Wednesday, February 05, 2014

In which we can't get enough of arguing with CP, but if debate people can't argue, then what's the point?

One of the things that CP brings to the judge preference table that I don’t is that he actually goes about preffing judges. I’m not exactly ignorant of the concept, obviously, but I don’t have to do it every week. And as he repeatedly points out, my view is tab-oriented, and, I will grant, perhaps too much so. But if we’re going to present best practices, they have to include every aspect of the situation. It has to work in tab, and it has to work for the participants. It has to work for the circuit teams and it has to work for the local teams at their first college tournament. And it has to make sense across this broad spectrum.

So far we’ve mostly been kicking around the math. I understand completely the idea that a smaller tier means that a match is a better match; what I don’t accept is that a system that doesn’t maximize mutuality should be called mutual. I’m theoretically fine with not doing a system that’s mutual (e.g., ordinals, which I’ve never tried), but while trying to find the best system for the mechanical operation of running rounds, as CP says, we also have to look at a bunch of other stuff. His article about this is at

The first thing we need to look at is the act of preffing itself. I suggested that many posted paradigms are useless, and CP agrees. “The meat of the pref sheet…is based on first hand experience with judges.”

Absolutely. CP says he usually only looks at paradigms, at the lower fringes of his preffing, pointing out that often the mere existence of a paradigm is marker enough, demonstrating that at least the judge is in the game. That makes sense.

The problem is for my theoretical team attending its first college tournament. They are unlikely to have much personal experience of the pool at a national event. And, as CP and I agree, the paradigms are pretty useless, aside from their mere existence. That’s why when I tab I offer registrants classifications for their judges, and pretty broad ones at that: Circuit, Traditional and (trained) Newcomer. There’s probably a better set of classifications, but at least this one has the virtue of simplicity. Newbies, when they pref, can put the traditional judges toward the top (which is presumably what the newbs want to do) and the circuit folk below them. At the very least, this means that when a newb hits a circuiter, they’re not automatically at the mercy of the circuiter’s style in front of the circuiter’s judge. That is the message I send in my traditional note to registrants about preffing if they’re thinking of not doing it; you and I have been there before so I won’t go over that again.

My point is that different people will pref from different starting points, and I think we need to keep things accessible to all. Even if I grant all of CP’s math, I don’t think even he would think that 9 tiers are better for the newbs than 4 or 5. Argument against? The newbs are playing a tougher game here by tougher rules, and competition doesn’t presume an even playing field. Rebuttal: I’m looking for the fairest possible starting point; the competition itself ought to separate out the better players, not the setup of the competition.

Next up, he replies that I am in error about the predictability of the sheets: “Assumption #2: Good pref sheets can win all the rounds!!!” Actually, I agree completely. That’s why I call the pref sheets themselves, no matter how many tiers there are, voodoo math. The numbers assigned to the judges don’t win, the debaters win. The numbers are not necessarily predictive even at the furthest spread. Preffing is a blunt tool at best.

But if preffing is a blunt tool at best, don’t broader tiers make sense? CP says that his pref sheets are anything but imprecise, but he also admits that the pref sheet simply sets the stage and is not predictive. How much stage setting is really possible?

Says CP: Assumption #3: The W/L is the only concern of the pref sheet

Absolutely, and I think the points CP makes here are important for teams who might not know much about preffing. I’m going to quote the whole thing.

This assumption is the most important of the set. The number I hang on a judge isn’t entirely about the likelihood they’ll vote for us. It’s just as much informed by the type of debate that judge would like to hear. If you don’t like debating theory, then you de-pref the theoriest of the theory judges, even if one or two of them is likely to vote for you anyway. The aim here is not to win rounds you would have lost otherwise, but to have debates you find enjoyable and are prepared for.

NStar was a mighty LARPer, and was most at home with DAs and CPs and such. If some framework-happy sophomore in her first varsity tournament came along, and hit him round 2 in front of a 1-2 judge in her favor, a judge who positively loves philosophical framework debate, she’d still be toast. But she could argue the kind of debate she wanted, and he could not, despite being better at it. So even with the W, a harm is caused. It’s sometimes an unavoidable harm, but it’s one the pref system is designed to minimize; and it’s one that blunt, imprecise tiers minimize less well.

Note that it is not a harm that NStar had to debate framework; it’s simply relatively unfair that one debater got to steer the debate into her own home turf and the other didn’t. A better outcome is a judge who likes yet a third style of debate, and so both debaters have to adapt equally. That is, after all, the idea behind mutuality, and an argument for the maximal mutuality possible.

At a wider level, too, I’ll pref differently for younger debaters. Some judges are not as good for us stylistically, but they’re great educators and can give excellent feedback. I won’t stake a junior or senior’s last bid round on being able to adapt to them in front of their favoritest debaters; but I might take the chance to get a good post-round for a student who is going to lose those rounds anyway.

All true.

So I think what I’m saying here is that, of course, CP makes sense and I agree with him. But then he says this: "Why is a tournament better for having 4 categories instead of 8 or 12 or 16? … There’s no argument on my flow of anything being harmed by having smaller, more numerous categories.”

1. At the point where non-mutuality is preferred over mutuality, it is no longer mutual judge preference. Call me small-minded and literal on this, but I am not Humpty-Dumpty and words do not mean what I choose them to mean. Change the name, and I’d be fine, if that were all there was to it.
2. More tiers favors teams already familiar with the pool. Teams already familiar with the pool are already favored by their experience. They should not be able to improve on this by the structure of the tournament.
3. Fewer tiers may indeed lead to less mutuality according to CP’s not incorrect math, when the pairing is indeed mutual, but fewer tiers also force a certain discipline on the field, and make a certain statement about what’s going on. If you want to do ordinals, ranking the pool from top to bottom, fine. But I sort of think that a handful of tiers is not simply “good enough” but is more than enough. Let’s face it, in my approach, you’ll mostly get your 1s and 2s matched evenly; only when you and your opponent are way off will it go down to 3s or 4s, and that’s true also of CP’s approach. If you can’t appeal to a band of judges 16 in number versus a band of judges 12 in number (2 of his 6s), I don’t think you’re that good of a debater. There are plenty of people in the debate universe that maintain that all debaters ought to be able to pick up any judge, and while I disagree with that, at heart I have some sympathy for it. The MJP tiers are, among other things, a tab tool for adjudicating the most important rounds, and I’m happy with the most one-ish 1s in those bubble positions, because I’m recognizing the goal of the tournament as rewarding its best competitors, but most of the tournament isn’t those people in those rounds.

All of this raises the question, should we be looking at ordinals instead of tiers? I’d probably be against it on face because of the difficulty for my theoretical newbs, but no doubt we can give them some assistance similar to my preset judge categories. Than again, maybe not. Or maybe, and this makes more sense, the more “circuit” a tournament is, the more that more tiers makes sense. So maybe a quarters bid like Lex drawing a relatively circuity field absolutely needs a different system than a more general quarters bid like Yale drawing a more diverse field. Maybe that’s really the point here.

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