[Ndca-l] NDCA and card-clipping

Brian Manuel clariondebate
Thu Dec 13 20:58:44 EST 2012

Hello All,

This is a great topic to spark discussion with Blake this weekend.

Let me preface my post with the following:  These thoughts and comments are
my own and not representative of the College Preparatory School or Stanford
University students, coaches, or institution.

Question 1: Why is card clipping/cross-reading becoming more prevalent?

I don't believe this practice is becoming worse, its just becoming easier
to track and verify.  When I debated in high school from 1997-2000 this
practice was happening quite often.  Back then instead of issues being
brought up during debates, you'd hear it being discussed after the
tournament or at the tournament hotel within social circles.  The reason
for this is that no one could ever really prove a violation beyond a
reasonable doubt.  You'd always have teams who sensed it was happening and
then some who'd even read over a teams shoulder, time them, etc and then
call them out for a violation  However, back then the only way to verify
this egregious practice was to have the accused debater/team re-read the
evidence or speech and see if they can get it in within the same time
frame.  This same solution was my first intuition when I needed to deal
with this issue for my first and only time in my career earlier this
season.  However, after much thought about this verification method, i
don't believe its satisfactory solution to resolve the issue and generate
proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Fast forward to the present day.  Why have instances of this problem

1. Audio/Video recording technology
2. Speech Documents

The increased usage of audio/video recordings of debates mixed with the
digital document copies being read in debate rounds allows for a follow
along system during the round or a double check system once the debate is
finished.  It functionally serves as a de facto instant replay for debate.
However, unlike in the sports world we don't have any sort of governing
body to provide for clear guidelines for what constitutes a reviewable
offense.  Therefore, any team that thinks there is even the smallest
violation immediately throws the challenge flag.  They sometimes do so
prematurely and are punished by losing debates.  They sometimes do so
correctly and don't have enough verifiable evidence to substantiate a

Card clipping/cross-reading are moving into the unchartered territory
comparable to HGH in sports.  Its something people are getting so good at
hiding and perfecting to enhance their debate skills that its becoming even
harder and harder to detect by even the human ear/follow along methods.

I've heard of 3-4 scenarios this year where even after listening to the
video and audio recordings, of debaters who've been accused of violations,
the judges and coaches afterward were still unable to make a ruling beyond
a reasonable doubt.  I keep mentioning "beyond a reasonable doubt" because
I believe the accusation of card clipping/cross-reading in debate is
comparable to an accusation of murder in the real world.  The burden of
proof is so immense in those situations because the crime is so egregious.

Therefore how do we react?  That leads me to the second part of my post:

Question 2:  How do we resolve this issue and prepare for the future?

Since I believe the act is inevitable, its hard to imagine the perfect
world where we can rid the debate community of students who clip cards and
cross-read.   First and foremost, we need to try and figure out what
constitutes a violation.  Is it skipping one word of a sentence in a couple
places?   Is it saying you read portions of a card but never did?   Is it
skipping paragraphs, or even reading across the paper?  I believe these
decisions can only be made in real time by a judge.  Therefore it makes for
a lot of the relevant "lets go to the tape" claims irrelevant.  Also how
can we ever come to a unilateral decision on what a singular definition
is.  We can write guidelines of how to react if this happens but if we
can't define what "IT" is then what is the use?  However, if the day
arrives we can come to a consensus of what it means to clip cards, below
are things we should discourage and encourage and potential penalties to
assess if violators are caught.

Practices we should not encourage/engage in:

1) *Witch hunting* - this issue seems to be the present day McCarthy witch
trials for communists.  People identify who they believe are violators and
then tell all their friends/colleagues so those people are watched under a
microscope by anyone and everyone just waiting to see if they create a
violation.  More so, these teams are getting video taped and recorded for
the purpose of using it against them instead of gaining educational value
from the recording.  The list of violators isn't necessarily public, but
its being passed through back-channeling and private conversations amongst
certain rings of coaches and debaters.  The reason for this being is that
no one necessarily wants the fact they are conducting surveillance to be
known to the one being put under surveillance.

2) *Small Group verification* - this piggy backs on #1.  If you're going to
call someone out, do it in public first.  Don't keep it secret, advancing
your evidence through back-channeling until you gain some sort of consensus
and then go public.  Instead, make it an issue at the moment or don't make
it an issue of it at all.  Retroactive violations do little to help the
cause and just increase animosity among teams, coaches, students without
helping to curb the practice.

3) *Insinuate there has been a violation to gain a competitive advantage,
but not make it an ethical violation*.  This has been done and has created
a competitive advantage for the team making the accusation.  This is
childish and shouldn't be tolerated in debates.  It also wouldn't be
tolerated in any academic or athletic arena.  Therefore, why do we allow it
here?  We hold ourselves to extremely high professional and ethical
standards, but then tolerate acts like these in the name of trying to spare
the children and activity.  Again, it shouldn't be tolerated.

Practices we should engage in:

1) *Encourage debaters to SLOW DOWN* - At its core debate is a
communication activity.  I believe this is the major reason we're seeing
this happen more and more often.  The introduction of the speech document
has allowed people to have a physical copy of text that is being read at
every moment of the debate.  It has reduced flowing by judges and
students.  It has reduced the clarity that arguments in a debate have to be
communicated.  If someone misses something they just go back to the speech
document and fill in the gaps they have.  Very rarely do I notice portions
of cross-ex clarifying what was said or things students have missed.  This
isn't because students flows are now perfect, its because they no longer
need to ask what your 5th argument on politics was because they'll just
consult the speech doc and answer what you have listed there as the #5.
I've been torn about asking for speech documents before the debate.  I've
tried it, then discontinued it, only to start doing it again.  Pretty much
I've decided I like gathering the speech documents as they are being read
in the debates rather than calling for cards after wards because then
immediately following the rounds I can look to cards I need to read for my
decision without students just compiling all the cards they believe are
relevant and giving them to me.  I will more than likely continue the
practice of collecting docs as they are read, but to think I can flow and
read along is crazy talk.  I'm lucky I can keep up with the debates as they
are happening when I'm just listening.  To listen, flow, and read along
takes a special person that is not me.

2) *Speak to your students about the heinous nature of the crime*.  Card
Clipping/Cross-Reading is the most egregious crime a debater can commit in
this activity.  Its along the same lines of doping in sports or
plagiarizing in academia.  You are cheating the system.  The only thing
that keeps these practices in check now is a system of trust and these
violations are cutting at the core of that system.   If students more
clearly understood what this means for them and how it can effect their
long term character/identity in the activity, I believe it would come a
long way to trying to halt the system.  People are hearing about issues
happening and think that would never be my kids.  However, how many coaches
have really followed through with class lessons dedicated to ethics in
debate?  If you have I applaud you.  If you haven't you should think about
it.  I know it should just be understood, but when a thread like this is
begun by a coaches association its time to reevaluate our position.

3) *Assess meaningful penalties*:  Losing a debate, receiving zero speaker
points, and even losing baker points or access to the award don't have the
teeth necessary to combat this problem.  None of the above mentioned things
really leave a lasting impact on a debater.  They usually believe the judge
messed up, it was a one time error, or better yet they'll just "never do it
again".  We always want to preserve the students integrity and give them a
second chance.  However, what does that prove to the rest of the community,
and the integrity of the game in general?  If a student can cross-read in
25 debates but is only caught and punished for one, it lets students
believe that the other 24 were ok.  Also if you're of the school of thought
that this is normally a one and done issue, shame on you.  This goes back
to my initial thought that students are learning to perfect this rather
than stop doing it.  Its the HGH of sports, the Cream, etc.  It is becoming
more and more evolved and is ahead of the technology to catch it.
Therefore, how do we stop it.  We functionally levy the death penalty
against violators.  This means you are banned from competitive practice for
an academic season.  Some might find this TOO harsh but if you are caught
cheating in school you can face the maximum punishment of expulsion.
Therefore, maybe instead of a season ban, we can ban students from the
major post season national championships such as the TOC, NFL, etc.  Also
there could be penalties levied against  them to strip them of membership
into the NFL Honor Society, an honor most universities acknowledge.  There
needs to be a punishment to fit the crime.  Once this happens I am sure
we'll see a quick reduction in this practice.  Debaters hold those events
paramount to any other event they attend all year.  To believe there is a
risk of losing out on those opportunities due to unethical practices, I'm
sure the cost-benefit analysis put into committing such a crime turns in
favor of not doing it at all.

This then begs the question of how do we know who the violators are?  I
propose calling them out.  If you have a violation that occurs in your
debate there should be a public note of it occurring.  I believe tournament
packets should include a list of infractions that occurred at any given
tournament.  I also believe that each tournament should post lists to
public list-servs and send said document to the powers that be at the
violators school and to those who host the TOC, NDCA, NCFL, and NFL.  This
act is no different than finding a student in violation of your schools
honor code.  It demands the same level of reprimand and visibility.
Violations should not be tolerated by the community at all.  For every
violation we tolerate it will multiply to other instances and once you show
leniency in one area you can't crack down in other areas.  The policy must
be uniformed across the board.

We make a big deal about it as a community.  We then want to start a lively
discussion of how to deal with it.  However, no one wants to propose any
set of harsh penalties that will actually stop it from happening.  The
penalties proposed to date will do little to curb the issue.  Start
treating this problem as if you caught a student cheating on an exam,
plagiarizing a paper, using performance enhancing drugs in sports, and I
bet you'll see a very quick reduction in violations.   You can never rid
the activity of the practice you only can aim to reduce it through the
harshest of penalties.

I don't believe that codes of conduct, language of how a tournament will
deal with these issues, lesson plans, or small punishments will deal with
any of the underlying issues.  I believe there are 2 easy answers.  A) SLOW
IT DOWN!  or B) assess Death Penalty punishments for violations.

That's just my two cents on the issue.

**As an added caveat....if students/coaches are allowed to use film to call
out card clippers, as a judge can I call for film to replay cross-ex,
re-listen to a speech i might have missed an argument or two on, or even
better yet replay the end of a speech to determine when the timer went off
to stricken any arguments that were made after that point?  I'm just saying
once we determine what means can be used to determine violations, why
should we limit it to only those offenses?.  Just some more food for
thought before we go down this rabbit hole.

Brian J. Manuel
Director of Policy Debate
Stanford Debate Society
Stanford University
(c) 650.735.1455

On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 1:20 PM, Jon Voss <jvoss1223 at gmail.com> wrote:

> All,
> Seems like the NDCA could employ two new approaches here, each one
> targeting a different "end" of the card-clipping / cross-reading problem.
> 1 - *Education.* Sue and Jane already discussed this a bit, but there
> exists a very real chance that some young debaters / new coaches /
> developing programs don't understand the difference between "selectively
> highlighting a card" and clipping it.  Developing a lesson plan that
> explains the difference would go a long way in resolving this issue,
> especially if that lesson plan helped to break down the explanation of why
> the practice in question is so destructive.  Most of the folks who will
> read this email agree that clipping cards is reprehensible - but many of
> the ears that we're targeting don't really "get it," and tautologically
> insisting that "cheaters should lose" won't do much to fix that.  Axioms we
> take as true, like "debate is founded on trust," or "clipping cards cuts at
> the core of the activity" both presuppose that evidence (and the ways in
> which it's represented) plays a major (maybe primary) role in what we do.
> It does - but that needs to be clear to people who haven't been in the
> trenches of the game for so long.
> Education is also important for tournaments and their directors.  Many
> (maybe most?) tournaments have no established operating procedure for
> instances of ethical violations.  The NDCA should draft a document that
> tournament directors can use *if they so choose*.  Obviously, it is
> beyond the purview of the organization to create a set of mandates to
> discourage card clipping...but the NDCA could establish norms that would
> likely incur minimal resistance and serve as de-facto rules in most
> instances.  Tournament directors could opt not to use these rules and
> instead craft their own - but these instances would almost certainly be
> minimal if the NDCA's "don't cheat" document is decent.  It's not like this
> hasn't happened before - a few years ago, the membership strongly believed
> that "disclosure is good and more is better." While the NDCA was not able
> to *mandate* disclosure, the creation of the Wiki and the Open Evidence
> Project (both norms in the sense that no one *has* to use them but
> everyone is able to) served to make the *end goal* a reality.
> 2. *Deterrence* - I fundamentally agree with Carver - there should be a
> punishment larger than a loss for clipping cards.  Without more of a
> deterrent, it's too easy to rationalize the act: "we're not going to beat
> this team anyway, so why not try it?" I will fully admit that the
> aforementioned example presents a pretty cynical view of high school
> debaters - but it only takes one or two bad ones to ruin the trust of the
> activity for everyone else.  The NDCA only has jurisdiction over its
> tournament and its awards - but that may be enough.  If the concern is
> simply that disqualifying a team from the Baker race on the decision of a
> single judge risks that judge making a mistake, the NDCA could establish a
> review committee.  Most clipping accusations include a recording, and if
> the team accused thinks the judge makes a mistake, they could submit the
> necessary materials to the NDCA for review. Obviously the individual
> decision would stand, but they could "re-qualify for the baker" if the
> review panel decided the judge made a mistake. This particular proposal
> needs fine-tuning, but I'm not the logistics guru necessary to make that
> happen.
> $.02,
> jv
> On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 12:27 PM, Scott Wheeler <scottwheels at mac.com>wrote:
>> I think there's a bigger problem, which is that speech documents have
>> replaced actual speeches as the way we communicate information in the round.
>> I try to drill into the students' heads the importance of flowing (which
>> includes flowing the warrants, or else your only means of comparison will
>> be lining up tags about the same general idea, and hoping your arguments
>> are dropped).  Then I get into a round and see one of my teams spend a
>> minute of the 1NC on an advantage that wasn't in the 1AC because the other
>> team didn't get to it.  The advantage wasn't extended in the 2AC (or
>> mentioned again) and I'm scratching my head until my team tells me
>> afterwards that the advantage was in the speech they were jumped.  The
>> students thought that the other team had "cheated" in jumping them cards
>> that they didn't get to, instead of the real lesson, that they themselves
>> were terrible debaters for not listening.  After our talk, I think (hope)
>> that has changed.
>> But it's a tough battle these days.  If I'm judging and ask for a card
>> after the round, debaters suggest others that I might find helpful.  I
>> politely decline, but presumably others don't.  Some students have asked if
>> I also want the speech document jumped to me before each speech, and tell
>> me that some other judges want them.  In an LD round, a student brought me
>> a pre-flow.  I handed it back, astounded, and asked if other judges had
>> accepted it.  He said yes, that every other judge had appreciated it.
>> Though telling opponents to mark cards at the appropriate point and
>> telling them after each speech what was not read is good practice, it's
>> only an ethical issue because we've been lazy in other areas.  There really
>> shouldn't be any incentive to card-clip.  If a model lesson plan is the
>> answer, it needs to go deeper than just pointing out these best practices.
>>  We wouldn't need any sanctions if we had never strayed from the actual
>> best practices--listening, flowing, and speaking.  Otherwise, in a couple
>> years we'll just be "debating" over email.
>> On Dec 13, 2012, at 8:24 AM, Joe Carver wrote:
>> I am glad to see the board initiate this conversation Tara, as even my
>> casual interactions with coaches over the past two years have indicated a
>> significant increase in the alleged occurrences. I really only chime in to
>> provide two points.
>> First, the NDCA's greatest strength (and perhaps, itsweakness) has been
>> the lack of "teeth" that any measures that it enacts can collectively have
>> on the community as a whole. I think that to its credit, this has allowed
>> the organization to serve a partners to programs instead of governors- and
>> the activity benefits from that. For that reason, I think that you are
>> correct to position yourselves to not " police" these activities.
>> I do think however that the board has the ability to truly impact the
>> decision calculus of teams and directors because the Baker Award and the
>> NDCA tournament's profile and credibility have increased so dramatically. I
>> would hope that you would act more definitively than suggested here should
>> an allegation be proven. The Baker Award has come to represent high school
>> debate, the NDCA and the activity as a whole. If a team has been proven to
>> violate the most basic ethical principles of the activity, they should not
>> be allowed to carry the activities mantle. They should be disqualified from
>> the Baker Award entirely.
>> I understand that the challenge is in defining what "proven" means in
>> this context. You have far greater minds than mine to resolve that. I would
>> just encourage all of you to really take into account what damage this
>> practice does to the activity and it's credibility. Educators are charged
>> to develop certain competencies in their charges- quality decision making,
>> personal integrity and interpersonal cooperation among them. As a leader in
>> the community, and the collective respect and credibility that the NDCA
>> has, I believe that precluding a team that has cheated from claiming
>> ownership over an award given named after a coach who would never have
>> allowed such a thing to happen on his watch is the least that can be done.
>> Either way, I am glad to see the NDCA Board continue to be on the
>> forefront of these issues and wish you all well. Now I will crawl back into
>> silence. :)
>> On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 10:00 AM, Tara Tate <ttate at glenbrook225.org>wrote:
>>> Dear colleagues -
>>> 3 - The NDCA has also discussed a sanctioning type of system that would
>>> entail not awarding Baker Cup points or Dukes/Bailey Cup points to debaters
>>> that are caught clipping cards at a tournament and is sanctioned by the
>>> judge or a tournament official with a loss.  If your team is found "guilty"
>>> of clipping cards in Round 5 at MBA and awarded a loss by the judge in that
>>> debate due to that ethical violation, your team would not be able to
>>> receive Baker points for that tournament.
>>> It is widely believed by the Board that it is impossible and not the
>>> responsibility of our organization to police these activities.  We do
>>> believe we have control over our own tournament and our own awards but we
>>> would like input on how the membership body would allow us to proceed.
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> --
> Jon Voss
> Assistant Director of Debate
> Glenbrook South HS
> Chicago, IL
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