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I think you hit the nail right on the head...

My experience is from going to grad school in the Econ Dept. at the University of Chicago. Debate was simply a way of life there. The debates at workshops could get so heated, someone not used to it might get really scared. In fact a couple times, a student from another school would present a paper, not be used to how heated the debates could get and would start crying.

But it was never personal. Ever. It was always on topic, and it was always about the paper, not the writer of the paper. Did you consider this? Why did you assume this? What are the real world appications of this conclusion? How does this differ from this other study? The paper would be torn to bits (figuratively), but NOT the presenter. And after, we'd all go out for a beer or dinner and talk about how bad the bears were or something.

It led to great understanding of what one did and didn't know.
Never any personal attacks. Because, as you said, what would be the point of that?

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