A packed conference room, an engaged audience and lively debate between Robert Cerfolio, M.D., and Mark Dransfield, M.D., made the inaugural Great Debate 2008: Screening for Lung Cancer an overwhelming success, says William Bailey, M.D., organizer of the event. And because of that success, more debates could be on the horizon.
Cerfolio and Dransfield traded barbs, displayed a quick wit and, most important, showcased complete knowledge of topic in the one-hour debate in the West Pavilion Jan. 10. The judging panel of Kirby Bland, M.D., Nancy Dunlap, M.D., and Edward Partridge, M.D., ruled the contest a draw. Bailey says the real winners of the debate were those in attendance.
“Sometimes you go to an educational event and you learn a lot but it’s painful,” Bailey says. “That wasn’t the case with this event. Both debaters used every possible tactic they could and did a great job with it. I think they got all of the facts out on the table and sometimes emphasized a little beyond the facts for the purpose of rhetoric, but that’s part of debate.
“I’m confident the people who were there left knowing a great deal more about the subject than they did before.”
Cerfolio, who has participated in many debates at national meetings in the United States and a few abroad, says the debate was fun. He commended Dransfield for being informative and entertaining and said the true winner of the debate was the format and the university.
“The large number of people who were present enjoyed it and said they would come again to another debate like this; that made it a win-win for all of us,” Cerfolio says.
Bailey says the debate is “a technique we need to use periodically,” and he hopes to do more in the future.
He says the key to having a successful debate is having an interesting topic to discuss and having two dynamic people with depth of knowledge who can articulate their points and not be offended at verbal barbs that others could misinterpret as insults.
“In order to really understand a subject well you have to know the weaknesses of various arguments for and against,” he says. “When you present in a scholarly lecture format like standard grand rounds, if you are very aggressive in pointing out the deficiencies in one side or the other a lot of times people will get offended, particularly people who believe that side. If you do it in this format, that’s what you’re expected to do. You really can point out deficiencies, and people can learn about it. It’s hard to do that in a standard lecture.”
Dransfield agrees. He wishes the debate format had been used more when he was a resident. He believes it’s a format that will work well at UAB.
“The format leads to a more honest and complete discussion of the issues than typical lectures,” he says. “It’s also more fun and keeps the listeners engaged.
“There are many controversial issues that would work well as debates, and UAB has many outstanding clinicians and speakers who could participate. I certainly will attend the next one.”