Voting Tabula Rasa
There is a right and a wrong way to judge a debate. The wrong way to decide which side was more convincing is to ask merely: "which side was more convincing to me?" The right way to decide which side was more convincing is to ask: which side's arguments would be more convincing to a reasonable third party who knows nothing about the topic and has no opinion on it.
The latter approach is referred to as tabula rasa judging. Tabula rasa is Latin for "blank slate." In the law, when we ask how a "reasonable person" would judge something, we are referring to an "objective standard." The standard for police conduct when they conduct searches is whether a reasonable police officer would believe there is probable cause to conduct a search. In contrast, a subjective standard would ask what that *particular* police officer was actually thinking. We adopt objective standards to remove bias.
If you want to judge a debate objectively, rather than subjectively, you have to adopt a tabula rasa approach. Otherwise, your personal opinion will inherently influence which side you find more convincing. You are already predisposed to agree with a certain side. That sides arguments sound more convincing to you because you have heard those arguments before. And we have a natural familiarity bias. We prefer things we have seen before, e.g. we like people more merely by interacting with them more regularly. We like products more merely by being exposed to them more (something that advertisers exploit). If you've seen an argument twenty times before and find it convincing in the past, you will treat it as *more* convincing than if you had seen if for the first time. The way to eliminate bias is to (1) be aware of this phenomenon (studies show that being aware of the concept of implicit bias actually reduces implicit bias), and (2) pretend that you are hearing this argument for the first time.
A tabula rasa approach lets you recognize when a more skilled debater is winning by making better arguments, even though you still agree with the less skilled debater's side. For example, I might think that the death penalty is bad because it is too costly, but imagine a not-so-great debater who argues that the death penalty is costly. His opponent seriously calls that into question, such as by proving that by reducing habeas appeals, we can save a lot of money. The not-so-great debater fails to respond. I know that without any knowledge about the feasibility or desirability of abolishing habeas, I would find this argument convincing, at least enough to negate the not-so-great debater's BOP of establishing that the death penalty is inherently costly. So I can vote for the better debater in this scenario under a tabula rasa framework, even though I still disagree with him and have not personally changed my mind on the issue.
How can you tell if an RFD is being tabula rasa or not? RFDs that explain their decision based on BOP and insufficient rebuttals to certain points are clearly applying tabula rasa. RFDs that simply said "Pro was more convincing" without explanation or that conclude merely with, "After reading the debate, I just found myself agreeing with Pro more," are inherently based on a subjective evaluation model.
In your RFDs, at least endeavor to be tabula rasa. No one can apply it perfectly. No one can be completely free from bias. Even when apply an "objective" evaluation model. [That's also the problem with objective morality: it becomes subjective through its application by humans]. But an objective *analytical system* is still preferable to a subjective one, even if the result is not perfectly objective. Subjective evaluation models will always lead to entirely subjective decisions. Objective evaluation models are more likely to lead to objective decisions (where an objective decision is one on which all *reasonable* minds would agree).
You'll notice that there are some debaters, e.g. currently on the front page, where one debater wins the bulk of the votes, but the other debater still gets *some* votes. There are sometimes debates where one side is simply outclassed, and you can read the RFDs that still vote for the outclassed side to see obvious examples of subjective evaluation models in action. Those RFDs invariably come from people with establishable pre-existing biases on the topic and either fail to articulate argument or BOP-specific reasons for voting or fail to give any credence to one side's arguments and merely list all the things they liked from the other side. Subjective RFDs often do this: they say "omg, all these arguments from the side I agreed with beforehand were so good, e.g. Pro referred to John Lott who is the God of gun statistics and can never be wrong about anything." If you keep a sharp eye out, it becomes really easy to see votes that are based on a subjective analysis.
So keep your eye out. Force yourself to be tabula rasa. And keep up the good work (because anyone who cares enough to read my voting advice is doing good work).
Stay classy San Francisco.