Orac on Debates

Orac (whose real identity we all know but who had a conniption fit the last time I named him, despite his being named on numerous sites previously) has written a new blog titled: Battling antivaccinationists at FreedomFest, part 2 (Dr. Whitaker responds). At the end of the blog, which is excellent by the way, he discusses debates and starts by quoting Dr Steven Novella: “Finally, Steve [Novella] makes an excellent point:”

…debating cranks and true-believers can be effective skeptical outreach, if you have sufficient mastery of the topic at hand. I would add that mastery includes more than knowledge of the science of the topic itself, but also knowledge of the arguments used by the other side. Just as many solid evolutionary scientists have been demolished in debates against slick creationists (like the infamous Duane Gish), it would be folly to go up against an anti-vaccinationist without a thorough knowledge of their propaganda.

Orac continues by stating:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I usually don’t agree with debating cranks like Dr. Whitaker. However, not everyone agrees with me. I respect that, and Steve’s commanding performance almost changed my mind. If, however, you’re going to take on an antivaccine crank like Dr. Whitaker (or a creationist crank or an alternative medicine crank, or any other crank), you absolutely need to know the common distortions, misinformation, and tropes used by that flavor of crank. It’s not enough to know the science. You need to know how that science is distorted by cranks.

I find this new mindset by Orac to be encouraging, as he has repeatedly declined to debate me. So, in order to facilitate his new thinking, I offer the following for our debate.

1. I will go first. There are advantages to going second so I will just give Orac that advantage.

2. I will provide for Orac all of my slides and notes so he can see in advance exactly what I am going to say. All points will be referenced and I will assist him in obtaining the actual references/papers should assistance be needed. He need not provide me with any of his material.

3. I will make available all lectures and debates I have done in the past (that I have), so Orac can see any “common distortions, misinformation, and tropes” I might have used and bring these out. (Actually, this is not a big deal on my part, as these are already available on the AFMA website.)

4. I will send any books I have co-authored that he requests.

5. I will make available any articles I have published. (Again, not a big deal, as most are open access.)

6. I will video my portion of the first part of the debate (the 40 minutes) if he so desires, and we can just play it during my time. Therefore, there will not be any surprises during my presentation. I will also agree that the judges (see #2 below) can view my presentation prior to the debate and, if I have made any errors or fact or logic, these will be removed.

7. I will come to his university so he does not have to travel and so he can have his university’s security on hand.

I also suggest the following for how the debate will be structured.

1. The subject of the debate will be: Resolved: Animal models are not predictive modalities for human response to drugs and disease. If Orac wants a second debate on the role of animals in basic research, I will be happy to participate but only after the prediction issue has been addressed. I am also be willing to have that debate first if Orac stipulates to the fact that animal models are not predictive modalities for human response to drugs and disease.

 2. Someone from the media, the university’s law or business school, or any other person agreed upon by both participants will moderate the debate. A panel of judges can also be present if so desired. Judge selection can be worked out by Orac and myself. The judges should represent the fields of medicine, complexity/chaos theory, philosophy of science, skepticism, evolutionary biology, clinical research, and basic research. The judges would be expected to point out errors of fact or logic in their area of expertise.

 3. The moderator will inform the audience before the debate begins that there are time limits being imposed on the participants and that interruptions or harassment of the presenters will be met with expulsion from the debate.

 4. The moderator will keep time and give each side a warning before the cut-off. The moderator must stop presenters who exceed their time limit unless the opposite side agrees to more time.

5. Each participant will be provided microphones, podiums and access to a projector by the host institution and will be allowed to use any audio-visual equipment during the formal presentation as well as the question-and-answer period.

6. Each participant may hand out printed materials before and after the debate.

7. The debate will last no less than two and no more than three hours. Each side will receive a total of 50 minutes. I will present first and speak for 40 minutes, followed by Orac speaking for 40 minutes. A break will be then be given following which each side will be given a 10-minute rebuttal.

8. Neither side will be allowed to interrupt the other. If one side does interrupt, the moderator must award five minutes for the other side to speak on whatever aspect of the topic he wishes.

9. After the formal portion of the debate is over, the floor will be opened for questions or the judges may ask questions and comment on the debate. The person who is asked the question will respond first, with the opponent following. Each side will be allowed up to two minutes to respond. The moderator should try to alternate who receives a question first.

10. Questions may come directly from the panel of judges or from the audience. Questions may be submitted from the floor either orally or on a sheet of paper passed to the moderator—whichever way the moderator prefers. A time limit of 60 seconds will be placed on questions submitted orally from the floor.

11. The moderator has the authority to ask the presenter to restate something if he/she believes the presenter misspoke, did not answer the question adequately, or avoided the question.

In light of Orac’s newfound appreciation for the respected American tradition of debate, I look forward to agreeing on a date for our engagement. 


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