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Judging Karl Popper Debate: Handbook (Abridged)

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Judging Karl Popper : Handbook is a wiki open space for collaborative authoring of a handbook describing the principles of judging a Karl Popper debate. The main purpose of the proposed handbook is to become a standard resource for Karl Popper judges and dispell existing myths and ambiguities.


An open society is a society based on the recognition that nobody has a monopoly on the truth, that different people have different views and interests, and that there is a need for institutions to protect the rights of all people to allow them to live together in peace. The term "open society" was popularized by the philosopher Karl Popper in his 1945 book Open Society and Its Enemies. Broadly speaking, an open society is characterized by a reliance on the rule of law, the existence of a democratically elected government, a diverse and vigorous civil society, and respect for minorities and minority opinions.

Because an open society requires the free, open, and critical exchange where the only force used to persuade others is the force of the better argument, the Karl Popper Debate Program was formed. This Program, like other Open Society Institute programs, is designed to foster the ideals of the open society. The support of formal academic debate by our program is meant to help develop critical thinking skills and tolerance for differing points of view. Currently, more than twenty countries throughout Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Latin American participate in the program. The program supports debate clubs and tournaments in secondary schools and universities in each country and international tournaments between countries in the region. Participating high school and university students compete within their countries in their local languages and compete regionally in English. By training coaches and student debate teams, the Karl Popper Debate Program is helping to prepare a new generation of articulate and socially aware citizens.

The Karl Popper Debate Format: In a Karl Popper Debate two three person teams debate a topic of contemporary relevance. The topic will be presented as a resolution. The first team, the "affirmative" team, is expected to uphold the resolution by presenting a set of arguments in favor of it and defending it against whatever case the negative team may make against it. The "negative" team is expected to argue against the resolution and to refute arguments offered by the affirmative team in defense of it.

General Guidelines : The Role of a Judge

Education and not competition define the goals of the Karl Popper Debate Program. Though debate is a competitive activity and you are expected to decide who won the debates you judge, your primary responsibility is to educate the students and help promote the development of open societies. For this reason, it is important to keep a set of general principles in mind at all times as you judge Karl Popper Debates:

  • Because all students can benefit from participating in the Karl Popper Debate Program, each deserves your equal concern and respect.
  • Because the Karl Popper Debate Program is committed to encouraging the highest ethical standards in debate, the judges should at all times discourage unethical behavior on the part of anyone involved in the activity.
  • Because the Karl Popper Debate Program is dedicated to developing the critical thinking skill of its participants, the judge should value content above delivery in making their decisions.
  • Because debaters are expected to carefully select the evidence they present in the round, the more credibly evidence should prevail over a greater quantity of evidence having less probative force.
  • Because a Karl Popper debate should be accessible to the average citizen of an open society, judges should encourage debaters to speak at a reasonable pace.
  • Because the audience in a Karl Popper debate is not expected to have any special of knowledge of debate, the judge should encourage debaters to avoid jargon.
  • Because a vote in favor of one team does not mean acceptance of that team’s position, the winning team in any debate should be the team which did the better debating in that round. Similarly, judges are expected as much as possible to set aside their personal biases when making their decisions.
  • Because the ballot is for and foremost and instrument for educating the debaters, the judge should write ballots designed to inform and educate the teams debating in that round.
  • Because judges are expected to bring into the round only the knowledge of the topic a reasonably well-informed individual would be expected to have, judges are expected to ignore whatever specialized knowledge they may have of the debate topic. When rendering a decision, the judge should only weigh the evidence produced in the round.
  • Because it is important to avoid the appearance of impropriety, judges shall not judge debaters or speaker where a possible conflict of interest is possible. For example:
  • A judge should not judge a team from the school (in the case of a local tournament) or country (in the case of an international tournament) his or she is representing;
  • A judge should not judge a team or a debater he or she has previously coached.

Karl Popper Rules

Format of a Karl Popper Debate

Speech Speaker[s] Time
Affirmative Constructive A1 6 minutes
First Negative Cross : Examination N3 and A1 3 minutes
Negative Constructive N1 6 minutes
First Affirmative Cross: Examination A3 and N1 3 minutes
First Affirmative Rebuttal A2 5 minutes
Second Negative Cross : Examination N1 and A2 3 minutes
First Negative Rebuttal N2 5 minutes
Second Affirmative Cross : Examination A1 and N2 3 minutes
Second Affirmative Rebuttal A3 5 minutes
Second Negative Rebuttal N3 5 minutes

Both Sides Have 8 Minutes of Preparation Time.

While you will, on your ballot, rank the individual speakers, it is important when deciding which team won the debate to look at the performance of the team as a whole. The Karl Popper Debate format was intentionally designed to foster a cooperative environment in which students would need to work together to achieve success.

When judging a Karl Popper debate, it is worth keeping in mind what a Karl Popper debate is not.

First, a Karl Popper Debate ought not to be confused with a trial; a team of Karl Popper Debaters should not be though of as a team of lawyers. There are three important differences between a trial and a Karl Popper Debate.

  • First, in a trial, one side, usually the side representing the accused, is presumed to be right. Where the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, no such presumption exists in Karl Popper Debate. At the start of a Karl Popper Debate, neither side is thought of as having right on its side. Instead, both sides are thought of as being under and equal obligation to show that theirs is the strongest position.
  • Second, in a trial, the attorneys representing each side side take an adversarial position towards one another and use whatever legal means available to sway the judge or jury. In a Karl Popper debate, on the other hand, the debaters are discouraged from viewing themselves as engaged in a winner take all struggle like a court proceeding. Though only one side can win a debate just as only one side can win in a trial, Karl Popper debaters are discouraged from viewing winning and losing in the same way that an attorney might be. Unlike opposing attorneys, Karl Popper debaters are encouraged to work cooperatively with their opponents to test and challenge each other’s opinions in an open, honest, and friendly manner.
  • Finally, the outcome of a trial is meant to resolve or settle a controversy. A Karl Popper Debate is meant to do no such thing. As a judge you should not view your vote for one side or another as indicating your belief in the truth of that side. As a judge of a Karl Popper Debate, you should not confuse the outcome of the debate with the outcome of a trial. A judge in a trial attempts to ascertain whether the accused is in fact guilty. The judge of a Karl Popper Debate is only asked to decide which team did the better debating in that round. Deciding that the affirmative team won a debate round is not the same thing as deciding that the resolution being debated is in fact true.

It is also important not to confuse a Karl Popper Debate with a debate that may take place in a house of parliament. Just as Karl Popper Debaters should not be mistaken for attorneys, they should also not be thought of as politicians. To begin with, in a house of parliament the status quo receives a privileged position in that if a proposal does not win the approval of the majority of the house, the status quo remains unchanged. It is the job of the side proposing a change to convince the majority to accept it. In a Karl Popper Debate, the status quo is not privileged in this way. One of the goals of the Karl Popper Debate program is to raise the level of political discourse in democratic societies. Ideally, the Karl Popper Debate Program will help train citizens to better participate in democratic politics by encouraging them to avoid many of the demagogic practices that are often used by politicans today. Rather than putting either their cause or their own personal interest ahead of all else, the Karl Popper Debater is encouraged to discuss questions of political consequence with an open-minded and levelheaded manner.

All too often politicians today substitute empty rhetoric for substatial discussion of the issues before them. Karl Popper Debaters are encouraged at all time to offer only the strongest arguments they can find in support of their position. Further, when a House of parliament votes for or against a proposal, the membrs are not limited in making their decision to using those facts and arguments brought up in the debate before the house. Similarly, depending on your point of view, members of parliament are sometimes expected to vote with their party and gainst their better judgement while at other times they are expected to support whatever position they most believe or to vote their conscious. As the judge of a Karl Popper Debate, you should always keep in mind that you are only deciding who did the best debating in the round and should try when making your decision to ignore whatever particular knowledge you may have of the topic being debated. Further, just as the debaters are not expected to necessarily believe in the truth of the position they are taking, neither is the judge. That is, the judge is not asked to decide which way the would vote were their decision binding on all of society.

Rather than comparing a Karl Popper Debate to either a trial or a parliamentary proceeding and Karl Popper Debaters to attorneys, advocates, or politicians, it may be more useful to think of the debate as an experiment and the debaters as scientists. In many ways, this is very much in keeping with the ideals of Popper himself. While Popper believed in the existence of objective truth, he was very wary of anyone who claimed to be in secure possession of it. For Popper, human knowledge progressed through a series of incremental steps: theories are developed, criticized, and then improved upon. Theories are improved upon by being exposed to critical discussion. Tracing the story of critical debate back to Ancient Greece, Popper described the invention of critical argument as being an important step in the development of mankind:

"It was a momentous innovation. It meant a break with the dogmatic tradition which permits only one school doctrine, and the introduction of a tradition that admits a plurality of doctrines which all try to approach the truth by means of critical discussion. It thus leads, almost by necessity, to the realization that our attempt to see and find the truth are not final, but open to improvement; that our knowledge, is conjectural; that it consists of guesses, of hypotheses, rather than of final and certain truths; and that criticism and critical discussion are our only means of getting nearer to the truth."

It is because Popper’s method was a scientific one that you may find it helpful to consider the debates you judge as experiments. Karl Popper debaters should be seen as collaboratively testing their own theories and beliefs. Even when the debaters are arguing against the position they may, in reality, believe in, they are doing so only to better test and strengthen their beliefs. As Popper saw it, only be continually testing ones beliefs by continually testing and arguing against them, could their truth be known. Moreover, while it is possible to argue against oneself and not to publicly argue against cherished belief, Popper himself emphasized the social aspect of argument:

"A Robinson Crusoe (marooned in early childhood) might be clever enough to master many difficult situations; but he would invent neither language nor the art of argumentation. Admittedly, we often argue with ourselves; but we are accustomed to do so only because we have learned to argue with others, and because we have learned in this way that the argument counts..."

The goal of a Karl Popper debate, is to help develop in both those engaged in the debate and those witnessing it an attitude necessary for life in an open society. This is an attitude Popper describe as being fundamentally an attitude of admitting that ‘I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth. It is an attitude that does no lightly give up hope that by such means as argument and careful observation, people may reach some kind of agreement on many problems of importance; and that, even where their demands and their interests clash, it is often possible to argue about the various demands and proposals, and to reach—perhaps by arbitration—a compromise which, because it its equity, is acceptable to.

What is a Judging Philosophy?

The Objectivity versus the Subjectivity of Judging

The Mechanics of Judging

A Karl Popper debate should be an enjoyable and educational experience for all those involved. As a judge, you should do your best to make this possible. For that reason, you should do whatever you can to make the debaters and audience feel as comfortable as possible during the debate. Debaters tend to be very sensitive to their judge’s behavior; you should be aware of this and try at all times. You have the ability to set the tone for the debate and we would ask that you try to the best of your abilities to help the debaters recognize that education and not competition is the purpose of this activity.

Keeping Time

During the round, it is the judge’s responsibility to make sure that the debaters are made aware of the passage of time. While often this will mean your having to keep time yourself, if there are people watching the round, it is fine to ask one of them to take on the responsibility of timing. As a matter of courtesy, you should ask the debaters if they are comfortable with the person you choose to have keep time for them. It is not a problem to have a student from the same school as one of the debaters timing. Because the debaters will be busy taking notes and working together during the round, the debaters should not be asked to time themselves or each other.

Before the round begins, you should ask both teams how they would like to be made aware of the passage of time. In Karl Popper Debate, the most common way to indicate the passage of time is by counting down with your fingers. That is, when a speaker has three minutes left, you would hold up three fingers, when they have two minutes left you should hold up two, and so on. When a speaker has only half a minute left, you should signal this as well. You can do this either by holding up one finger and then curling it into a “c” or just hold you whole hand up in the shape of a clam. Don’t worry if it may appear that you’re attempting to communicate in sign language, the debaters will know what you mean. When time is up, you should simply hold up a clenched fist.

Some debaters will ask that you announce the passage of time by verbally counting down the amount of time they have left. Though not the most aesthetically pleasing manner of keeping time, it is perfectly acceptable.

You are not required to hold up your fingers for the whole round, as this could get pretty tiring and may lead to lose of blood flow to your fingers. Try to insure that the students see the time signals that you give. If the debater is so intent on looking anywhere other than at you, at least try to make one of his teammates aware of how much time is left.

When time has expired, the debater should stop speaking. That does not mean that the debater needs to stop mid-sentence. You should not penalize a debater who finishes a sentence or thought after time has expired. On the other hand, if a debater decides to ignore your indication that time has expired and instead decides to ramble on, you should politely interrupt her and tell her that her time has expired. There is no penalty for going overtime other than, perhaps, an appropriately worded comment on the ballot. You should ignore arguments made after time has expired.

Preparation Time

The teams are each given an amount of time which they can use between speeches to compose their thoughts and talk amongst themselves. They can divide this time however they would like to and are not required to use all of even any of it. Occasionally a team will confidently but foolishly choose not to use their preparation time and simply launch into their speeches immediately after their opponents have finished theirs. As strategies go, this is not the best. Normally, the teams will need time to come up with a coherent strategy. You should note it on your ballot when you feel a team used their preparation time poorly, though this should play not role in your decision.

Since the team taking preparation time will likely be frantically trying to find evidence and arguments for their next speaker to use. For this reason, you should announce the passage of preparation time verbally.

It is not necessary for a team tell you in advance how much of their prep time they will want to use. If the next speaker does not get up, you should assume that this team wants to use some of their prep time. Some teams may ask you for a fixed amount of preparation time. You should keep in mind, however, that the team is not bound by their initial request for time. For instance, suppose after the second affirmative the negative team requests to use two of their four remaining minutes of preparation time. If, after those two minutes have passed, this team has still not found the index card on which they wrote that crucial piece of evidence, they may simply continue to look until they hopefully come across it. You would just continue to time them and subtract the total they use from their four minutes.

If, for some reason, a team uses up all of its prep time and still did not up its next speaker, you would begin to substract time from that debater’s speaking time. Given how precious most debaters view their speaking time as being, they will rarely go over their allotted preparation time.


Because debaters tend to have a lot to say, it is important for you to take careful notes during the debate. A good way of taking notes is to “flow” the debate. The idea here is to follow the flow of the arguments as the round progresses. The idea of flowing is pretty simple: you take a sheet of paper and divide it into as many columns as there are speeches. Since Cross-examinations are generally not included on a flow, you will need to divide your flow into six columns. Some judges like to keep the whole debate on a single sheet of paper, the bigger the sheet, the better the flow. Others will just use one sheet to flow the affirmative arguments and another to flow the negative arguments. The choice is yours. You may also want to use to different colors to flow agruments made by the affirmative and arguments made by the negative. Some judges develop complex color coding system that, in the end, makes their flows resemble some form of modern art. In the end, you should choose a method of flowing with which you feel the most comfortable. At the end of this guide, we have included a sample of a simple one page flowsheet.

As the First Affirmative presents the affirmative constructive, you should take notes in an outline format in the first column of your flow. When the First Negative address those arguments, you would note them down in the second column in your flow next to the argument being addressed. You may even draw a line leading from the affirmative’s argument to the negative’s response. If the negative choose to dispute either the definitions, criterion or goal that the affirmative offers, your note this dispute at the top of your flow. When the Second Affirmative presents the first affirmative rebuttal, you simply note in the third column on your flowsheet the different arugments presented. Normally, the debaters will simply address the arguments in the order that they were originally presented, so the process of flowing should prove relatively easy. Only when the debaters are very disorganized themselves should you have much trouble flowing their arguments. In those cases, if your flow gets a little messy and you beging to lose track of things, it is the debaters fault and not yours.

At the end of the debate, you should be able to look down at your flow and identify which arguments, if any, either side has failed to respond to and trace each argument from beginning to end. During the debate, different speakers may on occasion ask you to refer to your flow to circle what they will call “dropped” arugments. When they do so, all they trying to do is highlight the fact that their opponents failed to respond to an argument. You should keep in mind, though, that it is up to the debaters to explain to you the importance of a dropped argument. If, for example, the negative team simply ignored one of the affirmatives arguments, effectively conceding it, the affirmative team should explain to you the impact of this concession.

It then end, having the whole debate laid out in front of you on your flow should make rendering a decision and writing a good ballot much easier.

Filling out the Ballot

Dealing with Different Audiences

Judging on a Panel

Speaker Responsibilities : How to Follow and Evaluate Them?

Designed to promote teamwork, the three-on-three style of the Karl Popper Debate, encourages debaters to work together both before and during their debates. While individual excellence is not to be discouraged, success in debate should be measured based on how well a team works together. In making your decision, you should consider the quality of the team as a whole. At the same time, each member of the team does have certain unique responsibilities.

Affirmative Constructive

The First Affirmative Speaker should present the whole of the affirmative case. All the arguments that the affirmative team would like to make in support of their side of the resolution are to be offered in this speech. Since no new constructive arguments are permitted in the first and second affirmative rebuttals, it is imperative that the First Affirmative present the affirmative case in its entirety.

Because it is the First Affirmative’s responsibility to set the parameters for the debate, it is customary for this speaker to offer definitions of the terms of the resolutions. You should probably note these definitions down on your flow paper. Keep in mind that while a definition from a credible source is often useful, the definition that the affirmative offers need not come from a dictionary. The definitions that the affirmative offers must be fair. That means they ought to be relatively unbiased, generally conform to the ordinary meaning of the words, and be sensitive to the spirit of the resolution. For instance, suppose the teams debating the resolution that “euthanasia is justifed”, the affirmative should not be defining the word euthanasia in such a way that the negative would be asked to argue against a farmer putting to death an old and sickly livestock. For this resolution to be debatable, it must be assumed that the resolution is asking about the mercy killing of humans and not some flea bitten old cow suffering from mad cow disease. Even though a farmer putting a lunatic cow out of its misery is euthanasia, the resolution clearly was not designed to encourage students to debate whether insane cows ought to be put to a merciful death.

If the affirmative team offers definitions that you feel are unreasonable and unfair, you should note this on your ballot but keep in mind when making your decision that it’s negative job to challenge affirmative’s definitions and to offer new ones. Unless the negative team challenges them, the definitions offered by the first affirmative speaker should be accepted by you when making your decision. When negative challenges the affirmative’s definitions, then the definitions will become a debatable issue in the round. In those instances, it is worth keeping in mind that it is the reasonableness and not the source of the definition that determines it suitability for the debate. Given that some words and phrases take on a more specific meaning when presented in the form of sentence, it will often happen that a definition drawn from a dictionary or encyclopedia will prove less reasonable than one that a team prepares itself.

In a Karl Popper Debate, the affirmative team might be said to have a “right of defintion”. This means that if the affirmative team offers fair and reasonable definitions, that these are the definitions that ought to be used by both sides in the round. What this implies is that the negative team, if it wishes to introduce new definitions into the round, has the burden of proving the affirmative’s definitions to be unfair or unreasonable.

The affirmative may also offer a “criterion” for the round. The criterion should be noted on your flow as it may become the subject of debate. As you will soon discover, the criterion can be many things. Some affirmatives will offer you a measure against which you ought to judge the round. For instance, a team may offer that you decide who won the round by determining which team best promotes equality. In these cases, unless negative were to challenge the criterion, you ought to accept it. In those cases where the negative team challenges the affirmative’s criterion, it will be up to you to decide whether the negative’s arguments against the criterion make sense. For instance, negative may challenge the ideal of promoting equality and argue instead that the side that wins ought to be the side that best promotes individual liberties. At this point, it will be up to you to decide which team has best defended the criterion they have offered. Sometimes the teams may agree on the ultimate goal to be achieved, but not on the best means of achieving it. For instance, affirmative may propose that the side which wins be the side who best upholds democracy and claim that the best indication of the health of democracy is to measure the number of people who vote in a given election. Negative may rightly challenge this criterion by arguing that while democracy is noble ideal, it means more than just casting a vote. Instead, negative may offer that the health of a democracy be measured by considering the protection of minority rights and interests. If the teams disagree on the criterion for a round, it will be up to you to decide which of the two teams have offered a more reasonable criterion for the round.

After presenting the affirmative’s definition and criterion, the First Affirmative will usually present the various arguments that the affirmative team wishes to offer in defense of the resolution. You should note each argument on your flow paper. The quantity and quality of the arguments presented will vary, but in the end the First Speaker’s main responsibility is to present you with sufficient reason to accept the resolution as true pending negative’s attempt to show why it is not. At the same time, it is affirmative’s responsibility in constructing their case to insure that they leave room for debate. Consider, once again, our poor demented cow. In arguing in support of the resolution “euthanasia is justified”, it is important the affirmative offer arguments that prove more than that one sick cow ought to be put to death. The affirmative’s responsibility is to show us why we ought to affirm the resolution in its entirety, not just some small part of it. That a single act of euthanasia may be justified does not prove that euthanasia is on balance justified. It is crucial that the affirmative team accepts the burden of attempting to defend a controversial position. However, while the affirmative team must interpret and support a position that is truly debatable, it is up to the negative to challenge an interpretation of the resolution that they find to be unworkable. For instance, suppose a negative team decided to argue that rather than euthanize lunatic old cows that, instead, that society should instead let lunatic cows live for the sake of entertaining those who find the exploits of insane cows amusing. While you would want write on the ballot your why affirmative’s interpretation of the resolution was skewed and question the negative’s strategy, in the end the winning team would be the team who in your opinion best decided the fate of our sick cow.

One last thing to keep in mind is that because the First Affirmative begins the round, the First Speaker will often rely more on notes and previously prepared material than the other speakers in the round. Because the Karl Popper Debate program is committed to promoting critical and independent thinking, it is expected that the material presented by the debaters be prepared the debaters working together as a team. It is the debaters and not the coaches who ought to have prepared the arguments for the round. As a judge, if you suspect that the First Affirmative is not familiar with the ideas and arguments offered, you should not that on the ballot. However, even if you suspect that a team is working with material prepared by others, you should refrain from penalizing the debaters. Debaters usually struggle to defend cases they have not prepared themselves and often fail in rebuttal to adequately rebuild their cases. Also, teams often work together with other members of their club and, for that reason, teams from the same club may have similar cases. Since the program encourages cooperation among club members, teams who may present similar cases should not be penalized.

First Negative Cross : Examination

After the First Affirmative has presented the affirmative constructive, the Third Negative speaker gets to ask questions for three minutes. The Negative team may want to take some of their preparation time before asking questions. It is perfectly acceptable and even expected that the team members will speak with one another and exchange ideas.

The line of questioning that the negative may wish to pursue is entirely up to them. The only requirement is that respect be shown for the First Affirmative. The Third Negative should not ask questions in a belligerent manner or ask obviously inappropriate questions.

The Negative should not prevent the Affirmative from fully answering the question being asked. For instance, the Negative may not insist that the affirmative only respond with “yes” or “no” to a question. At the same time, affirmative should not try to waste the negative’s Cross-examination time by giving unnecessarily long answers to relatively simple questions. The Affirmative should try to the best of her ability to answer the questions asked clearly and precisely. You should count it against the affirmative team if the First Affirmative debater refuses to answer what you believe are perfectly reasonable questions.

The questions asked in the Cross-examination generally have one of three different purposes. First, the questions may just be meant to help clarify for the negative what exactly the affirmative is saying. For instance, the negative may ask the affirmative to clarify an argument that the negative team had trouble understanding. The negative may also ask the affirmative to repeat a definition or an argument. Second, the negative may attempt to ask question which will help the negative team refute the affirmative’s case. Finally, the negative may ask questions which are designed to help lay the foundations for negative’s own case.

Because the negative may choose to use their Cross-examination time to set up their case, the questions that the Negative asks need not be limited to the Affirmative case. For instance, the Negative may wish to present a hypothetical situation and ask the Affirmative what they believe ought to done in that situation.

In general, teams should be held accountable for the concessions they make under Cross-examination. That is, if negative pursue a line of questioning that reveals a weakness in the affirmative’s case and the First Affirmative answers in a way that hurts their positions, you ought to count this against the affirmative when making your decision. At the same time, it the opposing teams responsibility to capitalize on the questions answers they get in cross. If the First Negative does not bring up the issues discussed in Cross-examination, they should not weigh too heavily in your decision.

Normally, you will not flow the Cross-examination since it is the cross examining team’s responsibility to explain the importance of concessions made by their opposition during the speech that follows the Cross-examination. You may, however, want to take notes of important points raised in the Cross-examination.

After the Cross-examination is complete, the negative team is free to use more of their preparation time if they so choose. Don’t forget to keep a running total of the time that the team has used.

Negative Constructive

Like the First Affirmative, the First Negative should present the whole of the negative case. However, besides offering all the arguments that the negative wants to make against the resolution, the First Negative must also offer the all the arguments that the negative team would like to make against the affirmative’s case. Since no new constructive arguments are permitted in rebuttals, it is imperative that the First Negative present both the negative’s case against the resolution as well as address all of the affirmative’s arguments in favor of the resolution. After the First Negative, the entire negative strategy should have been made clear to both you and the affirmative.

It is the responsibilty of the negative to argue with the affirmative team. A debate would be a rather dull affair if no one disagreed with anyone. In a Karl Popper Debate, the burden of establishing clash rests with the negative team. As mentioned above, the responsibility of the affirmative team is to take a controversial position and defend it. It is negative’s obligation to dispute the affirmative’s position. The negative must attempt to refute the affirmative case. Now, this does not mean that the negative must challenge each and every argument that the affirmtive has offered. In fact, there may be some instances where this is impossible. For instance, in a case where the negative feels that the affirmative has offered unfair definitions and based their whole case on those definitions, all negative really can do is argue against the affirmative’s definitions. What the negative would have to point out, in this case, is how the affirmative case rested on these definition and how those definitions were unworkable or unfair. Needless to say, these can be very boring debates since there may end up being very little for you to do other than to act as a dictionary. However, what you need to keep in mind in judging the negative team is that while it must negate the resolution, it must do so, in part, by refuting the affirmative case. In deciding which team wins the round, one thing you will need to determine is whether the negative has, in fact, adequately accepted this burden of refutation.

In a Karl Popper Debate, negative must show why the resolution should be rejected. To do this, the negative should refute the affirmative case in support of the resolution and offer arguments against the resolution. Sometimes the arguments negative offers against the affirmative case will be the same as those that it offers against the resolution itself; sometimes the negative will offer arguments against the resolution independent of the arguments offered in response to the affirmative case. It is important to keep in mind that, logically, there is no reason to assume that just because the negative team has refuted the affirmative’s case that it has necessarily negated the resolution. Of course, more often than not, if negative successfully refutes each of the affirmative’s argument, it will prove the better team in the round. However, there is no reason to presume that just because the affirmative has not convinced you to affirm the resolution that you must necessarily negate it. It is for this reason, that you should expect the First Negative to offer a set of arguments designed to explain to you why, regardless of what the affirmative may have said, the resolution ought to be negated.

The negative, if it wishes to challenge the affirmative’s definitions or criterion ought to do so at the beginning of the First Negative Constructive. If the First Negative does not challenge them at all, they are to be taken as given for the remainder of the round.

It is also important that the First Negative introduce into the round whatever information the negative feels to have been important from the First Negative Cross-examination.

The negative is not obligated to refute each and every argument that the affirmative presents in the Affirmative Constructive. The negative’s responsibility is to refute the affirmative case as a whole, not each and every individual point that the affirmative makes. There may be times when the negative may choose to concede some part of the affirmative’s case or to question its relevance. The affirmative may prefer not to waste its time attempting to argue against the affirmative on some given point and instead concede. However, once an argument has been conceded or ignored by the First Negative, neither the Second nor Third Negative may then go back and argue against it. The time for negative to decide its strategy is before the First Negative offers the Negative Constructive. If negative chooses either to concede or ignore an argument, it should be accepted as true for the remainder of the round.

The affirmative team may choose to take some preparation time before the first affirmative cross examination in order to decide on their best course of action.

First Affirmative Cross : Examination

There is not much of a difference between this cross-examination and the first negative cross-examination. Since after the negative constructive the affirmative should be aware of negative’s strategy for refuting the affirmative case, the Third Affirmative may pose questions designed to help reestablish the affirmative case.

Once again, it is important that the cross-examination be conducted in a civil manner. It is easy for debaters, in the heat of dispute, to forget that they must show respect for their opponents. It is your job to remind them of this fact if they forget.

First Affirmative Rebuttal

This may be the most difficult speech in the round. The Second Affirmative must not only reestablish the affirmative’s case but also offer all of the affirmative’s refutations of the negatives case. It is important the the Second Affirmative try to extend the logic of the affirmative case and not to contradict it. You should not, when listening to the Second Affirmative, be wondering if the Second Affirmative had ever made the acquaintance of the First Affirmative. While it is reasonable for the Second Affirmative to try to shift the focus of the round away from some arguments in the round, the Second Affirmative cannot start the round anew. No new construtive arguments are allowed in rebuttal and the Second Affirmative ought not contradict the arguments made by the First Affirmative. Once again, you should keep in mind at all times that you are judging a team of debaters and not three individual speakers.

The Second Affirmative should address each argument the First Negative made in the negative constructive and attempt to reestablish the affirmative case. Not only should the Second Affirmative address each of the arguments in the negative case, the Second Affirmative should also address each of the arguments that the negative has offered in response to the affirmative case. If the Second Affirmative does not respond to an argument in this speech, these arguments are effectively conceded to the negative team.

As mentioned above, the Second Affirmative may not offer new constructive arguments. You should consider a new constructive argument any argument not introduced in the affirmative constructive and not made directly in response to an argument presented in the negative constructive. If you feel that one of the Second Affirmative’s arguments is a new one, you should not note it on your flow or consider it when making your decision. You should also note on your ballot that you discounted the argument because you believed it to be a new argument. Since by offering a new argument the Second Affirmative wasted precious time, there is no need to further penalize the affirmative team any further than this.

While the Second Affirmative may not offer any new constructive arguments, the Second Affirmative may offer new evidence, examples, analogies or narratives. That is, the Second Affirmative may attempt to better illuminate and support the arguments already introduced into the round by the First Affirmative.

Because so much needs to be done in the first affirmative rebuttal, the Second Affirmative may rush. However, it is the speaker’s responsibility not to speak more quickly than you can listen. While you should make every reasonable attempt to follow the speakers, it is important that the debaters keep in mind the need not to leave their audience behind.

Along the same lines, it is important that points made in the First Affirmative rebuttal are not presented in such an abbreviated fashion that the negative not have any reasonable ability to respond to them. That is, the Second Affirmative cannot just mention a point in passing with the expectation that the Third Negative will explain the point so that it makes sense. It is not fair for the Second Affirmative to try to introduce a point into the round in the first affirmative rebuttal simply so that the Third Affirmative can develop it to the affirmative’s advantage in the second affirmative rebuttal. The Second Negative should have the ability to address all the key arguments in the round.

Like the First Negative, the Second Affirmative need not attempt to refute every argument that the negative team has offered. Similarly, there may be arguments in the affirmative case that the Second Affirmative may be decide to abandon. For instance, the affirmative may have offered an argument in the affirmative constructive that the negative sucessfully refutes in the negative constructive. The affirmative team may recognzie that attempting to rebuild this point is an exercise in futility and simply admit the error of their ways. What they might try to do, instead, is shift the focus of the debate away from the arguments they have lost. What they will try to show is that even though they may have lost this one argument, that you should still vote affirmative because their other, stronger, arguments are sufficient to justify you siding with them.

While it is the Second Affirmative’s responsibility to address each issue on the flow, by the end of the first affirmative rebuttal you should already be able to identify the key issues in the round. In choosing which points to emphasize and which points to spend less time, the Second Affirmative implicitly begins a process of narrowing the debate. As this rebuttal draws to a close, the speaker may even decide to offer a conclusion that more explicitly identifies the key issues in the round. since it is the quality and not the quantity of arguments that in the end should determine the winner of the debate, the Second Affirmtive should try to make clear to you those issues on the flow which you should give the most weight to.

Second Negative Cross : Examination

There is no difference between this cross-examination and those that preceded it.

First Negative Rebuttal

The Second Negative should, like the Second Affirmative, address each and every issue on the flow. Once again, however, addressing every argument does not have to mean refuting every argument. It is perfectly reasonable for the Second Negative to decide that an argument offered by the First Negative is no longer relevant and concede it to the affirmative team. Of course, once an argument is conceded by the Second Negative, this is done once and for all.

Because the First Negative had the oppoetunity to refute the affirmative case, the Second Negative may not introduce any new arguments in the first affirmative rebuttal. Where the Second Affirmative is the first member of the Affirmative team can offer new rebuttal arguments in the first affirmative rebuttal, the Second Negative may not offer any new arugments whatsoever. Instead, the Second Negative should address each point on the flow and extend the arguments presented in the negative constructive. Like the Second Affirmative, the Second Affirmative may offer new evidence, examples, analogies or narratives.

Other than this, there is no difference between the responsibilities of the Second Speakers on both sides of the resolution.

Second Affirmative Cross : Examination

There is no difference between this cross-examination and those that preceded it.

Second Affirmative Rebuttal

The goal of the Third Speaker is to guide you in your decision making process. Unlike the Second Affirmative, who wants to address each and every argument on the flow, the Third Affirmative may choose to be a bit more selective. Because the Third Affirmative can offer no new arguments, what this speaker should try to do is assist you in a process of weighing the various arguments that have been presented. Like the Second Speakers, the Third Affirmative may offer new evidence, examples, analogies or narratives. However, what the Third Affirmative should be most interested in doing is helping you to identify the key issues in the round and trying to show you how these arguments were won by the affirmative team.

Because the second rebuttal is a summarizing speech, the Third Affirmative may choose to address only a selected number of key argument and identify those as the main “voting issues” in the round. It will be up to the negative team to decide whether to accept the issues that the affirmative team offers as key voting issues. They may choose to do so and argue that their position on these issues is stronger or they may argue that affirmative has misidentified the key voting issues.

There is no cross examination following this speech.

Second Negative Rebuttal

Like the Third Affirmative, the Third Negative should attempt to help you weigh the key issues in the round. The only significant difference between the second affirmative and second negative rebuttal is that the Third Negative needs to respond to the affirmative teams representation of the key issues in the round.

It will often happen that the negative team will offer different voting issues than the ones that the negative team offered. This is bound to make you job a little more difficult as it will be you who, in the end, will have to decide which side in right in this regard. At the same time, you should keep in mind that if the negative does not accept the voting issues that the affirmative has offered you, the Third Negative should offer you some good reasons for rejecting or adding to those voting issues. On the other hand, your job is made much easier if both sides agree on the key issues in the round and all you must do is decide which of the teams won these issues. You should try to decide the round based on the voting issues offered by the two teams. Even if you happen to think that there was some other point in the round that was more important than any that either of the two teams identified as being key, in making your decision you should limit yourself to the voting issues presented by both sides. Of course, on your ballot, you might want to explain to both teams why you thought they both were mistaken in identifying the more important issues in the round.

Unfortunatley, there will be times when neither side give you a clear set of voting issues and you will be left to your own devices in deciding who won. In those cases, you should probably focus your attention on the issues the two sides spent the most time arguing.

Making a Decision

Take a few minutes to reach your decision, without discussing it with others. You are to judge by the content of the debate and by how each of the teams did their job. Each team must win the arguments that support their side of the resolution. There will be times when one team will be better organized, better speakers, etc., while the other side may present the more decisive arguments. Vote for the team that had the best arguments, unless their lack of presentation skills prevented you from understanding their arguments, eg. that they were disorganized, or spoke too quickly, or didn’t follow through on good arguments. There is no list, no set of stock issues. There is no one correct way to reach a decision. The flowsheet is a crucial tool for recording and keeping track of the arguments in the debate.

Write down your initial impression, which team you felt won the debate. Then, identify the major points of ‘clash’ in the debate, which arguments were most significant or most contested in the debate. Determine the winner for each of these arguments, which team was most persuasive on each of these issues, based on the evidence and reasoning presented and the responses to these arguments. Look for important arguments that were ‘dropped’ by either side, and how they may effect other arguments. Determine if each team met their burdens, presenting independent arguments in support of or against the resolution, and offering refutation of the opponents’ arguments.

Evaluate the quality of the arguments won by each team, weighing whether they have met their burdens. Taking everything into account, who won the debate? This should correspond to your initial impression; if not, you should follow your second impression. Usually this will correspond to your initial impression. If not, you need to make a difficult choice. Has your reconstruction of arguments required too much ‘intervention’? Have you done the debating for the debaters? In writing down the initial impression, the judge can identify the most persuasive team, in terms of clarity of argument and speaking style. In analysing each argument more carefully, the judge can combine considerations of content and persuasive style.

Considering key questions, or ‘stock issues.’ Has the affirmative presented a prima facie (at first sight, before close inspection) case, and met their burden? Has the affirmative provided a topical case, providing clear and fair definitions for the terms of the resolution? Has the affirmative justified and met their criterion where necessary? Has the negative presented their position clearly, meeting their burden of refutation? Did both teams provide adequate evidence to support their claims? Which team was more persuasive? In the clarity and manner of their presentation? In the effective use of argument and reasoning? Remember that the judge’s decision must be based on content, not speaking style, preference or personal opinion.

Following an Argument throughout the Debate

Dealing with Evidence

Deciding on and Weighting Important Arguments

Grounds for Disqualifying a Team

Split Decisions

Giving a Low Point Win [LPW]

Oral Critiques

Carefully compose the reasons for your decision on the ballot. Written comments will be useful for the students and for their coach, who may not have had an opportunity to see the debate first hand. Someone reading your notes should be able to figure out what happened during the debate, what were the important arguments and how well they were argued. Usually, a ballot form will have two columns, as if on either side of an up-turned T, one for comments for the Affirmative team, one for comments for the Negative team, and a space below, for your reasons for the decision. If the columns are for addressing comments to each team specifically, the space below is for an explicit contrast of the two teams on a set of the important issues in the debate.

Example: "Aff wins the ... argument, because they convinced me that..., while Neg wins the ... argument...".

The ballot should be read by students and coaches. It should communicate criticisms, tempering criticisms with positive encouragement. This is especially important for less experienced students. Points and ranks are not objective. The judge’s ballot is an instructional tool for the debaters to improve their performance; write a thorough critique of the debate, outlining the main contested arguments; offering overall comments on the team and for the speakers is also important.

Be detailed, avoid vague. Detail is very important, especially for coaches; describe contradictions as precisely as possible. Focus on the arguments, not the debaters; dampen critical comments, a mild rebuke will be misinterpreted as a significant censure; often soften your critical statements. Instead of writing "this argument makes no sense", write, "it’s difficult for me to accept the reasoning behind this argument"; and be as specific as possible, outlining the weaknesses, etc. Indirection or dilution of comments often prevents students from misperceiving criticisms.

Conclude with positive feedback. Include as much positive feedback and comments about performance as possible. Your comments should be encouraging for future performance.

Giving a Constructive Critique

Once your ballot is completed and your decision made, you may call in the debaters to review the debate with them; give constructive comments, without disclosing decision. Often there is a period of oral criticism that follows the debate. This is a formal opportunity for you to communicate your comments to the students directly. An oral critique is meant to supplement, but does not substitute for, written comments on the ballot.

This is an opportunity to talk with students directly, offering suggestions for future debates. Also, it is sometimes helpful for others, including other judges, to hear how you reached your decision.

Oral criticisms should be optional, and you should not feel obligated to offer one; many judges feel uncomfortable articulating why they voted the way they did, immediately after a debate, in a crowded room, in a language they may be uncomfortable speaking; you may simply want time to compose your thoughts more carefully on the ballot, and talk to teams afterward.

Criticism presented in an informal discussion with students and coaches may be more relaxed after the debate. Often students are more receptive to comments when they have some distance from the debate.

Overall Comments vs. Individual Comments


Frequently Asked Questions

Can the judge ask to see a piece of evidence of the case from either team?

Yes, in some cases, but only after the debate. The judge may ask for the material, but rarely is this necessary; only if it is an essential issue in the debate.

Can the judge ask a member of the audience to leave the room?

Yes. If a member of the audience disrupts the debate, even after several requests by the judge, the judge has the responsibility to ask the person to leave the room. Audience members should be prepared to stay for the duration of the debate.

Can the judge interrupt the debate to ask a question or request clarification?

No. The judge should not interrupt the flow of the debate. If an argument is unclear to the judge, it is the responsibility of the debater to clarify; the judge may indicate confusion by offering a quizzical look. But the judge should not interrupt during prep-time, constructive or rebuttal speeches, or during cross-examination. If the point is not clarified, the judge must make the decision based on the available information. However, if the judge cannot understand the speaker because he or she is speaking too quickly or too softely, they may politely request that they alter their style. Be careful, though, to weigh this against making students uncomfortable.

Can I stop the debate to correct a mistake?

Stopping students in the middle of a debate to correct them would seem almost always inappropriate. Naturally, there might be exceptions. But make a comment on the ballot rather than interrupt a debate. Some countries have rules that allow a judge to stop a debate if something is not being done correctly. This may only apply to questions of format, i.e. if the wrong person stands up for cross-examination. But not if there is a new argument, etc. The decision to stop a debate in the middle of an already stressful activity must be weighed against the trauma to the student and the educational benefits of stopping.

Is it appropriate for the judge to translate a word if the students do not understand it?

Sometimes. The judge may translate a word from a foreign to a native language if one of the debaters does not understand. However, the judge may not define the word, explaining what it means. The focus should be on arguments, not language.

Is it appropriate for the judge to explain an argument to a competitor during a debate?

No. A judge should not assist the competitors in their understanding of arguments during a debate. The judge should should not offer assistance that would unfairly benefit one team.

Why are judges’ evaluations so different?

In an ideal world, this wouldn’t happen. Intelligent judges applying the same standards would arrive at the same decision. Sometimes judges look for different things based on different backgrounds or their conception of the resolution (the motion). Some are persuaded by smooth delivery others by the simple quality of the arguments. Despite our best attempts to be "objective", it’s hard to keep our personal preferences from influencing our decisions. I think it’s important for judges to discipline themselves to be fair to both debaters – to really listen to what they are saying and not to prejudge their arguments, and to be clear about the standards agreed upon to judge the round. This last part is particularly important at the early stages of a debate program. Judges need to talk about how they decide rounds.

How important is cross-examination? How do judges evaluate it?

Cross-examination is very important. Some debaters tend to minimize it because they are not very good at it. The best debaters are excellent cross-examiners. They will skillfully expose the weaknesses of their opponent’s case – either in logical or evidentiary terms. They will also ask questions which set up their own case. Cross-examination allows the judge to evaluate a debater’s understanding of the key issues of the round. Good judges listen to constructives and form questions in their own mind, hoping that the cross-examiner will ask the same questions. A judge will also evaluate how successfully a debater uses what they’ve elicited in cross-examination in their rebuttals. It’s amazing how many debaters will get a damaging admission in cross-examination only to fail to follow-up on it in rebuttal.

Is it allowed to have so many arguments that the opposing team cannot manage to refute all of them during the limited time?

It’s allowed, but unwise. Some debaters think it is a good strategy to bombard the other side with arguments, so as to overwhelm them. But they also risk overwhelming the judge. Furthermore, it also raises serious questions about the quality of these arguments. How persuasive are arguments that are merely asserted or poorly substantiated? How difficult is it for your opponents to refute them? One is better off developing strong arguments with ample evidence.

Should judges always analyze the debate?

Yes, of course, that's their job. They're supposed to analyze the arguments of both debaters, not only as they are presented in their opening speeches but as they are developed in the round. They are also supposed to evaluate how effectively a debater "clashes" with his or her opponent's case, being especially attentive to how well arguments are recast in light of new challenges, including new evidence.
But I also think your question is hinting at something else - should the judges do the debating for thedebater - what we call "intervention?" The answer is no. As a educator, a judge should always comment on the merits of the cases before him or her, even if they go uncontested. Just because the other debater missed the weaknesses, doesn't mean they didn't exist. However, in deciding who should win the round, a judge should only rely on what's actually transpired in the round, not on what he or she would've have done. I don't know how many times I've written a ballot that "this doesn't make sense" or "that's incomplete" or "why didn't you pursue this line of reasoning?" only to have to decide for that debater because his or her opponent failed to identify these weaknesses or had too many of his own. Deciding a round is always a relative judgment - someone has to win.
On the other hand in a really good round, it's unfortunate that someone has to lose.
But there can be no 'ties'.

Debate Transcripts and Decisions



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