Alternative Methods of Risk Assessment
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Current risk assessment models in debate are flawed. They work under the false premise that every impact is true until the other side disproves it. The burden of rejoinder leads debaters to run nonsensical disads with a long and unrealistic internal link chains. For example, a sample elections DA states: Trump will lose now, the plan causes him to win reelection, which leads to extinction because allies would perceive that America has abandoned them, start to proliferate their weapon supply, causing a regional war that draws in global superpowers, encouraging nuclear war. This argument makes no sense, and anyone who genuinely believes in it is crazy, but it is normalized in the debate world and has won several rounds. Since the negative's argument is true there is an affirmative burden of rejoinder to disprove it. This method of risk assessment means that we never talk about structural violence, and probability-based impacts and arguments are built off of absurd internal link chains. For example, instead of arguing that a recession is inherently bad and would result in human suffering, debaters only make the argument that a recession would lead to extinction.
Debaters who run structural violence impacts usually run framing arguments to tell the judge to prioritize probable impacts. This argument is good but doesn’t go far enough. Debaters have to first win that the other team’s extinction-level impact is less probable than the case even though in the real world existential impacts, besides warming impacts, have little-to-no probability. The other team also has several tricks to make the judge buy into their framing. Bostrum framing, the argument that an extinction doesn’t kill 7.5 billion people, but trillions because future lives are lost often beats probability framing. Teams can also argue for a risk assessment model based on magnitude * probability.
1 in 100 (.01) 1,000,000,000 = 10,000,000 lives
1 in 1000 (.001) 1,000,000,000 = 1,000,000 lives
1 in 10,000 (.0001) 1,000,000,000 = 100,000 lives
1 in 100,000 (.00001) 1,000,000,000 = 10,000 lives
1 in 1,000,000 (.000001) 1,000,000,000 = 1,000 lives
A 1 in 10,000 chance of a disadvantage culminating in nuclear war would be the equivalent of an affirmative saving 100,000 lives
The way debaters view internal links is problematic. Disads have more internal links than you think. Take an economic impact, you have to know what is the current state of the US economy? Is decline inevitable? How does the plan affect the US economy? Is that supported by warrants? Do those rise to the levels of collapse? Is the impact convincing? Every time you add an internal link to an argument the probability of that argument decreases substantially. The probability of a disadvantage should be found by multiplying all of the internal links together. If the risk of one internal link is reduced to five percent, the probability of the disadvantage cannot be above that. This view of internal link chains prevents a disadvantage from having tens of internal links and connecting your plan to a completely unrelated extinction impact.
If debate is supposed to simulate the real world or provide an educational space, the burden of proof should be used. Judges should assume that predictive claims start at zero percent and build up to 100%. Post-round, judges should think about whether an impact is true or makes sense. Many object to this because it results in judge intervention, but the judge assuming that an impact has 100% risk is also intervention. Also, a small bit of judge intervention is much better than teaching every debater the wrong understanding of real-world probability. Under this model of debate, affirmative advantages would be probability-based and/or discuss structural violence issues. Negative impacts would also be probability-based and there would be a higher-emphasis on turns case arguments. The elections DA can still be run, but instead of a nuclear war impact, the negative argument would be that a Trump reelection worsens the affirmative harms. There would also be a higher emphasis on counter plans. You can run the argument as a small theory shell in your first constructive speech and expand on it in later speeches.
Edgemont High School Sophomore