In Defense of Tournament-Required Disclosure

Danny DeBois (Harvard ’18) debated for Harrison High School in New York for 4 years. He won the TOC, NCFL Grand Nationals, Glenbrooks, and the Harvard Invitational (twice). He is now an assistant coach at Harvard-Westlake in California. He attended VBI twice as a student and is now an instructor there.

With Greenhill around the corner, debaters attending should keep in mind that this tournament requires disclosure of case positions on the NDCA wiki (found here: http://hsld.debatecoaches.org/). For those unfamiliar with the practice, this entails putting up a page that includes taglines, citations, and the first and last three words of cards (though some debaters opt to put up full text) of any position that a debater has read on the topic so far. While disclosure has become more common on the national circuit over the last few years, mandatory disclosure at tournaments has not. I will present the case for why more tournaments should enforce mandatory disclosure policies.

As a debater, I attended the Greenhill tournament twice, disclosing case positions there, but at no other tournaments except the 2014 TOC. While I personally preferred not to disclose when it was optional, I think a system of tournament-mandated disclosure is ideal for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it is the most effective way to create transparency in arguments being run. Disclosure is traditionally justified for the following reasons: Debaters will be able to know what arguments are being run on the topic and prepare accordingly, ensuring that the substantively better position, rather than the more surprising position, wins. Additionally, debaters are less likely to get away with miscut evidence; since opponents can check cites and call debaters out if they see that a card is cut out of context. Finally, access to “intel” on other debaters shouldn’t be contingent on whether you have five coaches, one of whose job is to cover your judging obligation, another to scout your biggest competition in every prelim round, and the other three to sit behind your judges and intimidate them. The wiki is defended on the grounds that it allows every debater, regardless of resources, to find out what they might have to debate in a future round. Accordingly, making everyone disclose as a requirement of tournament participation would maximize the benefits of disclosure.

Debaters often don’t disclose for strategic reasons—they’re worried about getting prepped out, or having people copy their positions. While that’s definitely a risk, those problems are already happening in the status quo. Last year, I and many other people heard the same exact Chinese Econ DA in a bunch of different rounds. I’m sure debaters who regularly disclosed hit frequent prepouts as well. I think the best solution to these current problems, however, is to have more disclosure, rather than less. When everyone discloses (like at the Greenhill tournament), people can access every case on the wiki, not just some debaters’. As a result, a prep out becomes less likely just because there’s limited time to prep arguments, but there are so many positions up on the wiki. While this is just anecdotal evidence that should be taken with a grain of salt, I didn’t face the problem of a “massive” prep out at Greenhill either year I attended—worst case, people had a couple of more on-case responses, but they were usually generic blocks that would have been read anyways. Additionally, with so many different positions on the wiki, if position “copying” does occur, at least there are a wider variety of positions to copy, instead of just the cases of three or four teams.

However, disclosure is hotly contested, and avid opponents of disclosure are probably not happy with the justifications I’ve presented so far, which leads me to my last justification for mandatory disclosure—it’s the best enforcement mechanism for disclosure compared to the alternatives currently used.

Two current alternatives to tournament-required disclosure include disclosure theory (a theory argument claiming you should lose for not uploading your positions to the NDCA wiki) and LDLeaks (http://ldleaks.vbriefly.com/), a website where members can upload flows of other people on the circuit for other members to see. Neither alternative seems enjoyable, but unless tournaments mandate disclosure, they’ll continue. Disclosure theory is problematic because disclosure is often something judges have strong opinions on, and many decisions come down to judges voting for the side they personally agree with. Additionally, debaters who run disclosure theory haven’t stopped running it (if anything, it became more common over the past season), and unsubstantive rounds with disclosure theory are definitely worse than rounds where debaters prepped out each other’s positions and had a debate with a lot of clash.

LDLeaks seems less preferable to mandatory disclosure, since it’s run by students and is members only, whereas mandatory disclosure would be open to everyone while still avoiding the problem of “free-riding” because tournaments would punish people who don’t post on the wiki.

What do people think?

UPDATE: Sign Danny’s petition to require disclosure at national LD tournaments!