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Evidence and Sensibility

posted Apr 10, 2012, 9:19 PM by Anthony Severin   [ updated Apr 10, 2012, 9:21 PM ]
As every alumni judge is expected to do, I try to flow very well. I catch taglines and citations. Occasionally I even listen to the quotation itself (I kid, I kid). Judging has made it extremely apparent to me that, of all the parts of the speech, evidence reading is the least interesting. Even the worst speaker I've ever heard giving an off-the-cuff 2NR is more interesting than an average speaker reading some evidence. As a judge, I want to hear logic. I want to hear heartfelt analysis. I want to hear an argument that gets me out of my chair yelling "PREACH IT!" I want to hear... well, you get the point. Too often, reading evidence is just that: reading. It doesn't feel like it's significant. Why is this?

As a judge, the only difference between an argument with evidence and an argument without evidence is that one has some guy's name dropped in the middle. Really. As a judge, I evaluate arguments based on what makes sense-- not on how many guys with letters after their name support the idea (I will clarify this statement later).

The bad news is that judges are very unlikely to go against their own reason. The good news is that most judges haven't formulated reasoned opinions on the intricacies of the criminal justice system.

The conclusion that I ask you to take from this is that evidence is not a replacement for logic. If you're running out of time in your 1AR with one argument to go, you shouldn't read a piece of evidence-- give the judge logic. Ask yourself: "why does my Ph.D say what he does?" Then, take that logic and use it to make the argument. It will be far more persuasive than reading a quotation, because, again, judges will vote on what makes sense.

Even judges who claim to evaluate you based on the quality and quantity of your evidence will probably not care about your cards if you're claiming that aliens will intervene and stop nuclear war. Though this is an extreme example, the point is clear: even evidence-minded judges care about logic and will not vote for a plan that doesn't make sense to them.

There are two reasons that you should use evidence:
First, to establish facts. One of my cases last year relied very heavily upon one piece of evidence that I would read in my 2AC. Not because it provided logic, but because it gave a couple of obscure facts that would destroy most, if not all of the negative disadvantages after I applied my 2AC analysis. Facts.

Second, to provide credibility to your logic. One of the most valuable things that I started to do towards the end of my career was to move my analysis before my evidence. Most evidence, of course, has the card and then a block of bold text below making the argument. This is backwards. You should make the argument, acquaint the judge with your logic (thus convincing their intellect), and then present your evidence proving that you have credibility because so-and-so agrees with you (thus giving them the impression that you know what you're talking about).

In short

I recently judged a round where the only person saying the affirmative case would work was a popular politician. After hearing the piece of advocacy (which provided no logic-- merely assertions), I gave the affirmative a look that approximated this. Because the affirmative plan was so technical in nature, they weren't really able to fully explain exactly what it did. So instead of dedicating more time to explaining how it worked, they read this quotation and considered it done. Even though
the negative never directly argued against the quotation (though they did bring up various solvency points), I had to vote negative on solvency; I just couldn't understand how the plan would work. Had they taken the time to explain how it worked, then I might've been significantly more skeptical of the negative's solvency points.

I intended to conclude by saying that logic is better than evidence. Instead, here's what I'll say. You win arguments when they make sense to the judge. When arguments make sense to the judge, your logic supporting your arguments is clear. Ergo, you should focus on the logic of your claims. Your evidence should be your support. Your entire argument-- your premises, your logical support, should be clear independently of the quotation. Judges everywhere would prefer you to do that using your own words and analysis and use quotations at opportune times to give yourself credibility. Like it or not, judges will vote on what makes sense to them. It's how well you communicate your logic that determines what makes sense to them.