Refutation and Rebuttal in a Debate

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Offline Md. Mehedi Hasan Shoyeb

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Refutation and Rebuttal in a Debate
« on: April 28, 2011, 11:21:10 AM »
The rebuttal period is a time for refutation and summary; in fact, such emphasis has been placed on summary that some writers now refer to the "rebuttal-summary" period. Sometime one team believes that it has completely refuted the other team's arguments before the final speech starts, and then it may be devoted entirely to summary.

In all fairness to the opposing team, the constructive arguments of a team should be established in the constructive speeches, to allow time for the opposition to answer. Consequently, the following rule is well established:

Rule: No new constructive arguments may be introduced in the rebuttal period.

A constructive argument is generally an alleged advantage or disadvantage in one of the proposed plans. All such arguments must be brought out in the constructive speeches.

Constructive arguments introduced in the rebuttal must be disregarded by the judge, with only one exception:

Rule: New constructive arguments may be introduced in the rebuttal period if the rebuttal is the first opportunity to answer a direct question and if these new arguments answer the question.

The long-standing policy against new constructive arguments in the rebuttal period exists to protect teams from the last-minute introduction of new arguments by their opponents. If a team lets down the bars by an indiscreet question, it no longer deserves this protection; accordingly, the opposition may, if it desires, take advantage of the situation by introducing new constructive arguments in rebuttal. Such instances are rare because most teams find it desirable to introduce their constructive arguments early enough in the debate to support them with adequate evidence.

Rule: Refutation may take place in any part of the debate and is not limited to the rebuttal period.

The above rule is so well understood that its mention would be unnecessary were it not that sometimes young debaters claim otherwise. "Refutation" includes the introduction of new evidence, when used to counter a point raised by the opposition.

Rule: Either team, when advocating a plan of action, must explain that plan early enough in the debate so that the opposing team has a constructive speech in which to reply.

Advantages and disadvantages in a proposed plan of action are generally considered new constructive arguments; and new constructive arguments are not permitted in rebuttal. Therefore, each team must give the other an opportunity to bring out new arguments of this kind before the rebuttals begin.

From the standpoint of the affirmative team, the rule is not particularly important. The affirmative can delay the explanation of its plan until the second constructive speech if it chooses, since the negative still has a constructive speech in which to bring out the defects of the plan before the rebuttals.

From the standpoint of the negative team, however, the rule is significant. Where there are only two constructive speeches per team, the negative must propose any counter plan in its first constructive speech. If the negative waits until the second constructive speech to introduce the counter plan, the affirmative is forced to ignore it or present new constructive arguments in rebuttal.

If the affirmative is on its toes when the negative violates this principle, it can refuse to discuss the matter, pointing out that the negative left it no constructive time in which to bring out the disadvantages. The judge then considers the counter plan irrelevant, out of the debate, and does not consider it in his decision. This, in effect, penalizes the negative.

If, on the other hand, the affirmative chooses to meet the counter plan in the short time remaining, it does so knowing full well that it will be working under a handicap. Therefore, if the affirmative elects this course it is not entitled to any special sympathy; the judge simply reaches his decision on the basis of the arguments presented.

The last affirmative rebuttal presents special problems of its own, since it is the last speech of the debate and the negative has no opportunity for reply. One such problem is covered by this principle:

Rule 8e. The affirmative must, if possible, reply to the major negative arguments before the last rebuttal.

Suppose this rule were not followed. Suppose, for instance, that the affirmative had opportunity to answer some important negative argument earlier in the debate, but failed to do so until the last speech. The negative, having no speech in which to reply, is unfairly handicapped.

If the negative rebuttalist anticipates this problem, he can make the affirmative look very bad by pointing out, as he summarizes, that the affirmative had opportunity to answer this argument earlier, and they did not do so, so any new defense dragged out at the last minute is under suspicion.

Suppose, however, that the negative does not anticipate the problem, and the affirmative does step out of bounds in that final speech. Suppose, for example, that the final speech contains a serious misquotation, or inaccurate facts that seem rather important, or new constructive arguments. What protection does the negative have? What can it do?

There are two methods for preventing unfairness of this kind. Either (1) the judge must be required to recognize and discard such material from the last rebuttal, or (2) some method must be developed to permit the negative to call the attention of the judge and audience to the situation. Since the negative team can recognize inaccurate quotations or facts more easily than the judge, the following rule seems to provide the preferable solution:

Rule: If the negative believes that the affirmative is making unfair use of the last rebuttal, it may ask for the floor to point out the situation. The affirmative may then defend the statements in question or correct them and apologize.

If the judge determines that the negative charges are true, he penalizes the affirmative by throwing out the arguments in question. If he determines that the negative charges are unjustified, no action is necessary. It seems preferable for the judge to state, before the affirmative speaker resumes his remarks, whether the arguments are to be thrown out or not, for only in this way will the affirmative rebuttalist know whether to continue in the same vein.

The judge makes no distinction between the last rebuttal and any other speech unless the negative points out some unfairness.

The time consumed in appeals and their settlement is not counted.