scales-1333455_1920At my day-job, statUP, today we completed a major product design, the coach dashboard. That means Monday is when we’ll decide what major design epic to pick up next. Choices include Athlete Profile+, Skilltrees, Goal-Tracking, Club Dashboard, Mobile App Improvements, and more. All of these are good choices and must eventually be done. But which one first?

How do you even decide which one to do first? What’s needed is a weighing mechanism. As Aristotle points out in the Rhetoric, debate uniquely pits contraries and the effective rhetor must learn fluency in the virtues to sort “questions where precision is impossible and two views can be maintained”.

Some weighing mechanisms we’ll likely apply:

  • Revenue: we should choose to develop software features that people will pay for now.
  • Data Collection: we should choose to develop features that ensure folks are incentivized to enter more stats.
  • U.S. Soccer: we should prioritize work that gives this key partner/client insight into the soccer world.
  • Delight: since referrals are the best engine of growth, we should focus on the “icing on top” features that athletes will love.

Do you see how deciding which of these is most important will help us choose between plans? These are miniature “importance scales” that we introduce to a problem to sort out what decision is best.

You’ve got to be able to introduce a weighing mechanism (standard/criterion/test/goal/objective/purpose/value) at any time to sort between arguments in a debate round when both sides are “correct” about something.

I think you should want to be an advanced debater. It is through that lens (standard, weighing mechanism, whatever) that I propose you read this article 🙂 Do we share this assumption?

Function of a Weighing Mechanism: Argument from the Sky

Too many debaters want to debate definitionally rather than substantively. For example, “national security is actually perfect, should you use this particular definition, so your side of the resolution is being compared to something that can only be perfect. Gotcha.”

Debate is not like math. Debate is like life. Should you eat pizza for lunch today? “Maybe,” not “7.” Debate works in the world of ambiguity where a policy may BOTH cost U.S. jobs AND prepare the U.S. for long-term economic success, at the same time. Comparing and contrasting the quantification of such things is where advanced debaters turn to weighing mechanisms.

In most advanced debates, both sides are arguing something “true.” The plan costs some amount of security and gains some amount of free market exchange. When both sides are articulating something “true,” we need a new scale – a scale to sort out “importance.” That’s what a weighing mechanism does.

A weighing mechanism introduces some new, outside concept, not given to us by the resolution. This outside concept serves as a standard (or a judge) by which to measure two competing CORRECT sides.

Function of a Weighing Mechanism: Test the Resolution

Some debaters get lost in the weeds of a weighing mechanism and forget why they proposed them. Worse still, some debaters are told to “have a value and criterion” in value debate, but never even told why. I cry.

Weighing mechanisms serve to link the arguments to the resolution through a construct (the weighing mechanism). So if the resolution is “we should improve statUP for the athlete next,” then applying a weighing mechanism of U.S. Soccer would exclude the plan of “build the Athlete Profile+ next.” Someone articulating this weighing mechanism – let’s call it a “short-term objective” – isn’t objecting to the PROOF OF the resolution (that building the Athlete Profile+ next would improve statUP for the athlete), but is instead saying those arguments are unimportant as the basis for negating the resolution.

Take the NCFCA policy topic this year. If someone proposes some sort of action in the South China Seas as a case, NEG may propose a weighing mechanism of “multilateral action” as the criterion of effective foreign policymaking. Likely, NEG here has a disadvantage that the plan usurps the world order and causes the U.S. to be perceived as a rogue/authoritarian nation. But here’s the key: NEG is not arguing that AFF’s plan would not work or be effective in the way AFF claimed. Likely, NEG admits to all that. Instead, NEG is saying that whatever benefits AFF is aiming for aren’t as important as acting multilaterally.

Thus, the original AFF arguments for the case would be delinked and excluded rather than directly refuted. The disadvantage is linked and included. So now there are arguments going against the resolution, but no arguments going for the resolution – not because the arguments for the resolution are “false” or even “weak,” but because they don’t apply under the principle of what’s most important in foreign policymaking with China: multilateral action.

How to Set Up a Weighing Mechanism


There are four standard concepts in a weighing mechanism. But remember, you are introducing an argument from the sky… you can do whatever you want!

Memorize these parts.

  • Name
    •  It’s useful to name the standard you’re proposing. “I propose National Security as the standard.” I supplied a list of words you can use here besides “value” or “weighing mechanism,” two debater cliches. (The list: standard/criterion/test/goal/objective/purpose/value) And please don’t say it’s yours. If you propose that the audience use the value of Justice to sort out the arguments of a round, Justice isn’t “your value” – you didn’t invent it and don’t own it. Justice is what you propose should be the value. Such language demonstrates you understand the function of a weighing mechanism, unlike saying “my value.”
  • Definition/Description
    •  We’re not looking for a boring dictionary definition here. Being “correct” isn’t what’s essential – we need to understand what you mean by the name you supplied. What if our understanding of that phrase is different than yours? Here’s where you explain that “morality” means the “Judeo-Christian Worldview’s system of morality.”
  • Reasons to Prefer
    •  Now the argument part. This is where you articulate WHY “Delighting Customers” should be the criterion used to make today’s decision. I recommend the use of quotations, historical examples, or similar in-depth forms of proof, not mere assertion. Get your audience excited about their decision, and recognize that you’re arguing right now about the deeper WHY behind decisions. Sometimes these are called “value links” because you’re articulating why the main weighing mechanism links to the resolution (the decision at hand).
  • (Optional) Division
    •  Here we take the item named in point 1 and identify what “leads to” the main weighing mechanism. For example, “National Security is created best by meeting two conditions: 1. Freedom from external threat, and 2. Reduction of cause for enmity.” We’re taking the big picture and dividing it into pieces – a standard critical thinking approach.

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-5-18-44-pmUnfortunately, many debaters just call part 1 the “value” and part 4 the “criterion.” But it’s not that simple. There’s actually an infinite hierarchy of values (justice is inside Purpose of Government, which is inside Social Contract, which is inside Society, which is inside of Creation, which is inside of God’s Mind in reference to all that exists if you want to go that far up).

This point is optional because you may have already identified a narrow enough weighing mechanism that no additional division is needed.

What to do with a Weighing Mechanism

Two things:

  • Analyze Opposing Arguments – Identify how their arguments do not fit into the weighing mechanism, or if they do, exactly what they’re worth under this new standard. For example, “the Athlete Profile+ only barely helps U.S. Soccer care about our platform.”
  • Link Your Arguments – Now you weigh out your arguments through the weighing mechanism. Show that your points count for more.

And that’s how to get started with weighing mechanisms. More here later, or in the next section of Upside Down Debate.

Go Debate!


Isaiah_McPeak-squareIsaiah McPeak is the Head Coach and CEO of Ethos Debate. He has over 10 years experience in speech and debate, coaching 5 national champions and placing top 5 in multiple leagues himself. Outside of the debate world, he’s had years experience as an intelligence analyst, writer, rhetoric teacher, and communications coach. He is also the CEO of the new startup, statUP.

Isaiah is also author of Upside Down Debate, a 5-star rated book that teaches debate from a life-transference and Classical Rhetoric perspective.

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