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RFD for Penalizing Plagiarism Debate

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7/14/2015 12:16:37 PM
Posted: 2 years ago

In my efforts to read through this debate, I've thought a lot about how to go through an RFD. Recently, I've taken a lot to going through each individual argument and examining them in depth, but I don't think that's going to work here. Instead, I'm going to address what points each side is winning clearly, which may or may not have a substantive effect on the debate as a whole, and then I'll shift to the major points on which the debate hinges.

Let's start by being clear that both Pro and Con are showing reasons why penalizing plagiarism is beneficial and harmful, respectively.

Pro showed that debater involvement changes, though this isn't completely clear, since Con showed that involvement can happen in other ways, making it unlikely for the site to be able to generate what they contribute through the connection of ideas. I actually would really have liked to see Pro expand upon this " there are many topics of debate that have been played out on nearly every argument on this site, why couldn't individuals just plagiarize literally the entirety of their arguments from those on, say, abortion or drug legalization? I don't see that, so this point is somewhat lacking. Merely saying that they can take arguments from previous debates doesn't quite get there, though it matters in the debate. Pro could also have expanded on the point that a debater could "sign his account over to Mikal to handle the debate for him", as I think it would have been more potent if he'd taken the time to examine how that is itself a form of plagiarism that could really happen under a system that doesn't penalize plagiarism.

The link to bad sportsmanship is similarly not as potent as it could be. It's unclear exactly what the harm of bad sportsmanlike behavior is, and the links just aren't as strong as they could be. I actually would have been more convinced if Pro had utilized the signing of a contract as a means to show this " everyone signed the same contract upon joining the site, meaning they agreed to certain rules. Having people defy those rules, even if they're unjust, would be akin to ignoring the rules in any given sport in based on principle alone. It demonstrates a basic unfairness that anyone could employ on any rule that they don't deem fair. It's a slippery slope argument, but it actually has pretty solid links. I buy that bad sportsmanship would be how it's often perceived, but that just doe sn't mean much in the end.

The stronger arguments for policing plagiarism come through later in Pro's case. He talks about the disjointed nature of plagiarized cases, and provides a source showing how this plays out. I actually would have bought from Con that this represents an isolated instance of problematic plagiarism that has more to do with faults of the debaters themselves (essentially, they will be disjointed whether they plagiarize or not), but I don't see that argument, so this point goes through. The same holds true for the quality of voting argument, which I think he effectively turned in his favor.

I'll get onto perceived theft later, as I think that's a rather important and complex point.

Con does insist that none of these are harms, and in the process fails to address them completely. They all persist as harms. Word to the wise: don't treat points like these as non-existent, even if you think they're completely mitigated into oblivion. Best to treat them as still on the table and seek to outweigh them anyway. More on that later.

The benefits of plagiarism are clearer on Con's side of the debate, and that's mainly due to lapses in direct response from Pro. As I said earlier, I do think Pro effectively turns the argument on voting problems in his favor, but promoting increased throught towards strategy and interweaving ideas more effectively certainly works in Con's favor. I think Con invites some easy responses, as I begin to wonder what it looks like in terms of time commitment. My thought is that either individuals will spend very little time gathering information, essentially not reading the sources through completely and therefore not having sufficient knowledge to strategize, or they will have to read through all of those sources extensively, essentially destroying any time advantage. But Pro doesn't give me that argument, so I'm buying that they have more time for these activities, and that that's always beneficial. Improving the capacity and time available to do this is certainly a strong point in his favor.

The rest of the points under Con's argumentation will appear shortly.

1. Perceived Theft

This should really be a slam dunk for Con based on the arguments given. I actually think Pro should have been able to retain some harm here easily, but the lack of counter rebuttal to Con's key analysis doesn't help. Con asserts that the website can't legally own anything posted by individuals on the site, which also assumes that individuals can't be held liable for anything they post on the site. That really shuts down the argument that any legal action will be taken...


Well, not quite. Con has a nasty habit of contradicting himself in the opening round. He later refers to this as layering, but it doesn't work like that. You can have back-up arguments for if things get rough, but that doesn't allow you to contradict your own logic, especially when you're trying to hold a solid line here. Throughout the rest of the debate, Con makes sure to focus on the ownership issue, but I'm still left questioning this sentence to the end, and Pro's quoting it in the final round keeps me from forgetting:

"the actual, real, societally illegal theft committed on the website"

What this amounts to is a concession that plagiarism is illegal and can potentially be prosecuted. The question is whether the site invites the means to do so. I'll address that at the end. I will mention here, though, that the issue of impersonation and immitation really seemed like a red herring. As long as there's illegality here, it doesn't matter what the basis for it is. Its presence in the TOS is really the only thing that matters here, but I don't think Pro does enough to explain the importance of the contract within this debate. More on this shortly.

2. Benefits vs. Harms of Plagiarism

I mentioned I'd get back to this earlier. There's this strange argument I see coming out of Con's points that constantly puts me on edge, and it appears for the first time in R2: "there are only benefits to plagiarism, specifically within debates, and thus there should be no penalty to doing it." That might not seem problematic at first blush, but every time I see this or something like it (and it does appear later in the debate as well), I'm asking myself a very simple question: at what point are the potential harms sufficient to warrant a penalty? If I agree completely that the benefits of allowing plagiarism outweigh the potential harms, should I still be considering the penalty in order to address those harms? I could see an argument being made here regarding taking precautions.

Now, Pro didn't make this argument, so Con's not vulnerable to it in this RFD. The point of my bringing this up is that Con leaves himself vulnerable to it. By arguing that plagiarism is essentially unassailable in its net beneficial status, I have to question what happens if that status changes. At what point do I care enough to say that a penalty should exist? Neither Pro nor Con spends much time analyzing the burdens of the debate, with Con only eventually getting to his available ground in the final round and arguing that he can layer his arguments prior to that. It's incomplete. I don't know what each side must do to win, and I think Con kept inviting Pro to square it away with statements like this.
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7/14/2015 12:17:51 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
The point is that you should accept from the outset that it's an on balance issue and never treat your case as being unassailable, even if you believe it is.

3. Counterplan

I think this is where Con takes the most risk in his case, and I can't figure out why he chose to do this. I can understand that he wanted to place another "even if" on his case in order to protect against the possibility that voters aren't buying anything else he's selling, but realistically, if they're not buying those arguments, he's practically sunk as is. The counterplan, thus, just stands as a target for Pro, and he does attack it.

The real question is whether the counterplan can be viewed as punishment or not, and all of that is based on the question of whether punishment requires intent. The intent of removal under the counterplan is to prevent legal issues, but is that how every removal would be perceived? The problem I have with the logic that it's not punishment is that that all depends on that perception. If people view it as a punishment (i.e. as a negative response to their plagiarizing), then to them, it's punishment. The intent of the person or persons levying that punishment doesn't change that perception. Admittedly, Pro doesn't give this particular argument, but neither Pro nor Con goes further than assertions on this issue, and the question of whether intent is required for punishment is left up to me to decide. And this is the basis for my decision, as I'm not given a reason why intent must necessarily be present in order for it to not be considered punishment.

This could have ended the debate if Pro had really held Con to the counterplan. It could be argued that, so long as Con is endorsing punishment on any level, even leaving it as a backup option for if things go sour, that's sufficient to vote Pro. I didn't get that logic out of Pro, though. The layering point, thus, leaves me uncertain. The only way I'm buying that the counterplan suffices as a reason to vote Pro is if I find that the legal issue presents as a concern, one that needs to be addressed in some manner. Since Con phrased the counterplan solely as a means to respond to that concern, it's the only way I can assess its importance in the debate. Again, going to come up at the end.

4. Purpose of Debate

Probably Pro's biggest lapse. When Con sets out to state what the purpose of debate is, he's necessarily excluding all other purposes. He could have employed this more solidly, but much of it comes across " why should we care about sportsmanship or even about employing a whole other debater for the purpose of coming up with good points if the only goal is to produce sound argumentation? Why should I even care about voting? The only argument that survives this framework analysis is the disjunction between arguments that Pro establishes. The rest of his points are severely weakened if the sole goal of debate is to produce something worth discussing. At the point that this is practically uncontested, Pro is actually allowing some of his strongest arguments to either be diminished or turned against him (in the case of the Mikal vs. vi-spex argument, in particular, since it suits the purpose of debate to have Mikal argue in place of vi-spex). It re-enforces Con's main benefit, and as such sets up a comparison between the two major points in this debate. Even the TOS argument goes by the wayside, since that has no basis in whether any of the arguments made are sound. This comparison would have likely favored Pro if this argument didn't stand.


So, there are really 2 things to consider in determining the victor of this debate:

1. Does the benefit of penalizing plagiarism outweigh the harms caused by doing so?
2. Is Con conceding the debate by presenting the counterplan?

Neither of these are straightforward. While Pro has only one solid argument that worms its way through the debate unscathed, it is also the only one of these arguments (from Pro or Con) that's supported by evidence on the site. Con's arguments, while logically supported, do hit some speed bumps and lack clear support. The links between more plagiarism and more consise argumentation and depth aren't that well established, and while Con doesn't attack these with anything more than derision, it's still not clear that this benefit outweighs Pro's clear harm. The turn on the Mikal vs. vi-spex example just never gets exploited by Con, and despite an opportunity to outweigh Pro's point using the purpose of debate argument (I could see several means to do this), Con doesn't take the initiative. The debate hinges on how much weight Con gets with these points, but since neither side engages in much in the way of weighing analysis and Con spends more time pointing out drops than doing any comparative analysis here, it's a wonky point. This is where the debate hinges.

The reason it doesn't hinge on point 2 is that I can see how the perceived contradiction in Con's R2 could work out in his favor. Just because it is illegal to plagiarize doesn't mean that there's any real risk of legal action being taken. Con effectively shows that legal action won't be taken against the website, and while I might have bought that individuals can still be targeted, Pro doesn't take the time to examine this possibility. Without any clear idea of how the law would be exercised, it doesn't seem like a very likely outcome. In order for this point to function as a concession, I need to believe that the legal issue is so dangerous that it requires that the counterplan be enacted. If Pro had argued that ANY likelihood of legal action outweighs the basic benefits to debate since it could force the website to shut down, but that argument is never made. Based on likelihood, I'm forced to say that the counterplan doesn't concede the debate because it never goes into action, which means Con is never doling out punishment.

So that just leaves me with the answer to the first point. The only debater who provides weighing analysis is Pro, so that's where I look first. Unfortunately, in his final round, he tells me nothing about disjointed debating specifically in this weighing analysis, choosing to focus on other points I've already covered as being lesser in this debate. The only weighing analysis that does apply to this is the source point, and I'm buying that he's the only one who has supported his argument with any actual examples on the site. I'm not getting any weighing analysis out of Con, and so now I've got Pro's evidenced and dropped argument on disjointed debates versus a potential argument for time spent and some missed opportunities with regards to the purpose of debate. Much as I think Con had the formula he needed to take this debate, especially after Pro gave a dismissive R2 that gave him lots of opportunities, my impression is that he failed to capitalize on it. Hence, by a narrow margin, I vote Pro.