§ 1 Introduction

When I say “disclosure norms,” I have a particular meaning in mind. So far, I have written about very specific disclosure practices with special attention to judge paradigms and debate theory. But these are only one part of our larger disclosure norms that encompass questions about what debaters can reasonably expect others to disclose, what role coaches should play in the process, what theory arguments judges should vote on, and what tournament directors should require.

There is a spectrum of disclosure stances ranging from no disclosure whatsoever to full text, open source disclosure of all evidence and arguments read and strategies to be pursued in the upcoming debate. In Section 2, I create a list of possible disclosure practices. There is some high number of permutations of this list, representing the number of different disclosure positions one could hold. A “disclosure norm,” in my sense, is the description of the general stance on disclosure and where it lies on this spectrum. This post defines three positions on disclosure norms in LD: (A) little to no disclosure, (B) nearly unlimited disclosure, and (C) a middle-ground approach that endorses some but not all disclosure practices.

Right now, our conversations aren’t really about norms. Or if they are, they’re not particularly nuanced. Our arguments are either under-specified (E.g. “I hate all disclosure,” “Let’s just do what policy does,” Martin Sigalow’s post here, my response here) or over-specified (E.g. “I’m against 3rd party disclosure,” “Tournament directors should enforce disclosure,” Chris Kymn’s post here, my response here). This wastes some energy. If Martin Sigalow is against all kinds of disclosure, it’s unlikely my article on disclosure theory will be persuasive. Maybe we could slowly, one argument at a time, move the other side closer to the middle, but that might not be the most effective means of dialogue [1].

I hope to strengthen a larger discussion on norms for three reasons. First, the legitimacy of one disclosure practice influences the legitimacy of others. For instance, if the tournament director requires online case disclosure, then coaches have a more obvious role in encouraging their students to disclose. Or if judges should never vote on disclosure, that may weaken what debaters are expected to disclose. There are more obvious examples too: If one believes that all 1AR blocks should be disclosed, (s)he should also believe that affs should be disclosed. Second, participants in the conversation about disclosure tend to advance arguments that would apply to many or all disclosure practices, not just one. I’ll elaborate on these general arguments in Section 3. Third, if we’re not trying to find agreement, to compromise, and to solidify communal norms, then why are we writing in the first place?

This post is an attempt at a middle-ground approach to disclosure norms. No disclosure is unacceptable. This much is uncontroversial, but uncritically following the policy community in endorsing nearly unlimited disclosure is also inappropriate for LD. There a number of ways to pick a middle ground, and I will define and defend my view in Section 4 after after laying out the possibilities in Section 2 and defining the underlying values at play in Section 3. My interlocutors might not agree with my exact position, but it should give us a starting point for further refinement.

§ 2 The Spectrum of Disclosure Practices

To better facilitate a discussion of norms, we need to define the spectrum of disclosure practices. Based on my experience in LD and policy, this is the full range of disclosure-related practices which could be reasonably supported (feel free to comment any I missed, and yes, some of these are almost universally practiced and others rarely if at all):

1) [Debaters] Online/Pre-Tournament Disclosure

  • a) Entry on NDCA wiki for
    • i) All broken positions
    • ii) All broken evidence asked to disclose
    • iii) All broken evidence (including blocks)
    • iv) All possible positions / evidence (including blocks)
  • b) Entry on NDCA wiki containing
    • i) Citation reference list
    • ii) Case thesis (Advocacy text /plan text / criterion or role of the ballot)
    • iii) Case outline, bare bones
    • iv) Case outline, with tags
    • v) “First three, last three”
    • vi) Full text, unformatted
    • vii) Open source speech docs

2) [Debaters] Pre-Round Disclosure

  • a) Affirmative
    • i) Previous aff cases read at the tournament (described to varying possible degrees; see 1)
    • ii) A range of possible cases (e.g. “I’ll read one of the ones on my wiki page”)
    • iii) The aff that will be read (described to varying possible degrees; see 1)
    • iv) Any previous affirmative “tricks,” 1AR kritiks, 1AR theory, other 1AR strategies
    • v) Previous 1AR blocks (cards only or cards and analytics)
    • vi) Previous 2AR argumentation
    • vii) The 1AR blocks that will be read against certain neg positions
    • viii) The arguments that will be extended in the 1AR/2AR
  • b) Negative
    • i) Previous neg positions read at the tournament (described to varying possible degrees; see 1)
    • ii) A range of possible neg positions
    • iii) The neg position(s) that will be read (given aff disclosure or not)
    • iv) Previous case blocks (cards only or cards and analytics)
    • v) Previous 2NR positions
    • vi) The case blocks that will be read against certain affs
    • vii) The neg positions that will be extended in the 2NR
  • c) Elim-specific
    • i) Flip for sides some amount of time before the debate (as soon as pairings out, 30 minutes)
    • ii) Win the flip, then say what the sides are
    • iii) Flip for sides, then disclose according to a) and b)
    • iv) Disclose according to a) and b), then flip for sides

3) [Debaters] In-Round Enforcement

  • a) Make theory arguments claiming violations of 1 or 2

4) [Judges]

  • a) Vote/reluctantly vote/not vote on theory arguments claiming violations of 1 or 2
  • b) Vote based on violations of 1 or 2 regardless of theory arguments in the debate
  • c) Award speaker points in part based on violations or theory arguments claiming violations of 1 or 2
  • d) Withhold disclosure of the decision based on violations of 1 or 2

5) [Coaches]

  • a) Require/encourage/discourage/prohibit 1 and/or 2 (to varying possible degrees)

6) [Tournament Directors]

  • a) Require/encourage/discourage/prohibit 1 and/or 2 (to varying possible degrees)

This list solidifies the claim I made in Section 1 about why we should discuss norms, not just particular practices. If one is arguing for 1.b.v, that debaters should disclose case outlines with tags and the first three and last three words of each card, then (s)he is also arguing for all of 1.b.i-iv.

One could push back against my claim that one practice’s legitimacy influences the legitimacy of others by arguing that people with different roles have different reasons. Perhaps coaches should be more concerned with education than debaters, so the reasons supporting practices in 5) are different than the reasons supporting practices in 1). This argument is defensible within my framework, and I hope this list can provide some clarity in making it. However, I don’t believe that the reasons for coach practices, for example, are so distinct from the reasons for debater practices that arguments about 5) are wholly inapplicable to arguments about 1). Perhaps the reasons are stronger in one case, but they are not unrelated. To show this, my next section describes three general argument trends in debates on disclosure which can inform a position on 1) through 6).

§ 3 The Values at Stake

Most of the arguments on disclosure in LD (whether under-specified or over-specified) fall into three thematic divides:

  • #1: Proponents want to maximize the educational value of the activity while opponents want to maximize the strategy or games-playing aspect of debate.
  • #2: Proponents tend to think LD should model itself after its older sibling Policy debate while opponents think LD should run its own course or stay “traditional.”
  • #3: Proponents stress the value of research and preparation while opponents decry its exclusion of small schools and suppression of thinking-on-your-feet.

It’s not always the case that these values are in tension, but generally this is how the battle lines have been drawn. My middle-ground approach attempts to find a balance among these dialectic divides. Given such a balance, both the little to no disclosure position (A) and the unlimited disclosure position (B) utterly fail.

The little to no disclosure position (A) would hold that up to maybe 10% of the above list of practices should be part of our disclosure norms. This would likely entail the least involved practices such as disclosing only theses/advocacy texts and no coach, judge, or tournament director involvement. A few national circuit LD teams still practice (A).

Position (A) can be read as part of one of two larger worldviews about LD debate that I do not hold. One is the ‘keep the plans out, this is values debate’-style conservativism that would reject many circuit practices: theory, topicality, spreading, ‘policy’ arguments, kritiks, off cases, etc. I’ve voted for debaters arguing for or at least embodying this worldview, but I don’t think it’s very fun. People with this worldview take the second half of divide #2 too seriously. I argue against it more thoroughly in my post on theory advocates here.

The other worldview that would justify position (A) is radically different. This is the ‘anything goes, debate’s a game, education shmeducation’ approach that cares little about the content of LD arguments nor the skills or knowledge learned. This is the worldview of David Branse and it is often associated with “truth-testing.” On this worldview, disclosure is always permissible but should never be required, just like any other debate strategy. Oddly, a lot of seeming adherents to this worldview are very actively opposed to disclosure. We might read this as evidence of opposition to the underlying values behind disclosure rather than opposition to disclosure itself. Opponents feel that pro-disclosure arguments are paternalistic in imposing some arbitrary educational agenda.

While I am attracted to the simplicity and elegance of the ‘debate is a game’ mantra, I recognize its limits. John Scoggin and I wrote a lengthy critique of this view at the beginning of last season. Sometimes, the explicit or implicit rules of the game are harmful, and we have stronger reasons to abandon them than to continue playing according to “the rules.” We distinguished between procedural rules, like time constraints, and substantive rules, like talking about the topic. We believe the latter are totally up for debate (even when there is no tangible harm from following them). If any of our arguments for this conclusion are persuasive, then there are exceptions, times when the Branse-style, pure gaming worldview is unworkable. I believe disclosure is one of those times.

But even if John and I are wrong, disclosure is still compatible with the gaming approach. The pure games-playing perspective is content-neutral. It doesn’t value one practice as more “gamesy” than any other. And disclosure doesn’t make LD any less tactical. It simply changes the strategic calculations that debaters have to make. The value of surprise is diminished, while the value of deep research and creativity is enhanced. Like the introduction of computers to chess training or analytics to baseball, disclosure increases participants’ information, which changes the game. Weak strategies are culled and new strategies become dominant. From a pure, content-neutral games-playing perspective, there’s no reason to think this change in strategy is good or bad. It’s just a change, so why fight it?

There is no tension between the games-playing perspective and practices 1)-6) above. In fact, to the extent that games-playing judges and debaters reject educational and pragmatic arguments about how the game should be played, they have little framework to deploy for rejecting disclosure. This is important because if these games-players can be moved even an inch on divide #1, toward the education side, they have at least some reason to support disclosure.

The last big idea supporting position (A) is to attack the value of deep research and pre-round preparation. One such attack is that emphasizing deep research and pre-round preparation excludes small school debaters who lack access to the requisite resources. Lawrence Zhou has responded to this idea at length on this site, so I won’t rehash his ideas here. The second attack is that research and preparation trade off with thinking-on-your-feet. My post in response to Martin Sigalow is also applicable to this argument. The main idea is that non-disclosure does not improve thinking-on-your-feet – it instead invites generic responses that hardly apply. In a world where debaters are expected to provide evidence for most claims, the value of thinking-on-your-feet is already severely limited. An all-analytic disad or made-up-on-the-spot moral framework is unlikely to be successful, so debaters will fall back on generic kritiks, NCs, and theory or topicality.

Still, there is a potential worry in the area, and the spectrum in Section 2 brings it out: too much disclosure can hamper thinking-on-your-feet. This is part of the reason (C), the pro-disclosure extreme, is also wrong. Total disclosure of what neg case blocks and 1AR answers will be read (2.b.vi and 2.a.vii) and what will be extended in the 2NR and 2AR would eviscerate in-round adaption (2.b.vii and 2.a.viii). The debate would already be decided. To require over 90% of the spectrum would turn debate into a prepared essay-writing contest; we might as well have debaters submit their speech docs to the judges and skip the hour-long performance altogether. To my knowledge, no teams practice this level of total disclosure, and for good reason.

Too much disclosure is also cumbersome. 2.b.vi, 2.a.vii, 2.b.vii and 2.a.viii would require a full round report of all blocks and extended arguments from every round. At a certain point, the opportunity costs of communicating all of this information (whether online or in person) must outweigh the benefits. A debater who spends 20 minutes after a round disclosing everything isn’t spending those 20 minutes researching, writing, and updating arguments.

There is a push to copy/paste the disclosure norms from policy debate into LD as reflected by divide #2, but this move should be resisted. For one, uncritically adopting any norms from another activity is unfortunate because it supplants LD’s unique history and the role of practitioners in crafting LD the way it’s practiced today. This not an argument from nostalgia – it’s about the freedom of LD debaters, coaches, and judges to define their activity. Perhaps policy norms are the best, but we – debaters and theorists – should debate it out!

Second, LD is structurally different than policy in a number of crucial ways. The two most relevant to disclosure norms are topic length and the number of speeches. Longer topics in policy mean that there’s more time for the deep research and preparation that disclosure encourages. There’s more value to disclosing 2AC and 2NC cards and blocks because opponents will have the time and motivation to respond to those developments. More speeches in policy means that even with full constructive speech disclosure, there are still a few rebuttals with content unknown to the opponent. In LD, disclosure more quickly trades off with thinking-on-your-feet, so we need to be more careful about where we draw the line. (For more on LD vs. Policy, see Alex Smith here)

So we can object to (C) on the basis of thinking-on-your-feet and the unique structural difference between LD and policy, but we can also resist the importance of educational values in defining our norms in the first place. High school LD debate is not designed to teach debaters the truth about a given topic or to inculcate a very specific set of skills. If we really wanted LD debates to produce answers, things would be very different. Rounds would be longer. We would discourage wading into murky waters where high school debaters are unlikely to make strong contributions (e.g. in debates about meta-ethics or epistemology). We would encourage online research within rounds. Debates would more often be filmed, and we would try to track and remember the developments made across debates. We would want to avoid rehashing framework and theory debates that had already been decided.

Things would also be different if we really wanted LD debates to inculcate a very specific set of skills. Judges would tailor their paradigms to promote the types of arguments that best produce those skills. We would not allow the vast diversity of successful debate styles we see today. Camps would be designed around teaching those skills and not much else.

But we don’t do any of those things. Most of us believe that education in LD debate should not be maximized, and we should not design debate norms to find truth through debate or teach one skillset.  We believe the process of debating will be educational, and we needn’t be worried about maximizing education at every step. Further, there is likely some threshold where LD debate is ‘educational enough.’ I suspect that most of our community shares these or similar intuitions about the educational value of LD debate. As such, most of us fall somewhere in between the poles of divide #1: neither the educational nor games-playing aspects of LD debate should be maximized. This means that even if position (C) were most educational, most of us reject the impulse to find ever-more educational practices.

I hope to have staked out the justification for a middle-ground position (B). LD is both educational and gamesy (divide #1). LD is both like policy and its own animal (divide #2). And LD is about combining research and preparation with adaptation and thinking-on-your-feet (#3).

§ 4 A Middle-Ground Stance

With the middle ground between these three divides in mind, I repeat the spectrum here and stake out the disclosure practices I believe our LD norms should encapsulate (bolded and red):

1) [Debaters] Online/Pre-Tournament Disclosure

  • a) Entry on NDCA wiki for
    • i) All broken positions
    • ii) All broken evidence asked to disclose
    • iii) All broken evidence (including blocks)
    • iv) All possible positions / evidence (including blocks)
  • b) Entry on NDCA wiki containing
    • i) Citation reference list
    • ii) Case thesis (Advocacy text /plan text / criterion or role of the ballot)
    • iii) Case outline, bare bones
    • iv) Case outline, with tags
    • v) “First three, last three”
    • vi) Full text, unformatted
    • vii) Open source speech docs

2) [Debaters] Pre-Round Disclosure

  • a) Affirmative
    • i) Previous aff cases read at the tournament (described to varying possible degrees; see 1)
    • ii) A range of possible cases (e.g. “I’ll read one of the ones on my wiki page”)
    • iii) The aff that will be read (described to varying possible degrees; see 1)
    • iv) Any previous affirmative “tricks,” 1AR kritiks, 1AR theory, other 1AR strategies
    • v) Previous 1AR blocks (cards only or cards and analytics)
    • vi) Previous 2AR argumentation
    • vii) The 1AR blocks that will be read against certain neg positions
    • viii) The arguments that will be extended in the 1AR/2AR
  • b) Negative
    • i) Previous neg positions read at the tournament (described to varying possible degrees; see 1)
    • ii) A range of possible neg positions
    • iii) The neg position(s) that will be read (given aff disclosure or not)
    • iv) Previous case blocks (cards only or cards and analytics)
    • v) Previous 2NR positions
    • vi) The case blocks that will be read against certain affs
    • vii) The neg positions that will be extended in the 2NR
  • c) Elim-specific
    • i) Flip for sides some amount of time before the debate (as soon as pairings out, 30 minutes)
    • ii) Win the flip, then say what the sides are
    • iii) Flip for sides, then disclose according to a) and b)
    • iv) Disclose according to a) and b), then flip for sides

3) [Debaters] In-Round Enforcement

  • a) Make theory arguments claiming violations of 1 or 2

4) [Judges]

  • a) Vote/reluctantly vote/not vote on theory arguments claiming violations of 1 or 2
  • b) Vote based on violations of 1 or 2 regardless of theory arguments in the debate
  • c) Award speaker points in part based on violations or theory arguments claiming violations of 1 or 2
  • d) Withhold disclosure of the decision based on violations of 1 or 2

5) [Coaches]

  • a) Require/encourage/discourage/prohibit 1 and/or 2 (to varying possible degrees)

6) [Tournament Directors]

  • a) Require/encourage/discourage/prohibit 1 and/or 2 (to varying possible degrees)

My position is similar to the prevailing disclosure norms in status quo circuit LD. The major differences are that I believe (1) when asked, debaters should disclose all previously-read evidence when asked, (2) debaters should provide open-source documents, and (3) debaters should disclose all previous positions extended into the 2NR.

I believe this mix of disclosure practices better balances the values discussed in Section 2 than the status quo. I’ll quickly defend each of the deviations. (1) Disclosing all previously-read evidence, including blocks, upon request is more consistent with the reasons for constructive evidence disclosure, but the request requirement avoids the overly cumbersome process of disclosing every card as soon as its read. Perhaps LD debaters will get better at disclosure, and I would consider dropping the request requirement. (2) Open source is best for accessibility and decreasing the wasteful behaviors of non-disclosure. What good is promoted by requiring the opponent to find the article and guess what was highlighted? I understand the concern that debaters might lazily use other teams’ evidence, but bad and lazy debaters will do that anyway, and first three/last three just adds an obstacle. Also, hard-working teams are forced to waste time finding out what the argument says rather than researching responses. The opportunity cost is too high. (3) As off-cases have proliferated in LD over the past five seasons, the need to disclose past 2NRs (online or upon request) is more necessary. There are debaters who put arguments in the 1NC that they have no intention of ever extending, and this misdirection when disclosed online wastes opponents’ efforts. It forces the opponent to scout past 2NRs from previous opponents or judges, a burdensome activity that does not require debate skills.

§ 5 Conclusion

I am willing to defend any of my choices in Section 4, and I welcome responses about particular disclosure practices. With the spectrum of options laid out and the values at play uncovered, I hope to have provided tools for more productive dialogue. Recognizing the need to balance the values and perspectives at play will save breath and help exclude more radical views on disclosure. For instance, if proponents of disclosure argue from the premise that LD should do exactly what policy does, their views should be discounted. Or if opponents of disclosure argue from an extreme games-playing perspective or old-school LD conservativism, their views should also be discounted. Starting from an agreed-upon middle ground, we can find a path forward for disclosure norms in LD.

End Notes

[1] I did convince Martin to remove ‘I won’t flow disclosure theory’ from his paradigm, so I’m not totally pessimistic about the over-specified approach.

[2] Edit 1/17: Harvard-Westlake required disclosure last weekend. This is a huge development in norms since traditionally only Meadows and Greenhill have required disclosure at their tournaments. For more on tournament-mandated disclosure, see Danny Debois here.


 

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Bob Overing | Co-Director

Bob is a co-director of Premier, coach for Walt Whitman HS, and current Yale Law School student. As a senior in high school, he was ranked #1, earned 11 bids and took 2nd at TOC. In college, he cleared at CEDA and qualified to the NDT. His students have earned 80 career bids, reached TOC finals, and won many championships.

Bob Overing
Bob is a Co-Director of Premier, coach for Walt Whitman HS, and current student at Yale Law School and Yale School of Management. As a senior in high school, he was ranked #1, earned 11 bids and took 2nd at TOC. In college, he cleared at CEDA and qualified to the NDT. His students have earned 80 career bids, reached TOC finals, and won many championships.