The PF Paradigm

PF is caught between two opposing forces.  The first is community-based lay judging.  This feature helps avoid the false-logic style of debating that infects policy and LD to some degree; you end up with long chains of evidence that are fine for a flowpad, but the end result is simply untrue — increasing health care coverage in the US will not lead to nuclear war between China and India.  An experienced policy judge will vote for those logical chains; it’s what the event is for.  A lay judge will not, and that’s what PF is for; the art of convincing an ordinary person.

However, that’s a decidedly messy proposition.  There are as many was of convincing people out there as there are people.  Some folks think that there’s a golden “Way of Debating” that works for all audiences, but that’s simply not true. Anyone in the business of convincing people will find out as much about their audience as they can; jury profiling, focus grouping, the works.  Being able to argue in front of many different audiences is one of the finest skills of the persuasive art.

In LD and Policy, judge adaptation is handled by means of a relatively tight community, but beyond that, a paradigm: a short statement of preferences and values that the judges supply to the community.  Some folks don’t like paradigms, thinking they enable the tendencies in debate they don’t like — like folks creating their own rules, or voting for non-traditional and sometimes completely unrealistic argumentation — but I think they’re more a reflection of the diversity of debate.  Unless all judges see everything exactly the same, which was never true — otherwise, why have panels in elim rounds? — a paradigm is an essential tool to enable effective argumentation through judge adaptation.

Currently adaptation in PF takes the form of walking into the room and saying to oneself: “She looks middle aged and female, so I’ll assume she’s a mother.”  In forensics terms, “Mother” rates somewhat below “Mouth-breathing troglodyte.”  Those who have reared teenagers may not be especially surprised that teenage debaters place parents among the stupider, less developed life forms.  But shockingly, sometimes that’s not true: debaters might end up arguing, say, economics in simplistic and moronic terms “for the Mommy judge”, without realizing that said Mommy is also the chair of the economics department at Columbia.  It happens.  In Boston, with all the colleges around here, it happens a lot.

However, with the ever-cycling judge pools in PF, paradigms as we know them are impossible.  A PF judge doesn’t know how to express his or her preferences in a way that a debater will understand.  If you ask them to write one, they’ll stare at you blankly, and rightfully so; how can someone who hasn’t seen a debate express what their preferences are?

So my notion is to introduce the PF Paradigm Questionnaire.  It’d be a simple sheet of maybe 10-12 questions of various ways a judge might like to judge, designed to both allow debaters to figure out a judge’s paradigm, and to prompt the judges to think more explicitly about how and why they’re making their decisions.  The questions can be “I prefer arguments based on    1. Sources & Evidence  .  .   .  5 mixed  .    .    .   . 10 Independent reasoning.”   It could ask about speed versus presentation, background knowledge, and so on.  It could ask if the judge prefers teams to be vicious jackals or wussy teddy bears in cross-ex.

Then the judges carries their sheets around with them during the tournament, and shows it to the two teams before each round if they want to see it.  If a judge’s beliefs should change as a result of growing experience after a few rounds — “oh, I didn’t realize how fast ‘fast’ meant!” — they can alter it, or get a new sheet between rounds.

That would allow PF to keep the carousel of community judging, to teach the fine art of convincing people who are not debate judges, without cutting debaters off from knowing next to nothing about their judges and essentially yelling into a void and hoping some of it sticks.  The tricky bits are coming up with the questions on the questionnaire in a way that’d be helpful to the debaters without steering the judges into decisions, and figuring out how best to train them.