3 of the 6 “Burden of Proof” Myths You’ll Hear at the Next Tournament
Unlike value theory, policy theory is deeply intuitive and straightforward. So it’s strange to see simple ideas like the burden of proof being distorted into something that forces the judge to put aside common sense. Let’s break down what burden of proof isn’t – and then what it is.
Myth 1: Aff must present X amount of evidence.
“The affirmative needs to provide evidence, but this solvency point doesn’t have any. In fact, the entire case only has three pieces of evidence, which isn’t up to the negative’s standards.”
There is no minimum evidence requirement.
Here’s a quick test: if the affirmative read excerpts from the top news articles of the last week, would that have any impact on the round? Almost certainly not, because that “evidence” would have nothing to do with the arguments.
Counting the total pieces of evidence is trivial. Evidence should be qualified, relevant, and necessary. There is no arbitrary standard for how much is enough, and, as we’ll cover Wednesday, it is theoretically possible for the affirmative to fulfill the burden of proof without reading a single piece of outside evidence.
Myth 2: Aff must present evidence for everything they say.
“The moment any claim comes out of the affirmative’s mouth, it takes on a special weight. We must now assume that it’s false until the affirmative can provide outside evidence.”
Common sense and common knowledge apply.
This myth goes way beyond telling the judge to ignore common sense and common knowledge – critical tools that the judge needs to have to evaluate everything the negative is saying (hopefully). For this to make sense, we must assume that the affirmative speakers are pathological liars and/or completely incompetent.
Neg: “Gravity exists.”
Aff: “Yes, we agree, gravity exists.”
Neg: “Well, now that the aff said it, we’re not so sure. We have to assume it’s false now.”
This isn’t just ridiculous, it’s rude.
Aff: “I saw a lovely sunrise on the drive over here.”
Neg: “Until this is corroborated we must assume the sunset was ugly, or – gasp – that the sun has exploded.”
Myth 3: Proof = quoted expert evidence.
“The only content in opposing speeches are quotes from other people. Everything else is hot air.”
Expert evidence is one optional part of proof.
Merriam-Webster’s defines proof as: “something which shows that something else is true or correct.” Step away from your understanding of what counts as evidence; your job as a debater is to provide grounds and warrants to support your claims. Proof can take many different forms.
Claim: 2 + 2 = 4
Proof: Mathematical subtheorems.
Proof: Here are two fingers. Here are two more fingers. Let’s count the total.
Claim: My favorite food is cheesy pasta.
Proof: I said so, and I am the only person who knows.
Proof: Here’s a picture of me eating cheesy pasta with a big smile.
Claim: This military tactic works well.
Proof: It worked in this battle.
Proof: This general says it works well.
Claim: This chemical is toxic.
Proof: This chemist says it’s toxic.
Proof: 85% of people exposed to the chemical die within 10 minutes.
Proof gets more complex when you step away from fact claims. In policy debate, an entire affirmative case is a form of proof for the resolution. When the negative argues topicality with three sub-points, that structure is adding up to proof of the claim: “The plan is not an example of the resolution.”
Proof shows that something is true. Anything that gives the judge a reason to accept the argument is proof. Logic, common sense, common knowledge, opposing admissions, anecdotes, expert opinions, statistics, thought experiments, and many more all count as proof.
There are three more myths coming next! Number 5 surprises most policy debaters. Come back soon.