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Welcome to the DAV Website
The DAV is a non-profit association which exists to promote debate. It is the peak debating body in Victoria and runs large competitions for adults and for schools across Victoria. It provides training and resources for debaters, teachers and adjudicators.

There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way to rebut an argument. Try to think outside the square a lttle - an argument can be not simply "wrong", but might be rebutted in a number of different ways.

1) The argument is factually wrong

Be careful to only correct relevant factual errors! If a speaker makes a slip of the tongue and says “coal” instead of “oil”, then this may not really undermine their argument very much! Minor errors with dates, times, people’s names etc may be corrected by the other team – but this may not in itself help you prove your case.

However if a team uses an example, statistic or other evidence that you know is wrong, and is the foundation for an argument, then you should point this out. You don’t need to show us the newspaper clipping that is the source of your fact – we will trust you if what you say sounds reasonable. The adjudicator will take the viewpoint of the average reasonable person – hence they won’t use any of their specialist knowledge of a subject but they will know blatant lies when they hear them!

Consider the following example. If on the topic “That marijuana should be legalised” the affirmative teams argues that the drug is not harmful and should be made legal, then the negative might want to rebut that argument by raising evidence of some of the negative health effects of smoking cannabis.
In this case, the fact in dispute (ie the health effects of smoking cannabis) is critical to the issue in the debate, and both teams should be dealing with their opponent’s facts on that issue.

2) The argument is not supported by any evidence

You should always look to back up your arguments with relevant examples. It is poor matter not to have evidence to support your arguments. Without such evidence, your arguments are merely assertions an the audience might choose not to believe you! Therefore if your opposition is not raising any evidence to support their conclusions, it is perfectly OK for you to point out to the adjudicator and audience that the opposing team have not provided proof. It doesn’t necessarily make what they say wrong – it just undermines their credibility.

One word of caution on this subject – listen very carefully and make sure you are right when you claim than an argument is based upon assertions – if you have missed a crucial portion of a speech then you might be wrong!

3) The consequences of the argument are unacceptable

This type of rebuttal can be very effective, because it doesn’t necessarily require you to show that the other side is totally wrong. It requires you to take another step in your analysis and show that whilst the point made by your opposition is superficially correct – the consequences of their argument are worse than any benefit that they claimed would follow.

For example, on the topic “The voluntary euthanasia should be legalised”, the affirmative team might argue that allowing terminally ill patients the right to choose when they die will be beneficial as it allows people to die with dignity. The negative team could respond by arguing that allowing voluntary euthanasia would place undue pressure on the terminally ill to end their lives - showing that there are unacceptable consequences to the affirmative’s proposal.

Sometimes these arguments are characterised as “slippery-slope” or “it-will-open-the-floodgates” arguments – that is to say that allowing one thing to happen will inevitable lead to more (and usually much worse) things being allowed to happen. They can be a useful tactic – but be wary of going too far and claiming that your opponent’s proposal will lead to the destruction of society as we know it!

4) The argument is correct, but should be accorded little weight

In this instance, you don’t need to prove that an argument is wrong – you can concede certain idea or premise but argue that the idea is of little weight. Be careful when doing this – you don’t want to concede anything too important to your opponent’s case.

An example of a type of argument that can be conceded is when a team argues that a particular proposal would cost too much. In response, you could concede that there may indeed be some cost, but for the benefits of the proposal the expense will be worth it.

It may also be possible at times to concede the underlying premise of an argument, but to argue that a different conclusion to be drawn. In a debate on the topic “That Private Schools should not receive Government funding”, the negative team might want to concede that that status of the education system is not adequate, but to argue that the affirmative’s proposal will not solve the problem.

5) The argument is illogical – the conclusions don’t follow from the premises

A good argument will be one which is clearly explained so that it makes sense – the conclusion that is drawn must flow from the premise. Look out for “leaps of logic” in your opponent’s arguments – have all the links been drawn out?