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With some trepidation, I write to critique Michael Korcok's recent posting
on speech rate and debate. In the spirit of Brian McGee's message, I intend
to critique the grounds Korcok uses to advance his claims; I am not
attacking his integrity, nor do I intend to belittle him. I am working hard
to be open to his point of view. However, Michael, when you write "those
who know little about debate and about as much about pedagogy ought to
engage more in both before expressing bogosities about either" and "Mr.
Most, read the literature instead of just trying to be clever" you tempt
personal attacks in response. Again, it is not a matter of being thin
skinned or politically correct; Brian McGee is right, it is matter of being
civil. Let us conduct our debates on a higher plane.
I think Korock does not accurately portray the conflict. No one I know,
other than the Toastmasters or some of those in the Parliamentary debate,
believe that debate exists to teach "slow speaking" or "Oratory." Can we
dispense of this misconception? Rather, debate should teach rigorous habits
of mind and eloquent habits of expression. Most of the experimental
literature suggests that there is a curvilinear relationship between
speaking rates and comprehension. Most speakers speak at rates of 140-160
words per minute. Those who speak at rates less than 140 will bore many
audiences. Those that speak too quickly will tend to confuse.
Many debaters now speak at rates over 250 words per minute, and as Rowland
and Deatherage note: "Even the coaches of the most elite teams agree that
many debaters speak in comprehensively and that the quality of argument
development is often slighted in favor of quantity." This is the problem.
And the problem leads to the sin of judge intervention, which occurs when
judges must reconstruct the debate after the round and re-read evidence
because they could not understand it when it was presented.
I believe most debaters can and should stay between 160 and 190 words per
minute and win debates, and that most would be better debaters if we as
educators insisted that articulate and comprehensible arguments are best
made by most debaters at these speech rates. I will offer experimental
evidence in support of my position later. Yet, Korcok's evidence is at
issue here, and it does not support his claim.
First, the populations his studies rely are not representative of the debate
population The 1991 Raine et. al. study used 37 speech disordered children
with slow speech aged 4 and 15 years. The other studies he cites (Roodenrys
et. al. and others) all deal with children. How can we make generalizations
about academic debate on the basis of child development and speech disorder
Second, Korcok conflates a host of terms in his posting. He says that "the
research psychologists say that speaking faster makes you smarter." No they
don't. The studies that he cites used memory as a dependent variable. The
studies do demonstrate that a higher speech rate is associated with
improvements in short-term memory. However, the researchers do not claim,
as does Korcok, that a faster speech rate made students smarter. Indeed,
Raines et al conclude that "It is still not possible to claim a causal link
between changes in speech rate and development improvements in short term
Third, the speech rates used as independent variables in the child
development studies Korcok cites were no where near those heard in CEDA.
The control groups in the studies he cites spoke at 93 words per minute.
Again, how can we draw generalizations about CEDA speech behavior from these
Finally, I am concerned about the claims Korcok makes. His research does
not support such conclusions as "the research was unanimously favorable
about the high speed rates' ability to improve cognition and cognitive
capacity of both the speaker and the hearer." I believe this is a vast
overclaim, and that in search of evidence in support of a predetermined
ideology that celebrates speech rates over 240 wpm, Korcok may have
shoehorned data into conclusions where it does not belong.
Archive created by Jonathan Stanton (email@example.com)
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