You did give some responses elsewhere, so a few thoughts on your responses:
But this is really far from the only way policy debate is broken. Indeed, a large fraction of policy debates end up not debating the topic at all, but end up being full of people debating the institution of debating in various ways, and making various arguments for why they should be declared the winner for instrumental reasons. This is also pretty common in other debate formats.
(Emphasis added). This seems like a classic case for ‘what do you think you know, and how do you think you know it?’.
Here’s why I think I know the opposite: the standard in British Parliamentary judging is to judge based on the ‘Ordinary Intelligent Voter’, defined as follows:
In particular, judges are asked to conceive of themselves as if they were a hypothetical ‘ordinary intelligent voter’ (sometimes also termed ‘average reasonable person’ or ‘informed global citizen’). This hypothetical ordinary intelligent voter doesn’t have pre-formed views on the topic of the debate and isn’t convinced by sophistry, deception or logical fallacies. They are well informed about political and social affairs but lack specialist knowledge. They are open-minded and concerned to decide how to vote – they are thus willing to be convinced by the debaters who provide the most compelling case for or against a certain policy. They are intelligent to the point of being able to understand and assess contrasting arguments (including sophisticated arguments), that are presented to them; but they keep themselves constrained to the material presented unless it patently contradicts common knowledge or is otherwise wildly implausible.
This definition is basically designed to be hard to Goodhart. It’s still easy for judging cultures to take effect and either reward or fail to punish unhelplful behaviour, and personally I would list ‘speaking too fast’ under this, but nothing in that definition is likely to lead to people ‘debating the institution of debating’. So unsurprisingly, I saw vanishingly little of this. Scanning down recent WUDC finals, the only one where the speakers appear to come close to doing this is the one where the motion itself is “This house believes that University Debating has done more harm than good”. Correspondingly, I see no cases where they end up ‘not debating the topic at all’.
The debates I participated in in high-school had nobody talking fast. But it had people doing weird meta-debate, and had people repeatedly abusing terrible studies because you can basically never challenge the validity or methodology of a study, or had people make terrible rhetorical arguments, or intentionally obfuscate their arguments until they complete it in the last minute so the opposition would have no time to respond to it.
I mean, I’m sorry you had terrible judges or a terrible format I guess? I judged more high school debates than virtually anyone during my time at university, and these are not things I would have allowed to fly, because they are not things I consider persuasive to the Ordinary Intelligent Voter; the ‘isn’t convinced by sophistry, deception or logical fallacies’ seems particularly relevant.
On that note, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a significant fraction of my comments on this forum are about challenging errors of math or logic. My rough impression is that other users often notice something is wrong, but struggle to identify it precisely, and so say nothing. It should be obvious why I’m keen on getting more people who are used to structuring their thoughts in such a way that they can explain the exact perceived error. Such exactness has benefits even when the perception is wrong and the original argument holds, because it’s easier to refute the refutation.
I might be wrong here, but I currently don’t really believe that recruiting from the debate community is going to increase our cognitive diversity on almost any important dimension.
The Oxbridge debating community at least is pretty far to the right of the EA community, politically speaking. I consider this an important form of cognitive diversity, but YMMV.
Overall, I’m left with the distinct impression that you’ve made up your mind on this based on a bad personal experience, and that nothing is likely to change that view. Which does happen sometimes when there isn’t much in the way of empirical data (after all, there’s sadly no easy way for me to disprove your claim that a large fraction of BP debates end up not debating the topic at all..), and isn’t a bad reasoning process per se, but confidence in such views should necessarily be limited.
The fact that you are unfamiliar with the format, and yet are making a number of claims about it, is pretty much exactly my issue. Lack of familiarity is an anti-excuse for overconfidence.
The OP is about an event conducted in BP. Any future events will presumably also be conducted in BP. Information about other formats is only relevant to the extent that they provide information about BP.
I can understand not realising how large the differences between formats are initially, and so assuming information from other formats has strong relevance at first, which is why I was sympathetic to your original comment, but a bunch of people have pointed this out by now.
I expect substantiated criticisms of BP as a truth-seeking device (of which there are many!) to look more like the stuff that Ben Pace is saying here, and less like the things you are writing. In brief, I think the actual biggest issues are:
15-minute prep makes for a better game but for very evidence-light arguments.
Judges are explicitly not supposed to reward applause lights, but they are human, so sometimes they do.
It’s rarely a good idea to explicitly back down, even on an issue you are clearly losing. Instead you end up making a lot of ‘even if’ statements. I think Scott did a good job of explaining why that’s not ideal in collaborative discussions (search for “I don’t like the “even if” framing.”).
(1) isn’t really a problem on the meta (read: relevant) level, since it’s very obvious; mostly I think this ends up teaching the useful lesson ‘you can prove roughly anything with ungrounded arguments’. (2) and (3) can inculcate actual bad habits, which I would worry about more if EA wasn’t already stuffed full of those habits and if my personal experience didn’t suggest that debaters are pretty good at dropping those habits outside of the debates themselves. Still, I think they are things reasonable people can worry about.
By contrast, criticisms I think mostly don’t make sense:
Anything to the effect of ‘the speakers might end up believing what they are saying’, especially at top levels. Like, these people were randomly assigned positions, have probably been assigned the roughly opposite position at some point, and are not idiots.
Finally, even after a re-read and showing your comment to two other people seeking alternative interpretations, I think you did say the thing you claim not to have said. Perhaps you meant to say something else, in which case I’d suggest editing to say whatever you meant to say. I would suggest an edit myself, but in this case I don’t know what it was you meant to say.