgetown University. 

Crossfire is one of the most confusing part of Public Forum Debate.

During crossfire, speakers from Team A–which gives the first speech–get to ask the first question. There are three crossfires in a debate: one between the first and the second speaker, second between the third and the fourth speaker and finally between all debaters. Different from other parts of Public Forum Debate, Crossfire has few rules, allowing debaters to question their opponents freely. Despite this freedom, there is a clear line between effective and ineffective crossfire.

let’s look at a few useless kinds of questions.

  1. Expecting your opponents to admit their case is wrong. Your opponents are a mirror image of you, trying to win the debate by proving their side is right. They won’t break down and declare their side to be wrong, and probably won’t admit their arguments are wrong either.

  2. Repeating your arguments. The judges have already heard and flowed everything. It is even worse if you combine mistake one and two by reading a contention and asking your opponents if they agree or not. Keep in mind: crossfire is about getting information from your opponents!

  3. Asking long or vague questions. Long questions, where you spend 30 seconds talking, will annoy your opponents and confuse your judge. Vague questions, such as “Can you clarify your third contention?” lead to unwanted long answers.

Well then. How can we efficiently obtain information during crossfire?

  1. Question the assumptions of an argument, and the unsolidified logic that would fall apart as those assumptions collapse.
    Your opponents’ assumptions may be false, and some crossfire questions can test them.
    One simple example from the debate book Speak Up!: When your opponent states that chocolate ice cream is the best food because it makes people happy, there are multiple underlying assumptions:
    People all like chocolate.
    People all like ice cream
    People always like iced food, no matter the conditions
    People can all eat dairy products, and they can all eat animal products (think of lactose intolerance and vegetarians.)
    Are these assumptions all true? Obviously not. Similarly, when facing an argument about a debate topic, you can start with the assumed statements that lie beneath.

  1. Question the evidence
    Talking about questioning evidence, you may only think of verifying the source. Of course, reports from New York Timesand National Inquirer are definitely not on the same level of credibility. However, source is only one aspect of evidences. You can also start from these following points.

    1. Question the methodology. Here’s another example from Speak Up!
      According to CBS, a poll conducted by phone shows that 65% of Americans support US intervention into Iraq to combat ISIS. However, phone users are mostly young and middle-aged. The result doesn’t represent what American people generally think.

    2. Question the significance
      Let’s take our poll question earlier. Even if 65% of American people believes intervening into Iraq to combat ISIS is justified, so what? Should we listen to the majority of people if they are wrong?

Other than the two points above, we can also compare both sides’ evidences, use your own evidence to attack their arguments, or question their understanding of the source.

  1. Use a metaphor. 
    “Military actions aimed at overthrowing an authoritarian government is like a doctor taking removing a patient’s throat to treat a cough.”

Those are the things you need to know about crossfire. Remember, crossfire is not another speech and it’s not the time for a screaming battle. Asking questions, gathering information, and turning them into arguments favoring your side–these are what crossfire is all about.

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How to train your peers

This post was written by our excellent former intern Jianxiong Zhang, who having previously been one of our best high school debaters and coaching the younger students at his own school, spent a year working with us, and is now studying at Carleton College. Before he left us we asked him to write up some advice for other students hoping to help their peers learn and improve. 

 

You have done lots of Debates and have probably become one of the most experienced debaters in your school. When your debate team recruited new members, you are their first teacher. You also want your school’s debate team to remain strong, so it’s important to make novices become strong debaters. Here is my 8-step advice to help you train your peers.

1. Debate

The best way to introduce the rules of debate is to have a real debate.

But they don’t know anything and will make lots of mistakes!

It’s totally fine to make mistakes for the first debate. Remember playing chess for the first time? The rules were so complicated that you couldn’t understand everything. But it soon becomes clear once you have played it. It’s the same for debate. You don’t really understand the rules unless you have experienced it. So just tell them the timetable and let them debate. It’s also a good way to get them interested. Preparing for debate is more stressful and less fun than debating itself, so why not go into the most interesting part first.

2. Explain the structure

You have seen lots of mistakes in their first debate, then it’s the time to correct them. Explain the goals of Constructive Speech, Rebuttal, Summary, Final Focus, and don’t forget the Crossfire. Give out good examples from previous tournaments and teach them how to do each speech effectively. 

3. Introduce basic research tools

But you say: The research packet is on the website, so why research alone?

It is true that we compile research packets for each topic and those are very good articles containing valuable information. But research packets are open to everyone, and it means your opponents will be familiar with–and prepared to attack–the information therein. Besides, we can’t and don’t address every argument which might be raised in a real debate, so the packet alone may not be enough. All in all, research is important!

What’s most important is how to use search engines. Quotes help you search the exact phrase, and minus signs help you eliminate things you do not want. These search operators are useful, and some engines also have other tools. Learn how to use different operators to get the results you want.

You can also introduce databases, think tanks, and news agencies to novices. Mention what features each of them has, and whether they are biased in some way.

You might want to teach your peers how to get the right information. A 30-page academic paper seems overwhelming to an English learner, but you can get a sense of the main idea after you’ve read the abstract or introduction which usually is one-page long.

4. Discuss the topic

When the topic is released, summon your debaters and have a discussion. Share background knowledge about the topic, brainstorm some possible arguments and responses. This is the time to get as many ideas as possible, so do not hesitate to discuss arguments even if you think they might be weak. Maybe others have ways to make them stronger. If it’s possible, ask non-debaters about their opinions on the topic because people with different background will have diverse ideas about a topic, and some of them will eventually become strong arguments in debate.

5. Research the topic

After the topic discussion, each debater has learned what the topic is about and got their own approach to the topic. Let your debaters use the tools you taught before to get evidence to support their arguments. It’s also a good idea to ask them share evidence and talk about how they want to incorporate it in their cases. The purpose is for them to learn what good evidence is and how to use evidence in debate.

6. Judge practice rounds

In debate, you are not persuading your opponents but your judges, so it is important to know what judges care about. The best way to think like a judge is to become a judge. I didn’t know that some of my strategies were not as effective

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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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Every year in late December/early January the World Universities Debating Championships (WUDC) takes place. Each year it has over 400 teams, and 1000+ total participants, making it one of the largest debating events in the world.  This  year it is being hosted by the 

It has increasingly become a spectator sport in recent years, with thousands of people tuning in online (and out-rounds broadcast on TV sometimes). Watching WUDC debates is a great way to improve your own debating, by seeing some of the best debaters in the world in action, and to cheer on your favourites. debating society of Greece in Thessaloniki. 

Livestreams of rounds will be online here.

For other updates follow the official facebook page and official twitter account, where schedule, topics, etc will be posted. 

Lively discussion from around the world always takes place on twitter, follow this hashtag searchTends to vary between serious analysis, gossip and 

jokes.

How it works

Worlds contains 9 rounds of British Parliamentary Debates, spread over three days,this takes quite a toll on participants, adding an element of endurance on top of the intellectual demands of the competition. The main rounds are followed by elimination rounds for the Open category, English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) categories.

The Break (the teams progressing to the out rounds) is traditionally announced at Midnight on new years eve local time. New years day is traditionally a day off to recover and socialise, with the outrounds taking place across the next few days. Other highlights include public speaking and "masters" (old debaters who are judging) competitions, as well as various social and cultural events.

Learn more

Our staff who are there judging will be posting updates and commentary through the week, so check here and on our facebook page.

Because we and our sister league, the National High School Debate league of China, have been growing quite rapidly recently we are looking to recruit several new full time staff. Click here if you are interested. 

Also we are running a summer World Schools and Public Forum Debate institute in the USA, so get in touch if you are a high school student or coach.  

Updates after the main rounds:

The main rounds  are now finished. The full results of the main rounds can be found here: http://thessaloniki2016.com/the-break/

New years day is traditionally a day for the teams of relax and recover from the competition, and includes organised trips to local tourist destinations and a fun debate between judges. The elimination rounds begin on the 2nd of January and the finals of each category are on the 3rd of January. 

Streams have been moved to a different site due to technical issues. Several individuals and teams are tweeting live comentary via the hashtag WUDC.  

The full list of motions so far:

*Round 1:* THW allow states to use mercenary forces in combat roles in active military operations.

*Round 2:* THW prohibit the private ownership of art deemed to be culturally or historically significant.

*Round 3:* THBT all states should collectively aggregate & evenly distribute all profit from mineral wealth globally on a per capita basis

*Round 4:* THBT governments with racially diverse populations should never record the ethnic or racial background of their residents.

*Round 5:* THB the US should withdraw from East Asia and cede regional hegemony to China.

*Round 6:*
Info slide: A sunset clause provides that a law will expire after a specific date unless further action is taken to extend it.
THB that states should adopt sunset clauses that legally force them to review and either re-authorize or revise their constitutions every generation

*Round 7:* TH supports stronger collective bargaining rights and protections rather than legislated labor market regulations (e.g., wage levels and working conditions)

*Round 8:* THBT the creation of feminist icons and their cults of personality are good for the feminist movement.

*Round 9* infoslide: Culpability is a measure of the degree to which a person can be held morally responsible for an offence.
THBT criminal punishments should be based only on an offender's culpability rather than the damage caused by the criminal act or other outcomes derived from the punishment.

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We were incredibly happy to work with the amazing convening team from Asia Pacific University at this terrific event.

Teams from all over Asia competed for 6 gruelling rounds of World Schools format debating. On topics that ranged from: the situation in the South China Sea; Education policy; Animal sentience; LGBT rights; ASEAN membership; the TPPA; the role of religion in politics and even to the ethical implications of uploading our minds into computers.

The students dealt with all these topics intelligently and passionately, making some amazing arguments at all levels. The final debates which our Academic Director John Harper and International Outreach Coordinator Daryl Louis Isla had the privilege of judging were absolutely spectacular and would compare favourably with any university level debate. 

The quality of these young debaters gives us great hope for the future of debating in the region, and we look forward to seeing you all again at future competitions. 

 

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Crossfire in Public Forum Debate

Crossfire is one of the most interesting and difficult elements of Public Forum Debating. Crossfires happen after every two speeches and consist of speakers asking the other side questions and and answering questions from the other side.

Questions can be about anything related to the debate and can be asked in any order, the only rule is that the speaker who spoke first gets to ask the first question.

Uses of crossfire

Crossfire is different from other parts of the debate, like the constructive and rebuttal speeches, because the role that crossfire should play in your argument is not strictly defined. You have a huge amount of freedom in what you use crossfire for.

Clarification - You can use crossfire to get more details of an opponent's argument so that you can attack them more effectively. Such as asking what they meant by a certain point, what evidence they have for a certain claim, etc.

Exposing problems with the opponent’s case. You can also use crossfire questions to point out contradictions, gaps in argument and other problems in your opponent's case. E.g. “You said that poverty went down, but you haven’t proven that globalization caused it.”

Bad questions are anything that can be summarised as “Don’t you agree that I’m right and you’re wrong” or are just repeating part of your speech. The judge already knows what side you are on and what you said in your speech.

For example we often hear people say something like “You said that Globalization is bad for the poor, but in my constructive speech we showed that it has been good for the poor. How do you respond to that?” There’s no possible benefit to that question. The opposing team will not say you are right about everything and concede the debate. Instead the most likely response is that they will reiterate what they said in their speech, and you have gained nothing.

The best questions are about very specific arguments in the debate and force your opponent to defend themselves in the moment, rather than relying on prepared materials.  Similarly the best responses are those that organically respond to the details of questions in the moment, and demonstrate your wider understanding of the topic, and ability to think on your feet.

It can be useful to prepare in advance for obvious questions your opponent will ask, but don’t let it look like you’ve carefully rehearsed the answers. It is also useful to plan with your partner what questions to ask, rather than ask whatever pops to mind in the moment, so that you ask the best question for your case.

 

Behaviour

While there are not strict rules in crossfire, other than that Team A gets to ask the first question, that doesn’t mean that rude behaviour is acceptable. We expect you all to maintain a suitable level of politeness and professionalism at all times during a tournament, including during crossfire. While it is understandable that people get passionate or excited, yelling louder does not make your arguments more persuasive, and not allowing your opponent to talk is more of a sign of weakness than strength, as it indicates you are unwilling to engage and defend yourself. 

 During crossfire it is customary, but not required, for teams to take turns asking each other questions. If Team B fails to ask questions or assert their right to ask questions, then Team A may continue to ask questions until they have no further questions to ask. We do tend to reward students for being assertive during crossfire and for using the time to ask deep, probing questions. Obviously students shouldn't be rude or unpleasant to the other side, and the judge will punish that, but it is up to speakers to assert themselves in crossfire, for example by saying "you've had your turn now we will ask you a question."

Teams may interrupt each other during crossfire. However, if one team feels that their opponents refuse to allow them to answer any questions, then they should be sure to note that during their speeches and use that against their opponent. (E.g. "What I would have said in my crossfire, if my opponents allowed me to finish, is...)  Judges will generally take points away from debaters who interrupt their opponents excessively.

Competitors should aim to ask as many questions as they can, but when their opponents ask to ask their own question they should allow them to do so. Judges may penalise teams who are excessively aggressive.

Judges will also reward students who, after asking questions, ask if their opponents have questions. This displays good sportsmanship and displays your confidence in your case by being willing to answer questions.  And if they don't have questions, you have more reasons to ask questions of your own.

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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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Style - Part 2 - Relying less on notes

I spoke in my last post about “style,” the way you present yourself while giving a speech  general. I wrote that the ideal style for delivering a debate speech is naturalistic style similar to how you would speak in normal circumstances, but that this is difficult.  

Today I want to talk about a specific issue that is very common among debaters, relying too much on their notes which then harms their speaking style and therefore their overall persuasiveness.  

 

Over reliance on notes 

A lot of debaters, particularly when they first start, out will write out their speeches word for word, then stand up and read them out from their printed notes or laptop. This happens especially often for constructive speeches because those require the least improvisation and responses to the other side.

Reading from a written speech can be helpful in allowing you to remember everything, but it can change the way you speak in ways that makes it less persuasive.

In many ways, even for languages that are mostly phonetic like English the spoken and written forms are very different, to the extent they could be considered different languages entirely, or different dialects of the same language. Normal speech contains a huge number of subtle features that aren’t included in its written form, like the tiny differences in speed of speech, pauses and tone changes we use to put emphasis on different words.

You can often tell someone is reading from a script because they don’t speak in the normal rhythm, or emphasise things correctly. Instead they just say all the words one after another in a continuous flow, giving the same timing and tone to each of them (if you’ve ever heard a bad computer text to speech program you’ll have some idea).

Normally when we speak we haven’t planned out in our heads every single word we are going to say and the order in which we will say them. But instead we fill in the little words like conjunctions, prepositions, etc as we go along. We also use filler words and sounds like “uh,”“umm,” “like,” and “so.” Which also form part of the rhythm of speech. These are fine used sparsely, though avoid using them too much, as they can become distracting and give the impression of nervousness.

There are also elements of written language that sound weird when spoken aloud. In written text we will often use long sentences with lots of subclauses, asides, listing, etc. that we wouldn’t use in spoken language. We would normally use shorter, clearer, simpler sentences when speaking aloud.

This difference is partly a product of how people read, you can flick your eyes back to the beginning of a sentence easily so take in the whole context. Also saying a single long continuous sentence out loud would mean you would run out of breath. On a larger scale, the structure of paragraphs in written documents changes the way we lay out our ideas, you can get away with less context and explanation when people can go back to the beginning and reread.  

A useful way to make your speeches sound more natural is to not write out every word in advance, but instead write out key words, phrases, figures, bullet points etc. In the order in which you will make the argument. Then you improvise the grammatical structure around them, filling in all the little words like “is,” “are,” “then,” and “and.” With a little practice you will be able to generate a natural sounding speech that contains the key points and topics.

For example I might have as my notes:

  • Multinationals good for health because infrastructure

  • MNCs need roads, etc

  • Pay to build

  • Others can use

  • Doctors and medicine can travel

Rather than: When a multinational company does business in another country, it uses important infrastructure. Companies may pay for building roads and power lines, but even if they don’t, they pay the companies that provide these services, which gives those companies money to expand. To have a factory that operates internationally, you need a cheap way to move goods internationally, and a way to exchange information.​This same infrastructure is also used by the medical community. Container ships that bring iPads one way can bring medicine back, and airlines that carry businessmen can also carry doctors.”

After some practice you will generate your own habits of shorthand and codes for writing things down. Also over time you learn which are the important parts of the argument to take note of and which to skip.

 

This has several benefits:

Because you are generating words as you go they will sound more natural and sincere than they would otherwise. You sound more credible, and more like you know what you are talking about when you are improvising than when you are obviously reading from a script.

This also means you can fit more information onto a page of notes and write new notes more quickly than if you are writing out every single word (which is very useful for rebuttal, summaries and final focus).

This also makes your speeches more flexible. When you are used to having every word written out in order, it is more difficult to reorder your points, or add in new ones. But if you are working from a list of bullet points you can change more easily in response to what your opponent says, or news ideas you come up with.

Practising this also makes it easier to transition to things like crossfire where you have to completely improvise.

 

Tips and tricks

It is better to take notes in the language you are going to be speaking in even if you might normally be more comfortable writing in another. Because it is difficult to translate between languages while also speaking.  

Personally, when I debated competitively (shortly after we invented fire) I would use different coloured pens and highlighters to identify constructive, rebuttal, key points, etc. With arrows and other scribbled marks drawn between them. I found it best to take a sheet of paper for each point, with the headline written clearly at the top in big letters (so I didn’t lose it while speaking). You should experiment and find the things that work best for you.  

If you find speaking from bullet points difficult to start with, try transitioning into it by taking a fully written speech and highlighting the important words and phrases. From that you can gradually rely less on having everything written down.

You can also practice delivering speeches without any notes at all. An exercise I used to do with the kids I coached in London was to have them stand up, give them a topic (something simple like “my pets” or “my favourite food”), a few seconds to prepare then start talking. Its quite scary at first, but you soon develop the skill of improvising as you go along.

 

What about you guys? What tips and tricks have you found for making your notes easier to use, remembering your points or sounding more persuasive? Tell us in the comments box. 

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Style - Part 1 - The basics of style

In its most simple sense, “style” is everything in a speech other than its content.

Imagine you are an actor who has been given a speech to deliver. There are hundreds of different ways you could deliver that same speech, each containing literally the same information but having a dramatically different impact on your audience.

If one of the Great Speeches of History (e.g. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech), were delivered in a dull and disinterested tone, it wouldn’t be nearly as famous. However being overdramatic can also sound silly if it is inappropriate to the subject matter. So you need to match your tone and way of speaking to the speech you are making.

For example in a speech about a serious topic making jokes and flippant comments would look bad, but adding some emotion and energy to your points might go down well.

Good style is not the same thing as speaking good English. I’ve seen truly terrible native speakers, and extremely persuasive non-native speakers. While your skill in a language can make you easier to understand, there are still stylistic techniques you can use to improve your speech at every level of English.

What is good style?

For the sort of debating we are doing, a natural style is probably the best thing.

If you were leading an army into battle or declaring your undying love you would put a lot of rhetoric and emotion into what you are saying, using elaborate metaphors, rhyme, etc. But when you are primarily trying to convince someone of a logical argument speaking in a manner fairly close to conversational (how you normally speak) is best.

However this is quite difficult in the context of a debate speech, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly we naturally speak differently in front of a large group in a formal setting than we do in front of a smaller group talking informally. Even if you are not particularly nervous you will be thinking about what you are saying and how it sounds more than you normally do.

Also reading a pre-prepared speech is different from speaking as we normally do, improvising on the spot, in dialogue with another person. Both of these disrupt how we normally speak so we have to work to get our speech back to more normal tone and rhythm.

Confidence and nervousness

It is very common to be nervous or scared when speaking in public. This is particularly true when people first start, but it continues to happen to even the best and most experienced speakers. This can even sometimes include even experienced coaches doing training sessions or politicians before they do speeches. They’ll be pacing the floor, twitching and trying to distract themselves. The difference is not that they are never scared or worried or whatever, but that they overcome it and go on.

A little bit of nervousness can be good, it keeps you alert and concentrating on what you are doing. So won’t necessarily make you a worse speaker, as long as it doesn’t become overwhelming. In fact if you are too calm you may not pay enough attention or put in your full effort so make silly mistakes and won’t do as well.

For the physical manifestations of anxiety it can help to control your breathing, focus on breathing slowly in and out, and clear your head. Take some time between debates to have a walk, listen to music and chill out.      

It’s often useful to give yourself a reality check. Remember that everyone else at the competition is going to be just as nervous as you are, even the ones who look amazingly skilled and confident from the outside.

Also remember that while your opponents are opposed to you, your goal is to persuade the judge, and they are not. Judges want to listen to what you have to say. They often tell us how impressed they are to see students debate such complex topics in a foreign language. So you are speaking primarily to a friendly audience that is not specifically looking for reasons to dislike you or your tone.

Often when we have specific negative thoughts related to something we’re scared and nervous of they are totally irrational and unrealistic. This applies to not just debating but everything in life, it's easy to treat a small setback or problem as a catastrophe and work yourself up into a panic.  

For example: What if I forget what I’m supposed to say or lose my place? Then everyone will laugh at me. Then I’ll lose the debate and my partner will hate me. Then I’ll have no friends, and I’ll never get into a good college, and I’ll never be happy and and and....

A more realistic train of thought would be something like What if I forget what I’m supposed to say or lose my place? That might happen, it might not. If it does, I will deal with it by pausing to remember, or moving on. The worst case scenario, even if we lose the debate, is not the end of the world. I benefitted just by debating, and  I’ll have other chances in the future.

Body language

Body language is how you are standing while you give your speech, your gestures, your eye contact and general mannerisms. Obviously none of our judges are going to say “they were standing wrong so they lose” but your body language is another way to project confidence. If you look like you are confident and in control of the debate people will subconsciously lend your arguments more credibility.

Very often when people stand up to speak they will subconsciously assume a defensive posture, staring at their notes with their arms crossed and shoulders hunched, as if they are scared the audience will attack them.

Instead you should stand up straight, with your legs and shoulders spread out comfortably.  Having your head and chest up also helps you project your voice, debaters depend on their voice in the same way as singers do.  Try to not just read from your notes but periodically look up at the judges or audience. Your hands can do whatever you like, little bits of gesturing can add emphasis to your points, but don’t go so far that it becomes distracting.

Speed of speaking

It is quite common for debaters to speak as fast as they can in order to get as much information across as possible in the length of time available. But there is a point at which excessive speed limits clarity. Someone can’t agree with your arguments if they are not able to understand them, and if they are particularly fast that is difficult.

Also people often try to use speaking faster as a substitute for making better arguments. Rather than saying more words faster think about how to make your arguments more clear and concise using fewer words more precisely and in a structured manner.

 

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How to make good arguments - Logical structure

The purpose of an argument is to persuade. In the case of a debate, you will be persuading a judge. In other cases, you may be persuading an audience, a teacher, a friend, a customer, etc. Therefore, the difference between a good argument and bad one is simple: a good argument is one that persuades the target audience, and a bad argument is one that does not.

Lots of factors contribute to the persuasiveness of an argument. These can roughly be divided into three parts: (1) the logical structure of the argument, (2) how it is presented, and (3) it’s factual basis.

The Logical structure of an argument

Arguments consist of many sentences one after another. Each of which can be either true or false.

A logically valid argument is one where if all the sentences are true, then the conclusion of the argument is true. For example if I say “John is Scottish” and “Scottish people are from Europe,” if both of those sentences are true, then the conclusion “John is from Europe” is also true.

Whether an argument is logically valid is separate from whether any of the individual sentences in it are true or false. If I say “John is Scottish,” “Scottish people have wings” “Therefore John has wings.” That is a logically valid argument. However because one of the sentences that the argument depends on (which we call “premises”) is false, so the conclusion is also false.

Normally when people make arguments in real life they don’t say all the premises explicitly, because they assume people understand what they mean from context. For example if I say “Don’t touch the stove, it is hot.” I don’t need to say “Touching hot things can burn you,” “being burnt hurts” and “hurting is bad” because I can assume the person I’m talking to already knows those things.  

Normally leaving some premises unsaid is fine—this saves time. In fact, it would be unwise to list all premises explicitly, because it would take forever to prove anything. But many logical mistakes also come from leaving the wrong premises unsaid. You might think something is very obvious so you don’t need to say it, but the other person doesn’t think it is obvious.

A pattern you often see in debates is people leaving out justifying why something is good, or making the connection between one thing causing another thing. For example saying “economic globalisation is good because it leads to lower prices” without explaining why it leads to lower prices or why lower prices are good.

A better argument would be to say “Economic globalisation leads to lower prices because people can buy goods from the cheapest supplier, wherever in the world that is” and “these lower prices are good for everyone, as it means they can afford essentials like food and sheltermore things, increasing their quality of life.”  

In order to make your arguments as persuasive as possible you should explain all the steps of your reasoning that might be disputed in the debate or that other people might not agree with you on.

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On the Comparative

"The comparative in this debate is..." "On the comparative...." "You need to be more comparative..."

What is comparative? It is "comparing" two or more different things and saying which is better. Simple enough right? But it's a surprisingly important part of debating. 

It is very easy to give the judges simply a long list of good things and bad things without saying which I should care about more. On very simple things (e.g. there will be more dead people) it is okay to let the judges do this themselves, but the more complex arguments you make the more you need to say what is important and why. 

This is also where impacting comes in, translating a harm into obvious real world terms. Random example, if you tell me X will result in disillusionment with state institutions, that sounds vaguely bad. But I'm not very sure how much I care, but if you tell me that because people are disillusioned with the state they won't report crimes to the police, they will turn to vigilante justice, and that will cause bad things, I now know why I care.

Comparative then is taking the impacts of two different points, or of the opposing sides of the debate and saying which is more important. Example: "Even if we buy their analysis, their only harm is that a small number of people will be upset because of an abstract violation of their bodily autonomy, compare that to the harms we bring you of mass death if people are not vaccinated."


Things vary in importance depending on the framework you judge them in, which will depend on the debate. If you ask me which is better, chalk or cheese I can't answer (and may think you are crazy), but if you tell me that we are trying to make pizza, the answer is obvious. Similarly you may sometimes need to put things in more of a context or framing than just our default assumptions about what things are bad. For example, if you can make me believe that the most important thing in this debate is the impact on the poor, (for reasons a, b, and c) then I will judge the arguments in the debate based on their effect on that.

Another way in which a point can be "non-comparative" is if it is true, but it is true on both sides of the debate, so it doesn't matter. Example: "They say that our policy will economically coerce people, but people aren't making a free choice in the status quo anyway so that point is non-comparative." If you explain why the form of coercion on their side is more harmful, or affects more people, or whatever it is then comparative. 

Comparative is essential in a summary speech, where you are explicitly telling the judges why point X beats point Y and why. But it is also important to do in every speech. Its also an element of judging, deciding what is important in the debate, but if you do that yourself you can ensure that the judges think your stuff is the most important. 

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