Three Ways to Improve Your On-Case Refutation by Adam Torson

On-case refutation is something of a lost art. A standard negative strategy is often to read a variety of positions for the majority of the 1NC/NR and do little or no work on the AC itself. On rare occasions this can be situationally appropriate, but you are conceding a tremendous amount of offense that can be leveraged against your position, and opening the door for the AC to extend its bag-of-tricks designed specifically to counter your strategy. Similarly, affirmatives often neglect meaningful refutation of the negative position, mostly because of perceived time trade-offs with the strategies listed above.
Here are a few things you can do to improve your on-case refutation skills.

1. Generate Offense.

Offense is a reason to prefer your advocacy to your opponent’s (as opposed to defense, which simply problematizes your opponent’s argument). There are several reasons why generating a lot of offense on your opponents case is strategically advantageous.

At the most basic level, it makes sense to spend as much of your time as possible giving the judge arguments on which they can pull the trigger rather than simply reasons why your opponent’s core link story is dubious. This does not mean making lots of blippy arguments falsely labeled turns. It means that a high proportion of the arguments you do make should be offense – a reason to prefer your position and therefore vote for you.

Furthermore, offense is advantageous as a time trade-off. Good affirmative debaters will be able to disregard entirely a significant number of the defensive arguments you make simply by virtue of good issue selection. They cannot ignore offense you generate. They will either have to answer the argument directly, try to control some kind of internal link to the impact, or weigh against it.

Finally, generating more offense tends to give you more options in your rebuttal. Not only will you have more potentially winning arguments to extend, but you will have more ability to do creative link comparison and impact weighing.

2. Target Key Links.

Maybe the worst strategic sensibility in LD Debate is the belief that a strategic refutation is characterized by a stream-of-consciousness spew of as many arguments as you can conceivably make against each of your opponent’s arguments. Just because you can make an argument doesn’t mean that you should. This strategy dramatically muddles the round, undermining any hope you have of advancing a clear, positional advocacy that facilitates meaningful argument comparison to construct a reasonable link story. It also puts you at risk of contradictions or double-turns, makes judging mistakes or intervention almost inevitable, and drastically undermines the perceptual dominance you project.

Instead, a strategic rebuttal will target key links in a case position. You don’t have to make twelve arguments about why nuclear war won’t necessarily lead to extinction or why global modeling of U.S. policies is the worst internal link ever if you can articulate a compelling, well-developed link turn on a level above all that garbage. Perhaps you can exclude or severely mitigate their arguments on the standards level. Or, your opponent’s case may rest on some dubious unsupported assumption which is a lynchpin to their position. The point is that targeting these links and telling a clear story about them is better than the “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” approach. Give yourself enough credit to believe that you can and should win head to head comparison on the link debate rather than trying to avoid meaningful clash.

3. Research Research Research

Debaters mistakenly believe that research is simply a part of the casing process. In fact, meaningful refutation strategies are research-based through and through. This is true in a couple of ways.

First, individual arguments should be informed by research and preferably supported by evidence. This is not to say that there isn’t room for well-reasoned analytic answers, but evidence is often a tent-peg to reality that frames your argument as plausible on face. It also takes advantage of the fact that a large proportion of academic literature is devoted to criticizing others rather than (or in addition to) articulating the author’s own argument.

Even if your refutation is entirely analytic, research should still play a substantial role in determining your overall strategy. Take advantage of the research base to identify key points of contention in the literature (see #2 above), recognize reasoning trends or common mistaken assumptions in particular types of positions, or even just what types of arguments are not well defended by the academic proponents of the position you’re attacking. At the very least, research will give you a good idea which substantive issues you are likely to be ahead on or behind on as the debate plays out, which can inform the choices you make about what kinds of issues to forward and which to marginalize.

Disregarding on-case refutation altogether is a lazy approach to rebuttal strategy. Put in the due diligence to develop this skill set, and you will be rewarded both competitively and educationally.