Jan 10, 2011

the burden of proof

By Guest-Blogger Bri Castellini

I debated Public Forum all of my junior year of high school with my best friend and now Marine Corps soldier Bart. (His actual name is Taylor, but that's kind of boring, dontcha think? So I never called him that.) Now, Bart is a smart guy, but lazy, so naturally the partnership didn't end well, although somehow the friendship is still going strong. His biggest complaints about me as a partner were that I never really got out of debate mode, which I admit is true, and that I was too invested in it, which is also true. Now all I have to do is say the words “burden of proof” to warrant an angry scowl.

But I love the burden of proof defense, so much in fact that I use it in day-to-day conversations (which is why Bart hates it so much). I just wish that someone had taught me to use it properly earlier on. This may just be old new to a lot of you seasoned debaters, but maybe not.

For instance:
Person 1: I think we should do -insert plan of action here-

Person 2: Can you prove it will be effective?

Person 1: Can you prove it won't?
If you don't already want to strangle Person 1, I commend you. This is exactly where the burden of proof defense would come in.
Person 2: I don't have to, because it was you that made the claim, so it becomes your burden of proof.
We've all had that one debate round where your opponent is making all sorts of ludicrous claims that the judge is just eating up and you don't have specific evidence to block out. It's a frustrating situation, especially when you just know your opponent doesn't have any evidence to support his claims. So that's when you pull out the good old burden of proof defense. If your opponent can't support his claim, then he's done your job for you and you don't have to ruffle your evidence folder at all.

Be careful, though. For judges, PF or LD debaters often get parents, teachers, and random community members who aren't necessarily familiar with debate jargon. Unless you know your judge is a former competitor or coach, clarify what you mean by “burden of proof” when pulling it out of your arsenal. Make sure there is absolutely no way the judge can misunderstand the exceptional point you're making. Trust me, I've had rounds where the judge didn't understand my -ahem- clearly superior arguments and I lost because of it.

How this post can directly relate to the most recent resolution?
Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.
On the Aff side, it's possible that people will try to run something regarding how the adult criminal justice system recognizes more individual rights than the juvenile system, but I doubt they'll have a lot to back that up. (I recently practice debated a good friend who made this claim, but because she couldn't give me an example of what rights juveniles are normally not given past a “due process” quote, the argument was shaky).*

On the Neg side, I think you might actually run into some psuedo-counter plans that you can use this defense against. Example: Violent juvenile offenders should be tried in a court separate from both adult and regular juvenile courts, so that the punishment can include the juvenile-favored rehabilitation while also being more severe than a general juvenile sentence (But, obviously, not nearly as severe a punishment as for adults). This is all well and good, and if you can support this with good, clear evidence, awesome. But if you're Aff and having to defend against this kind of a case, try asking them exactly how they know it will be effective. I don't think there is a lot of evidence to support a system like this, so with the burden of proof you'll catch them off guard.

As for defending your own cases, just make sure you can absolutely defend every claim you make. Have at least two pieces of evidence to support each, even if you don't use them in your actual case. Just having them is plenty to keep would-be “burden of proofers” at bay. Also, make sure that you can defend every claim to one of your friends, as a precaution for novice judges. Jargon is only impressive to your coaches and competitors, but you've got to keep in mind that you're not debating for them, you're debating for the judge.

Speaking of judges... I think I'll write a post about how to debate for each kind of judge you're likely to run into at one point or another. But I don't know when that will appear, because as I write this post I'm sitting in an airport on my way back to college for spring semester. Unfortunately, I won't have as much time on my hands anymore.

Good luck!

Bri Castellini is a college IPDA debater, blogger, and denizen of Twitter.

* Jim's note: The lack of a jury trial is probably the most significant rights-based distinction between the juvenile and adult system. Of course, whether a jury trial protects more individual rights is itself debatable.


Anonymous said...

Great job Jim! Where did you find this smart girl to guest blog. At first I have doubt on her competency since she is only a freshman in college. I am so wrong. She is a great complement to you. She touches on the hand on experience in the real debate. I am sure it is very helpful for all the LD debaters out there. I am a parent judge and great fans of your blog. I read through your blog and do some research before I go out and judge. I know every kids do a lot of work before the debate so I can not forgive myself if I do not do homework first and ended up giving an unfair decision. If you can blog about some judging criteria or guidelines for parent judge, it would help a lot. Thanks and keep up the good work.

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, I was quite fortunate to have Bri "answer the call" when I asked, a couple weeks ago, for guest bloggers to help out during a busy time.

I think your idea for a post about parent judging is a great one, and I'll start putting something together as soon as I can.

The better parent judges understand LD, the better for all of us!

Bri said...

@Anonymous... thank you! I'm so glad I changed your mind about me! What a compliment!

Anonymous said...

What would be some good responses against an aff that is running due process?

Anonymous said...

You can argue that the reason we don't have jury trials for juveniles is to protect their identity (privacy/prevention of a stigma). The strongest neg points are probably going to deal with mental development, though.

Anonymous said...

Actually, juvenile courts are adapting jury trials. Kansas got them recently, and I think 20 other states have them too. So you could definitely run that, and totally catch the aff off guard.

Anonymous said...

Are you certain that the burden of proof argument applies to only one side? I was under the impression that LD resolutions are phrased such that the affirmative is arguing against the status quo and that the negative is arguing for it. If this is the case, then why should the negative have any advantage at all? This assumes that the status quo is good and should be preserved, and this is not necessarily the case. If this is the case, then it seems like a fallacious appeal to tradition, suggesting that the status quo has value simply because it's the status quo. I'd appreciate it if you could clarify this for me.

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, how I understand it, burden of proof isn't so much about the resolution, but the arguments offered. In LD, debaters have a shared burden of proof (which is why the resolution is sometimes framed as a negative-- "is unjust" instead of "is just"). There's no obligation for either side to defend the status quo in its entirety; rather, each side has to fairly divide up ground based on potential differences (or lack of differences) in the treatment of adults and juveniles.

This isn't policy debate, where the Neg defends the status quo (because the Aff has to propose a policy changing the status quo).

The burden is to prove the resolution true or false "as a general principle." The "ought," in some debaters' minds, moves the debate entirely into the hypothetical realm anyhow, a clash of "Aff and Neg worlds."

For an example of how the Neg could argue for different treatment while rejecting the status quo: the Neg could argue that juveniles ought to be treated more harshly.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jim. I'll be sure to remember that for future LD tournaments. I do actually agree on this issue, and the burden of proof is and ought to be a very important point in any argument about anything. If you make a factual statement, there shouldn't be any assumption of truth until truth is demonstrated, unless truth is self-evident, which is only the case very rarely. I'll be sure to think about this defense no matter what side I'm on. Maybe there's something to be said about showing that a statement hasn't passed its burden of proof when that's an important statement in the opponent's argument.