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Arguing their point

MIT debate team wins prestigious UK tournament
Don't call it beginners' luck: In its first time competing in one of the world's most prestigious debate tournaments, MIT's debate team captured first place.

Junior Adam Goldstein and teammate Bill Magnuson, the president of the debate team, won the Cambridge Intervarsity Championship on Nov. 15, beating teams from several top international universities, including the University of Oxford and Trinity College Dublin, along the way.

Above: MIT junior Adam Goldstein on the debate team's win in England

The competition, sponsored this year by international law firm Cleary Gottlieb, takes place annually in Cambridge, England. This year's tournament drew students from more than 10 countries.

Goldstein noted that MIT's team does surprisingly well at debate competitions -- surprising mostly to their competitors.

"Most people who are on the debate circuit are studying philosophy or political science or something like that … but by far the majority of our team is engineers and scientists. And so when we beat teams from other schools … they're often embarrassed or surprised that people from MIT can speak," he joked.

To earn their win, Goldstein and Magnuson, a senior, first had to get through five preliminary rounds of British-style debate, which includes four teams arguing one topic, with judges ranking the teams first through fourth based on their performance. In U.S debates, there are only two teams and the judge-determined winner advances.

At the start of the elimination rounds, MIT and Bates College were the only U.S. teams remaining, with MIT ranked 11th overall. The first two elimination rounds had the team facing queries on topics related to organ selling and immigration for the wealthy.

For the final round, it was MIT that got to choose the topic for debate: Would the U.N. be better off selling Security Council seats to the highest bidder? Their argument solidified the first-place win, with Goldstein also taking seventh individually and Magnuson taking 10th.

The debate team holds no tryouts, and is made up of a mix of students, Goldstein said. They host a website for students interested in signing up, and currently have about 20 members.

Goldstein said the team's success in this tournament and others is a reflection of how MIT students learn, study and achieve.

"We think that it casts a nice light on MIT that we can have both rigorous scientific types and also debaters," he said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 3, 2008 (download PDF).

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