Spikes are amazing.
I even spiked my hair for debate!
First, you’re going to need hair gel.
Ha, just kidding.
A “spike” is basically a statement or argument meant to undermine an argument before it’s even made. They could be as simple as a piece of evidence that disproves the argument, read preemptively, or an elaborate trap set up to make the other team say something that harms their credibility.
You can use spikes as either the affirmative or negative team, although they’re generally more common and useful as affirmative.
Your first affirmative speech is the perfect place to set up a few sharp objects.
I’m going to use “spike” as an overarching term for anything planned to manipulate the use of arguments by the opposing team. This can even include removing certain statements from your speech in order to avoid unwanted attention on that issue. Although this is not the proper use of the word, it’ll be helpful for this article.
Here’s some potential spikes for an affirmative team to use.
1. Removing the weakest argument from your case.
One year we ran a case to record interrogations in police stations. The sourcebook version focused mostly on the harm of “false confessions”, when suspects confess to a crime they did not commit.
We noticed that every major negative brief on the case (including from sourcebooks) focused mostly on this harm and either turned it into a disadvantage, or refuted it effectively.
So we took it out.
We replaced it with several other harms that were much better, anyway, and the case did very well.
The point is—sometimes you have to remove points you really like because they have become your major weakpoint. Learn to adapt with your case.
2. Including mini spike statements in your first speech.
With this same case, we got a lot of arguments about flexibility. The other team would get up there and say that our case is removing the flexibility of choosing not to record.
It was not a good argument.
However, the word “flexibility” sounds so nice that judges would often consider it.
So we added a statement into the first affirmative speech, “this is not flexibility, this is [some word I can’t remember]” Then whenever the other team brought the word up, I could casually mention that statement. “As we said in our very first speech, this isn’t flexibility.”
By the end of the year, we had adjusted at least 5 statements to become mini spikes. It doesn’t necessarily take up space, and it helps to point the judge back to your all-encompassing speech.
Tip: You could even include a more overt statement like “Some say [this], but really [this].”
3. Reading dual-purpose evidence
When I made a case, I’d always get every single piece of evidence conceivable on the case, as long as it didn’t serve a duplicate purpose to another quote.
Sometimes I’d have several quotes on the same topic, but these quotes would include an extra argument on the side, which differed from each other.
If the other team was likely to run a specific argument I’d seen before, I would read the evidence that also refuted that argument on the side. For example, I’d read evidence on Harm one that also included a snippet defending against potential DA two.
The other team often didn’t notice the extra snippet, and I’d be able to point the judge back to that evidence when the argument is brought up anyway. You get serious credibility when you refute an argument ahead of time.
4. Turn a disadvantage into an advantage
I got to do this one year, it was pretty amazing.
Sometimes teams run disadvantages that can be turned into advantages for your case.
If enough people run this disadvantage against you, consider turning it into an advantage and providing powerful evidence on it!
Here’s a few ways you can use spikes to your advantage as the negative team, even though this is less common.
1. If you are familiar with the affirmative strategy
Some teams like bringing up new arguments in the second Affirmative speech. (Or, God forbid, the 2AR).
If you already know this will happen, you can spike it. Of course, with spikes, there’s always the possibility the other team will decide not to bring it up, making you look odd. So be careful what wording you use.
There are a couple of approaches to this. One of them would be a spike designed to make the Affirmative team decide not to run the argument. This is useful if the argument is particularly damaging.
The second one would be a somewhat hidden spike (like dual-purpose evidence) which the Affirmative team doesn’t notice until you bring it back up in your next speech.
A third one would be a spike designed to get the first word in about a certain issue. For example, you could say, “The Affirmative team may use evidence that they claim is a study to disprove these points, but if they do, we’ll show you why it isn’t really credible at all.”
Another example of this: “Many proponents of this idea argue that [something], but in reality [something], as seen in our last quote by Dr. Credible Dude.”
2. The fake spike
At Nationals, I saw a team do what I call a fake spike, and I was struck by how effective this concept could be.
What they did is they’d make an argument, then tell the judge a possible response by the Affirmative team, then defeat that potential response.
What’s the catch?
The argument they said the Affirmative team would use was usually kind of dumb. Like, if they argued that, they would look really bad. In fact, most of the time, the Affirmative team wasn’t even going to make that argument.
But it worked.
What this does is makes it seem to the judge that the Affirmative team is making bad arguments, even though it was actually the Negative team that mentioned them. Some judges might even think, “well, they said the Affirmative team would make that argument, I think they didn’t make the argument because the Negative team already defeated it”.
Do you see the potential?
You can make good teams look bad just by predicting they’ll make bad arguments.
But it gets even better. Some teams will foolishly start to defend the argument, even though they never intended to make it in the first place. Some people feel the need to refute everything, so they’ll start arguing as if they’d made that statement in the first place.
So not only can you make teams look bad to the judge, you can actually sometimes get them to use worse arguments against you. Brilliant, no?
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can start making lame arguments. You still need to be able to defend yourself against any good responses the Affirmative team helps. But if you have the extra time, this can be very effective.
I recommend using this 2-3 times in a speech if you plan to use it at all, because it’ll be a lot more effective that way.
3. Trap arguments
This is a more elaborate form of a spike.
The idea with these spikes is to get the Affirmative team in a contradictory position or a double bind.
I’ve used a form of trap argument in one cross-examination question. The team’s case was essentially based upon egalitarian principles, although it was a subtle connection. I would ask in cross-examination if they support welfare, and they would say no. I’d then ask if they are egalitarian (and I’d explain what it means if they didn’t know). They would almost always avoid welfare and egalitarianism as much as possible. Then my partner would come up in the next speech and point out the connection between egalitarianism and their case, and say, “the Affirmative team doesn’t even support their case’s founding principles. They would be embarrassed to be associated with egalitarianism, and yet their case is egalitarian.” (I had evidence saying their plan was egalitarian, which definitely helped with this).
Have you ever researched against a case and found a few arguments that directly contradicted each other? Maybe one was a weak argument, the other was strong, but they couldn’t be run together?
You can try to run them as a double bind, but everyone does that.
Why not trap the other team?
What you do is run the weak argument in the 1NC. When the Affirmative team responds in the 2AC, they’ll be confirming the stronger argument that contradicts the weak argument. In the 2NC, tell the judge you agree with the Affirmative team’s response and that you’ll drop the argument. Then point out that in the process of refuting that argument, they opened up a much larger hole.
The most common example of this that I can think of on the top of my head is a harm mitigation/solvency contradiction. You could either argue the problem is too big to fix, or argue the problem is non-existent. Sometimes with the way these interact, arguing one side will directly open up the other side.
Defending against spikes
Okay, so now you know how to set up nasty traps against your opponents.
Now, how do you dismantle these traps if someone tries to set them up for you?
1. Defending against typical negative spikes
The most typical negative spike is in the 2NR, a last ditch effort to avoid you bringing up certain responses or arguments in your 2AR.
If the negative team predicts you’ll use a response that you actually do plan to use, you have a couple of options.
Option 1 is to run a different response instead. This may be effective if your other response is just as powerful.
Option 2 is to grab the spike, stab yourself with it, then throw it in the trash, confirming how beast you are.
The way you do this is just be honest with the judge. “The Negative team said we’d talk about this in our speech. What an excellent prediction, since we’ve been talking about it all round. Who would have known? The reason they mentioned it in their last speech is because they know it’s the strongest argument. And unfortunately, they have not adequately refuted it.”
An alternative, less sarcastic version: “The Negative team said we’d talk about this in our speech. They’re right! *thumbs up and smile* The reason we’re bringing it up anyway is because it’s a remarkably important argument in this discussion.”
2. Defending against fake spikes
Your response to fake spikes will depend on how many there are.
If there’s only one, just wait until you get to the specific argument, then say something to the effect of, “The Negative team predicted we’d use [x response], but that’s not true. We agree that argument is incorrect, and we were never planning to say that. Instead, we have proof that their analysis under this point is wrong. Dr. Sensible Credibility said in 2014…”
If there’s multiple fake spikes, and the team makes a big deal out of them, you can explain exactly what I explained to you. Do this before jumping into any of the arguments. If you use this as an overall argument at the beginning of your speech, you can knock out multiple fake spikes in one swoop.
“In the last speech, the Negative team made several predictions about responses we’d use in this speech. All of these predictions were wrong, and probably intentionally so. What they did is chose the weakest responses to their arguments, then predicted we’d use those responses. This sheds a falsely negative light on our argumentation. As we go through these arguments, we’ll provide our own, much stronger responses.”
You want us to tell the judge THAT!?
Yes. Say bold things. If you haven’t read that blog post, please do. It’s one of the most important posts on this website.
Spikes are fantastic tools. They can serve many purposes—keeping certain arguments off the table, weakening arguments before they’re brought up, hurting the other team’s credibility, and more.
Make sure to avoid spikes the other team sets up to hurt you!
One last tip: Spikes are most effective when your hair is in a spiky mohawk. Do not question this advice, it is most definitely true.
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