Truth Bowl is an evolution of Ethics Bowl modeled explicitly around non-binary dialectic rather than debate; it is sometimes referred to as "collaborative debate", "alt-bate", or "unbate." It attempts to use coopetition and collaborative design to promote better epistemic norms for an era of post-truth politics. A secondary purpose of Truth Bowl is to revive and refine the value of the humanities in an increasingly technological society.
All the documentation and scoring tools for Truth Bowl are available as Open Source on GitHub, to encourage individuals and communities to suggest improvements or create their own version. The two major styles are:
- Classic: like traditional debate, this is primarily intended for offline play involving live teams in an all-day tournament. The focus is on enabling students to demonstrate and improve their skills, and thus does not allow any outside help. Scoring is based purely on content and reasoning, not the quality of presentation.
- Freestyle: this variant was explicitly designed for online play and viewing, and has been called the "beach volleyball of debate." While using the same epistemic criteria as Classic, Freestyle also awards points for making play more entertaining. Teams are also allowed (even encouraged) to leverage the audience, social media, and AI assistants for information and advice.
The objective of Truth Bowl is to train participants in the art of deconstructible argumentation, sometimes called "Legoman" by analogy to strawman and steelman. The goal is not to convince your interlocutors, but to articulate your best thinking in a way that maximizes their ability to help you improve on it. Sometimes called MINFIG: Maximally Instructive Narrative for Inspiring Generativity.
There are four Phases to the interaction: Presentation, Critical Response, Update, Questions.
- The Authoring team presents the opening Perspective, which must include "SAOC":
- A concise Statement that directly answers the Challenge Question
- Explicit Assumptions and Arguments supporting that Statement
- Anticipate and Address likely Objections
- Frank Caveats about the weakest or more incomplete aspects of the above
- The Editorial team then provides a Critical Response engaging that Perspective, which must include both Reflective and Constructive comments
- Affirmations of what the Authoring team did well
- Requests for clarification or elaboration
- Concerns expressed about any part of the Perspective they found inadequate
- Suggestions for how to improve or expand the Perspective
- The Authoring Team must then provide an Update, where they Adapt or Refute as much of the Response as they deem expedient
- The Observing Team then has an interval where they Question the Authoring team, which they are expected to concisely address.
Scores are from 1 to 5, based on each judge's subjective expectations for that level of play:
5. Blows away expectations
4. Exceeded expectations
3. Met expectations
2. Below expectations (disappointing)
- The opposite of what was expected
At the end of each phase, every Participant must write down for a score for the relevant Team (even if it is them):
- Presentation (score the Authoring Team)
- 5 for how effectively their Statements answers the Challenge Question
- 5 for how effectively they both support and caveat that Statement
- Critical Response (score the Editorial team)
- 5 for how well they analyzed the Perspective
- 5 for how constructively they communicate that to the Authoring team
- Update (score Both Teams equally)
- 5 for how well the Authoring incorporates the feedback from the Editorial team
- 5 points for Observing Team, based on how well they raise salient issues
- 5 points for Authoring Team, based on how well they reply
After this, teams dialogue together to normalize their scores for each phase (to one decimal place), e.g., by coming to agreement or simply by averaging the individual scores.
Next, the Observing Team publicly shares their scores (phase-by-phase and total) for the other two Teams, after which the other teams secretly grant the Observing Team up to 5 points based on how fair they considered the scoring.
The Host collects all the other scores (which remain secret, and are used for only for quality control). Teams don't win individual Games; the scores are feed into the overall winner of the Set.
A set involves three teams, traditionally Red-Blue-Green, who alternately take on the Author, Editor, Observer roles.
A Set can be a 2-Game Round (RBG / BRG), a 3-Game Cycle (RBG-BGR-GRB), or a 6-Game Hex: Cycle (RBG + GRB + BGR) + Anti-Cycle (RGB + GBR + BRG)..
1 minute: Introductions and Question Statements
7-minute: Study Hall, where each team can prepare their MINFIG.
Game timing: 15 + 9 + 2 = 26
- 5 minutes: Presentation by Authoring Team (should restate Question)
- 5 minutes: Critical Response by Editorial Team
- e.g., 1.5 to confer/score, 3.5 to present
- Other teams score Presentation while Editorial Confers
- 5 minutes: Update by Authoring Team
- e.g., 2 to confer/score, 3 to reply
- Other teams score Response while Authoring confers
- 7 minute: Observing Team questions
- e.g., 1.5 to confer/score, 5.5 to ask and hear replies
- Other teams score Update while Observing confers
- 2 minute: Reflection and Caption
- 2 minute: Post-Game
- inter-game break
- Score Set and Declare Winner / Shake Hands
Set: 8 + 2*26 => 60 minutes
15-minutes break between Sets (Rounds)
One of the most powerful tools for focusing an argument is restatement, where one team formally restates a question or Perspective before responding to it. It is recommended (but not required) that teams ask their Interlocutors to approve a restatement before using it; otherwise they risk being criticized for failing to respond to the original statement.
Truth Bowl is built around the idea that "Rubrics which reward constructive Argument lead to more accurate Perspectives" for individuals, communities, and society as a whole. Common criteria include:
- Clarity of communication
- Clear and valid logical arguments
- Well-validated facts and sources
- Responsiveness to new or conflicting information
- Respect for Interlocutors
Competitive play is organized by Leagues around Seasons, which culminate in an offline or online Tournament. The team that wins the most Votes in a Round is declared the Greatest Contributor (or "GC"), with ties being broken by highest Score. Early rounds in a Tournament are typically double-elimination, with the playoffs being single-elimination. The GC for the final Round is declared the "Wisdom" of the League for that Season.
Leagues are organized by Elders, who decide the Rubric and Rules for the League (sometimes called its "Schema") as well as the Topics for each Season. Tournaments often have separate Divisions for each individual Topic, allowing teams to specialize; the GC for a particular Topic is called the "Socratic." The number of topics is usually a power of two, allowing a final bracket of cross-division play, using questions that span the Topics of the Socratics involved.
It is traditional for the final round questions to be self-reflective, as in:
- How could this League be improved?
- What would make Truth Bowl better?
While these are framed as hypothetical "coulds" rather than imperative "shoulds", many Elders will later provide a formal response explaining which suggestions they are implementing, considering, and deferring.
Classic Leagues typically host one Season per year, whereas Freestyle runs one every three months. The first part of a Season is used to qualify for the Tournament; players in online Leagues do this by earning badges (representing competencies) and credits (for participation and achievement). Players typically join a Club, which will field multiple teams in a Tournament. Most Leagues will allow the Club as a whole to qualify for a Tournament, though some mandate that individual Teams do so.
Live online play is based around Zoom videoconferencing, as that has turned out to be the most efficient medium for distributed group discourse. Zoom's new Breakout Rooms make it easy to switch between intra-team deliberation and inter-team presentation. This also allows pseudonymous participation using only your voice, which can be a huge accessibility boost for minorities, prisoners, and other marginalized groups (or academics worried about their reputation, as long as their voice isn't too distinctive).
A key benefit of online play is that there is zero marginal cost to hosting a Tournament, because there is no need for travel or a facility. Jurors can be recruited from qualified participants, and rewarded with some sort of karma. In many Leagues the entire audience for high-level rounds is considered a Jury, and leverage a range of audience engagement tools and voting methods for questioning, scoring, and voting.