Why quoting an expert isn’t evidence

Thanks to everyone who made this weekend’s Advanced Debate Camp a success!

At the camp I taught three classes: on evidence, the constitution, and counterplans. Here are the slides (powered by Prezi) for my class “Why Quoting an Expert Isn’t Evidence: Using Science and Stories”:

Teaching highlights

It’s important to know how to prove something for yourself. You shouldn’t be dependent on quoting a bunch of other people and let them do the thinking for you. This class was designed to answer a basic question of: “how do you prove something to a judge?”

  • Don’t say “I have a piece of evidence.” This phrase means nothing to a new judge and is code for “now it’s time to doze off” to an experience judge.
  • Use more interesting descriptive words like quote, study, example, story, investigation, etc.
  • Believe it or not, there is a template for good stories. There are three common categories for good stories: Challenge, Connection, and Creativity plots. All of these formats work by giving something unexpected; the way they are unexpected is what distinguishes them from each other.
  • Good story writing isn’t as creative as you might think. The template for the plot of a good story is pretty standard: introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. “Who, what, where, when, and why” is a really boring format. Use it to only check a story once you’ve created it using the 5-step Freytag’s plot.
  • Science is both a process and a way of thinking. Science is not ruled by scientists; it is ruled by the scientific method. The mark of a good scientist is not having all the answers but actually knowing the limits of the conclusions.
  • The development life cycle (the process): is the engineer’s version of the scientific method. Before a product is ready for production (or use as a case), it goes through several steps: analysis, design, implementation, testing, and evaluation. Notice that implementation comes before testing. A debater that has an expert who says “technology A is ready for implementation” doesn’t mean that it’s error-free or ready for the market. It often means that it has not been tested yet. It’s still in “beta.” (Example: Smell-o-vision in the 60s. Believe it or not, they made a Smell-o-vision movie.)
  • Error margins (the way of thinking): mathematical ways to show how uncertain a result is. The easiest way to look at them is in the polls, but they also represent a greater idea: it’s important to not just know an expert’s opinion, but to also have some idea how sure they are of that opinion. So ask the other team for an error margin: how sure are the conclusions? They can’t be 100% sure of anything, can they?
  • Best example to take away from this talk: is the before and after Debate Story. In this example, I took a seemingly boring quote on “foreign aid frangibility in India” and turning it into a creativity plot that could actually hold someone’s attention. Combining science and stories is a potent combination and can turn an article into evidence for your judge.


Big thanks to PHD Comics and xkcd for providing some spice to this teaching. (and some insight, too) Also thanks to Bible Art and stock.xchng for helping me find some great clip art.

Let me know what you thought about the camp or about this material in the comments below. Got a good example of a boring scientific paper that become an exciting story? Let me know.


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