“Interesting claims about history, government, economics, politics, and culture are often introduced in parliamentary debates… There are other, less obvious, factual inaccuracies in many debates. Many debaters claim to represent the factual world (at least the non-quantum one) with a knowledge base that includes a healthy does of misinformation, half truths, gossip, rumors, innuendo, hearsay, official government or corporate propaganda, quasi-royal decrees, slander, puffery, eyewitness accounts, hyperbolic realities, voodoo simulacra, carnie wisdom (not to be confused with Carnie Wilson), folk psychology, reporting from the Fox News Corporation, psychic hotline notations, tarot pronouncements or a personal belief system.”
-John Meany and Kate Shuster, Art, Argument and Advocacy, Mastering Parliamentary Debate
The “War Room” is aptly named. In the high-stress, discordant clamor of prep time it’s easy to mistake fiction for fact. It happens like this: you drag your partner into the war room where everyone is frantically scrolling through the bowels of the internet and shouting out anything remotely helpful—be it from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Buzzfeed, or something a coach partially remembers from a class they took 5 years ago. Truths are mixed with rumors and thrown together to construct a case. Prepping alone, or in a well-organized war room (if one exists), can help cut down on these inaccuracies. But what about when your opponent brings misinformation into a round? How do you respond to innacuracy in a respectful and formal way? Here are 7 approaches to doubt the facts in parli.
1. Counterexample/appeal to common knowledge:
Even if you don’t have a piece of evidence in-round, if you can cite recent current events or historical fact hopefully the judge will know what you’re talking about. If not then at least it casts serious doubt on your opponent’s claim.
2. Point of information for additional examples:
Asking for follow up information can be a great way to call attention to, and throw doubt on, the piece of evidence.
3. DON’T complain:
You will earn neither sympathy or ballots by complaining about the other team’s abuses. Besides, you don’t even know if the team is purposefully citing erroneous information (they’re probably just repeating what they heard), so attacking them for being unfair or abusive is even less accurate than it is persuasive.
4. Point of information for the source:
You can never go wrong by asking for the source. If they don’t know it, then they’ve discredited themselves. If the fact is from a shady source, then you can point that out politely and ask for it to be discounted.
If you read and appreciated the opening quote, try memorizing a little bit of it and quoting it in round. Not only will you sound a like a boss, but it’s a humorous and professional way to deal with what can be a very touchy issue.
6. Know which battles to loose:
Parli moves fast, if you don’t stop and look around every once and a while, you may get hung up on strategically unimportant details and miss the big arguments. You don’t have to confront every inaccuracy, only the ones that really matter to the outcome of the round. Especially since addressing misinformation is a tricky subject and can get you caught up in a debate of the “This is true”,“No, it’s not”, “Yes, it is”, “No it’s not” variety.
7. Honesty is the best policy:
Tell the judge straight up that you doubt the piece of information. Do so professionally and without any trace of anger or complaint. Give the benefit of the doubt to your opponents by not taking an accusatory stance. Then drop it and move on to other arguments. It can be really embarrassing for the other team—since they probably weren’t purposefully sowing misinformation—to be called out, so don’t belabor the point.
In the end, the best way to deal with untruths is to keep them out of the round. If you doubt a fact, don’t say it, as simple as that. Even though prep time is chaotic and it’s tempting to snatch up every dubious scrap of advantageous info, we owe it to our judges, opponents, and audience to be seekers of not only victory, but truth.