Current Events
11/18/2009 08:00 AM by
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Though we rarely discuss the norms that govern debate, there are many unwritten and seldom debated rules that vastly affect the practices of debate. We take it for granted that the affirmative team will disclose the arguments that they are reading before a debate, and it is an emerging norm to disclose many of the negative arguments that a team has read. These norms can be explained by the reciprocal competitive benefit that compliance with the norm facilitates. Though there is a slight competitive disadvantage to disclosing one’s affirmative before a debate, the benefit of knowing the affirmative before going negative outweighs that disadvantage. Compliance with caselisting norms can be explained in the same way, while providing one’s own information is competitively disadvantageous; the benefit outweighs the cost if there is widespread compliance.

The introduction of paperless debating risks upsetting the current structure of reciprocal norm compliance as it creates new incentives for both paperless and paper teams to take actions that are in their favor at the detriment of their competitors.

While it is obvious that a team would not get away with simply keeping the evidence that a paper team read throughout the debate, different forms of paperless systems would allow a team to do just that with little or no accountability. If a paperless team is generous enough to jump the entirety of their speeches to the other team, and that team decides they want to keep the full text of that speech, then there is little that the paperless team can do, as they would have no idea that this had occurred. The competitive advantage of keeping the full text of speeches, for future preparation if nothing else, might seem worth the minimal risk of discovery. Conversely a paperless team may choose to engage in practices that limit the availability of their evidence or even provide too much information in an attempt to overwhelm their opponents.

How do the examples of competition pushing the bounds of fairness play into the role of new norm creation? They may lead to an establishment of a norm that is in the competitive best interests of all complying participants, or they could point to a reevaluation of old norms of disclosure and information sharing. Given the ease with which paperless information is shared and the extent to which even paper teams rely on electronic evidence production, it is not out of the question that a system of full-text disclosure could replace the current system of citation only sharing. Though there are defensive measures that a paperless team can take, such as using only viewing computers and not USB drives to allow opposing teams to view evidence, it may be that the full-text disclosure of information by paperless teams would allow them to demand a reciprocal gesture from the teams that they debate. Though the norms for paperless debating are far from firmly established, one thing at least is certain; the more teams that participate in paperless debate, the greater the pressure will be to establish reciprocal norms of citation sharing as well as in round debating practices.