The Other 3 Biggest Burden of Proof Myths (and How to Defeat Them)

Last time, we discussed three ways that the term “burden of proof” has been tortured beyond recognition. Today, we tackle the other three.

Myth 4: Aff must provide evidence against neg speculation.

Affirmative did read evidence that the status quo causes massive urban fires, but how do we know those fires cause property damage? Maybe the buildings burned were going to be demolished anyway. Until we hear a dollar value for the damage, the burden of proof hasn’t been satisfied.

To count as an argument, there needs to be a claim.

Questions and speculation are not arguments and have almost no place in a negative speech. If the negative wants the judge to reject a claim, they need to give the judge a competing claim to believe in.

Aff: Farmers are going out of business.
Neg: Your evidence is from six years ago. How do you know this is still happening?
Aff: Because all the factors causing it six years ago are unchanged.
Neg: Ha! Knew you didn’t have any proof. Let’s assume they’re not going out of business now.

This doesn’t mean a negative without evidence is helpless – quite the opposite. But it does mean that a barrage of “they don’t meet the arbitrary evidence/quantification standards we demand” is usually a white flag of surrender from a negative. It is only effective if the affirmative makes the mistake of validating the standards by trying to meet them. An affirmative with a strong grasp of logical policy debate goes on offense by pointing out that the negative has abdicated the responsibility of making arguments against the resolution.

Again, “We’re not absolutely sure” is not an argument and should not influence a judge’s pen.

Myth 5: Pointing out a lack of evidence is refutation.

Affirmative made an assertion unsupported by outside evidence. What more do you need to know? Throw it out.

The judge must choose between available positions.

You know how frustrated you get when it feels like your judge introduced an argument from outside the round to make his decision? Don’t you just hate that? Let’s imagine we have a good judge who doesn’t do that, and see how he’d handle this exchange:

Aff: The economy is getting worse.
Neg: I didn’t hear any evidence.
Judge: I agree with the neg that there wasn’t any evidence. So the available positions I can accept are: Economy is getting worse, and … that’s it. I have to accept that the economy is getting worse because the negative never gave me anything else to believe.

If your opponent makes a claim requiring evidence, feel free to point it out – but only as your first of at least two responses. The next point should be a competing claim you want the judge to agree with. That’s ground zero refutation. Without that, you’re participating in the debate only in the most technical of senses.

Best case, you then explain why your argument is better. Example: because you do have evidence but the opposing side doesn’t, or because your evidence is better for some reason, or because your position seems most reasonable/obvious. That brings us to the final myth.

Myth 6: Burden of Proof applies only to Aff.

The affirmative plan may seem like a good idea until you remember that it would anger the giant alien preying mantises living just under the crust of the earth. When they rise up and devour the human race, these advantages will be long forgotten. We don’t need evidence of the giant mantises because we’re negative.

Burden of Proof applies to anything outside common knowledge and common sense.

The above is an extreme example, but it’s useful for testing the absurd but popular idea that the burden of proof is unique to affirmatives. Proof is a generic burden that anyone takes on the moment they make a positive statement that is not obviously true.

Here are examples of claims that are immune to the burden of proof because they fall within common knowledge and/or common sense:

Donald Trump is the current president.
Defaulting on our national debt would anger other countries.
Apple products are popular with Americans.
Giving a loaded firearm to an untrained seven-year-old is dangerous.
Making a movie is expensive.
The United States would win a hypothetical war with Malawi.
Farmers cannot compete with similar-quality, cheaper food from other regions.
Some soldiers come home from war zones with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Here are related claims that would require proof:

Donald Trump is despised in Oceanic countries.
80% of America’s national debt is owned by one person.
Apple is the most popular company in America.
Children have an intuitive sense of gun safety.
It is impossible to film a feature-length theatrical film for less than ten million dollars.
The US military would be helpless against Malawi battle walkers.
When buying groceries, most consumers first check to make sure it was grown locally.
PTSD is a hoax.

How to Use Burden of Proof

So let’s apply this to a debate round. Good policy resolutions are not instantly obvious, so the affirmative has the burden to prove the resolution by presenting a case. This is done by making a series of claims, most of which in turn require evidence. This means that smart affirmative teams usually depend on extensive use of outside evidence and numbers.

Let me restate that another way, because this is crucial. Affirmatives read evidence because the claims that they are making require proof, not to satisfy an arbitrary evidence standard that is unique to them. Most negatives have to make similar claims in order to do their job of negating the resolution – meaning that they in turn should rely on evidence. Negatives tend to have an easier time making common sense/common knowledge claims and leveraging cross-ex admissions. Their flexibility means that victory as a negative team, even against a well-researched affirmative, is possible without an evidence brief.

Both sides should have evidence. The burden of proof technically matches for both sides, with any discrepancy being a ripple effect of claims made around the resolution. So the next time you find yourself asking: “Is there enough evidence?” just look at the claim that is being supported. It is the only thing that could ever answer that question.

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