Though some of the staunchest opponents of disclosure refused to debate me publicly, I thank Salim Damerdji, Rahul Gosain, and Dave McGinnis for their replies to my arguments. This post makes a few points about what I’ve seen across these disclosure debates.

(1) Ad hominem attacks

At least Dave McGinnis and Rahul Gosain have called the arguments and discussion by the pro-disclosure crowd “bullying.” It’s strange to me that these theorists believe that (a) disclosure arguments are bullying while other theory arguments are not, and (b) disclosure arguments are bullying while non-disclosure arguments are not. (b) is especially strong. Non-disclosers are taking advantage of disclosers to gain a tactical edge. That seems much more like bullying to me.

(2) Defense upon defense

None of the arguments I’ve read from opponents give strong proactive reasons why allowing disclosure theory is bad. If the argument is so bad, then respondents should beat it in-round. this is not a reason to bar it as a coherent (possible, valid, viable, etc.) theory argument. There’s no detriment to a model of theory that allows debaters to claim non-disclosure as a type of unfairness. And even if all my arguments fall flat, we should err on the side of over-inclusion (see “In Defense of Inclusion”).

One might say that if disclosure is bad, then allowing disclosure theory is bad. This is unpersuasive. A multiple a prioris strategy is likely bad, but that doesn’t mean “interpretation – debaters must read multiple a prioris” should be barred as a possible theory argument.

(3) Misattributing blame

It’s possible that disclosure is getting a lot of the blame for other trends that people don’t like in LD, such as (a) problems with evidence (too much of it, too much deference to it, too much reliance on it, etc.) or (b) the decline in the prevalence of moral philosophy arguments. I don’t think either is attributable to disclosure, but as I discussed in “Disclosure Norms in LD,” it may be that disclosure’s detractors see it as part of a larger movement or trend they don’t like.

(4) Views from nowhere

My opponents have yet to explain what they think the average non-disclosed debate looks like. In a world of hyper-specific plans, non-topical Ks, and dense moral frameworks, disclosure is the primary route to meaningful, substantive engagement. I challenged Dave McGinnis on facebook to craft a strategy or explain how he would help his team prepare against (his own team’s) disclosure of the Gauthier Book “Morals by Agreement.” His response — that he would guess it some sort of contractarian argument — was quite unsatisfactory.

(5) Conceptual confusions

Both Salim Damerdji and Rahul Gosain have misunderstood various parts of my view. I said that when we’re determining whether a tactic is unfair, we’re asking if it grants advantages that do not reflect superior intrinsic debate skills. This does not mean that an unfair tactic must only grant advantages that do not reflect superior intrinsic debate skills; in other words, an unfair tactic can also grant skill-based advantages.

For example, I said “stealing opponents’ dropbox passwords and prepping out all their arguments” is unfair, even though prepping out all the arguments would grant an advantage reflecting superior intrinsic skills. (With tongue-in-cheek, Rahul commented in a parenthetical that “Bob helpfully condemns password-stealing,” but the joke’s on him now. Had he thought more about that example, it would be obvious why his strawperson is not my view.)

Responding to Rahul, Jacob Nails (and John Scoggin too) got this essentially right when he noted that if non-disclosure tests creativity, this is merely a disadvantage to the disclosure theory argument. Sure, non-disclosure may test intrinsic skills, but that doesn’t mean it’s not unfair in other ways.

Finally, Salim Damerdji’s reductio makes the point clear. He said that every instance of alleged unfairness probably reflects or tests some strategic skill. Thus, on their strawperson version of my view, there is no unfairness at all. On my actual view, an unfair tactic can be unfair in some ways while rectifying unfairness or promoting education in other ways.

I believe this clarification answers nearly all of Rahul’s contributions and much of Salim’s.

(6) Balancing

John Scoggin argued on facebook that the anti-disclosure view “gets rid of a lot of potential research…in exchange for a bit of creativity.” And even then, it’s a bit of creativity required of the “other debater…not so much on the part of the non-discloser.”

Curiously, he got no response.

I am a big fan of this balancing approach to theory debates generally, and I think most theorists would agree. E.g. fairness and education reasons are both relevant to theory debates. There is no one impact or standard that subsumes the rest, and if there is, proving it would be an uphill battle against the strength of our base intuitions about debate theory.

I have argued in some depth that disclosure enhances creativity, but even if I’m wrong, John’s point is largely correct that the trade-offs come out in favor of disclosure. The advantages of disclosure are many; the disadvantages are few. Unless creativity in thinking on one’s feet is the be-all-end-all of debate theory, I don’t know how we lose the argument.

End Notes

[1] Hyperlinks to the last three disclosure posts: #1, #2,#3, #4.



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.