Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Debate Cross-Examination Done Right [Scott]

Done right, cross-examination helps your debate presentation three ways. First, it helps clarify your opponent’s extremist position. Second, it gives you opportunity to discredit his evidence (or lack thereof) and expose his flawed logic. Third, it allows you to gain information you can use later in the debate.

The rules for cross-x are simple: The person doing the questioning controls the exchange at that point in the debate. For example, when it’s your turn to cross-x your opponent, you may interrupt him at any point and move to the next question. While you shouldn’t be rude (give him reasonable time to answer, no more), you also shouldn’t let him ramble on.

Stephanie Gray of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform presents a textbook example of how it's done:


  1. Thank you for posting that. I hadn't seen it.

    Mercer really hung himself on that question about aborting homosexuals.

  2. So this debate was sponsored by "prolife at Dal" and the pro-choice person on this debate is okay with killing an 18-month old baby. Do you feel this is an dishonest representation of the pro-choice side by the pro-life side? Suppose NARAL sponsored a debate and had the pro-life side represented by someone who believed that it's okay to kill abortion doctors and that women who get illegal abortions should get capital punishment? If this happened, would you feel that pro-choicers had set up a strawman?

  3. Michael,
    You assume, without a shred of evidence, the pro-life side deliberately went for a weak opponent.

    Oh? Why would you believe a thing like that?

    Moreover, you grossly underestimate the hurdle pro-life students face finding anyone willing to debate. Stephanie Gray has been turned down by virtually every major abortion-choice organization in Canada. See for yourself:


    As Claremont-McKenna College professor Jon Shields points out in his book “The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right,” pro-life students nationally are out-performing their pro-abortion counterparts. Conservative pro-life students, writes Shields, increasingly deploy “sophisticated philosophical arguments” in their efforts to persuade while abortion-choice advocates seem “unwilling or unprepared” to debate.

    Nevertheless, Stephanie does manage to debate heavyweights like philosopher Jan Narveson, bioethicists Eike-Henner Kluge, not to mention Ron Fitzsimmons of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, and various professors. In this case, her opponent was a professor who agreed to debate.

    You also assume, without evidence, that the pro-life students purposely sought this particular guy out because they knew ahead of time how bad he would be.

    Actually, they did not. Stephanie consulted with me prior to the debate because she feared, being a professor, he'd challenge the metaphysical assumptions of the pro-life view—namely, that humans have value in virtue of the kind of thing they are. Instead of taking her opponent lightly, she spent hours preparing a robust defense of her position. I know, because we discussed her defense via phone prior to the debate.

    In short, Stephanie prepped Grizzly. It’s not her fault she ended up hunting squirrel.


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