As many of you prepare for crucial post-season tournaments, the pressure to perform well can start to get to you. Unfortunately, sometimes this causes debaters to decide to try out some sneaky tactics in an attempt to gain an advantage. Today we’re going to take a look at this by introducing you to the “shady six”: six behaviors that you should absolutely NOT do if you want to be a serious, champion-quality debater.
The best debaters carry an air of credibility. They develop this credibility in a variety of ways: by making good arguments, by being confident, by racking up a wheelbarrow’s worth of trophies. The “shady six,” on the other hand, are behaviors that will quickly destroy your credibility (and not to mention your good debate karma!)
Stop doing these things now!
If you’re doing any of these things, you need to stop immediately. Good debaters win on their skills; they don’t need to resort to shadiness.
1. Clipping Cards
This is probably the most obvious and flagrant version of in-round cheating. “Clipping cards” means saying you read any portion of evidence that you didn’t actually read. This can take any one of several forms: Cross-reading (skipping lines, such as reading every other line of text), not finishing cards, saying “mark that card” and then failing to do so, misrepresenting which portions of the card you read when asked, etc. All of these are cheating, and most judges will be zero-tolerance if you get caught. So just don’t do it.
2. Misrepresenting your evidence
This means cherry-picking sentences or paragraphs by deleting the passages you don’t like (you don’t have to underline them or read them out loud, but you can’t totally delete them from your file), questionable underlining (such as taking out the word “not” to make a card reach an opposite conclusion), or basically modifying the content in any way beyond highlighting/underlining.
Power-tagging, while not usually blatantly unethical, is generally not advisable. You might get away with it sometimes, but why would you want to risk pinning a debate on a card that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny? A good philosophy is to only read evidence that is high-quality enough that you would still feel confident if the whole round came down to that card. Because sometimes it will!
3. Deliberate flashing shenanigans
If you’re paperless, your flash drive game better be tight. It’s not cute to try to confuse your opponent by flashing them files that are purposefully out of order, that contain extra cards, or that are missing cards. Give them the cards you read, in the order you read them, just like you would if you were reading off of paper. May the paperless gods smite infinite computer crashes upon every debater who tries to use flashing as psychological warfare!
This also goes for stealing prep during flashing time. Judges do notice, and many will deduct speaker points if they see you doing it on purpose. If the judge says flashing is on the clock, then by all means, prep during that time. But if they’re generous enough to let you flash off the clock, you had better not be prepping.
4. Dragging your feet to disclosure
You’re aff at a tournament where they schedule in prep time between rounds, so you take your sweet time getting to your room, showing up 5 minutes before start time to finally give your opponents your disclosure. NO. Do not do this. It’s obvious, it’s tacky, and it’s a great way to ensure people stop cooperating with you when it’s their turn to disclose.
5. False disclosure
Even worse than the above, you disclose one thing, then you actually do another. Your opponents wasted all of their pre-round prep working on something irrelevant. This isn’t tricky or clever; it’s evil.
If you don’t want to disclose, then don’t. But don’t try to scam your opponents by lying. Just say “we don’t disclose” if you don’t want to participate in disclosure. Honesty is the best policy.
6. Being a disclosure deadbeat
If you don’t disclose, though, don’t expect others to disclose to you. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it too. If you regularly look up your opponents on the wiki or ask for verbal pre-round disclosures, but don’t provide your information in return, you are a disclosure deadbeat. The disclosure system works as a social contract, where everyone agrees to trade the “element of surprise” for better clash. If you’re reaping the benefits without incurring any of the costs, you’re the debate equivalent of the friend who accompanies everyone to dinner and then refuses to pick up their portion of the bill. Don’t be that person.
Win on the basis of your hard work, not cheating.
Some of you might be thinking, if I can get away with these things, why shouldn’t I do them? That’s a terrible attitude, but here’s a list of reasons anyway:
- It directly hurts you competitively– You probably won’t get away with it. Your judges have a lot more experience than you, and they pick up on things. That is the whole reason they are there. Many judges will punish unethical behavior with reduced speaker points, or even outright losses. Don’t tempt fate.
- It damages your credibility– Believe it or not, most debates are basically ties. Judges are often required to make judgment calls on some issues, and (consciously or not) they’re generally inclined to default to the team they see as “better.” Your level of credibility can be the difference between an L and a W in a close round. Don’t squander that on petty shadiness. Once you get pinned as a cheater, it can be extremely difficult to shake that reputation.
- It inhibits your ability to make friends– Not only are alliances powerful for competitive reasons (I had a number of rounds throughout my career saved only because a generous friend from another school loaned me their file on something I was about to hit), they are also probably one of the most lasting and personally significant outcomes of debate. Ask anyone who’s been around the community long enough—they’ll tell you that they met most of their best friends (and maybe their spouse) in debate. As we’ve said before, you should start treating your opponents like your friends now, because chances are, they will be.
- It delays the development of your skills– Every round you steal with shady behavior is one where you aren’t actually growing and improving as a debater. It is better to lose a round now, but improve, rather than plateau when you start debating teams who have been behaving ethically and cultivating their fundamentals.
- It makes you a jerk– Seriously. You don’t want to be a jerk, do you?
So, if you’re doing any of the “Shady Six,” knock it off right away. Not only do these behaviors make yourself and your team look bad, they also rob you of valuable opportunities to hone your skills. Remember: when you cheat, you mostly cheat yourself.