Meta-Weighing: The Future of Public Forum

Gus Gerlach | Jul 21, 2021
2 min read

The Opinions Expressed In This Blog Post Are Solely Those of the Author And Not Necessarily Those Of DebateDrills

The increasing technical nature of public forum debate and greater speech times has created a need for weighing about weighing, also known as meta weighing. With increasingly sophisticated and pervasive weighing strategies, meta-weighing will likely become an important argument type to understand and read in a variety of rounds.

Meta-weighing is weighing the tools used to weigh the impacts of different arguments. When teams utilize different weighing mechanisms, such as probability or magnitude, there is a need for a metric to compare those weighing mechanisms, or else the judge is forced to intervene and decide what mechanism they think is more important. Just as different types of impacts need to be weighed, different types of weighing also need to be weighed. Absent intervention, there is no way to resolve weighing if one team wins that they have better probability, and one team wins that they have better magnitude. In this way, meta-weighing functions as a framing and top-level response to weighing arguments.

A combination of factors has created the perfect storm for the widespread advent of meta-weighing in Public Forum. First, per the NSDA’s 2019-2020 rule changes, the summary speech was increased in time from two minutes to three minutes. While this increased the total number of potential arguments across the board, it particularly increased the popularity of weighing arguments. The constructive and rebuttal speeches, where case arguments and their responses are typically read, did not increase in time, meaning the ability to make more standard line by line responses did not increase by much. However, weighing, which typically began in the summary anyway, had a huge opportunity to fill in the increased speech time. This increasing popularity of weighing means it has become harder to sift through a typical weighing debate without some guiding metric. Second, the increasing speed and technical nature of Public Forum means teams will continue to look for more ways to get ahead of their opponents using top level responses, such as weighing or even meta-weighing. Teams have figured out the power of weighing to win ballots in close rounds with technical judges. As a result, more teams are beginning to weigh earlier in the round, such as in case or rebuttal. This increases the clash between teams on the weighing level of a debate, driving the demand for comparison between weighing arguments.

Given that the trend of Public Forum is moving towards weighing as an important metric to determine who will win rounds, understanding and utilizing meta-weighing will greatly increase a team’s chance of winning the weighing. A helpful tool to prepare for meta-weighing debates is to treat weighing mechanisms as just another argument and create analytic responses to that argument in backfiles. Having backfiles such as ‘Probability over Magnitude’ or ‘Probability over Link-Ins’ prepares teams mentally for these debates and means they don’t have to think of abstract arguments during prep time.

Teams who understand and are able to utilize meta-weighing will have another strategic capability that their opponents may not have. Getting ahead of the curve on meta-weighing is a great idea for teams who want to be ahead in close, technical-orientated debates.

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