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Superheroes are among America’s all-time greatest exports.

We have the classics, like Superman, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman. We have more modern and diverse superheroes, like Luke Cage.

We have superheroes who shoot lasers from their eyes,

spring metal1 claws from their hands,

and seed storms from their minds.

And yet there’s a villain out there that none of these characters can vanquish. It takes a special kind of superpower. No muscles or spandex needed. What the world needs most right now is something much more powerful…

Unbiased cognition.

Stop rolling your eyes, please hear me out. The greatest threat to our global world order right now is not a walking electromagnet.

It’s not a hoverboarding hooligan chucking pumpkins at people.

Maybe those were credible threats in the 1950s or whenever Stan Lee started making comic books, but times change. Threats change.

And if you’ve been following along, the greatest threat to America right now is cognitive bias. Or really, cognitive biases.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for righteous superheroes saving the world from mayhem. But unfortunately, none of their strength, special powers, adaptations, or skills are fit for this fight.

You know the most important, most superhuman superpower the world needs right now?

Acting rationally.

We need a superhero who knows that the next flip of the penny isn’t more likely to be heads just because it came up tails the last 10 times (a bias called the gambler’s fallacy). We need a superhero who recognizes that just because we can easily recall a fact doesn’t imply anything about the relevance or importance of that fact (a bias called the availability heuristic). We need a superhero who realizes we too often forget general statistics about a population when evaluating the likelihood of something being true for a specific example in front of us (called confirmation bias).

There are no movies or comic books about them, but these are the real problems society faces.

“Fake News” couldn’t exist without confirmation bias. As consumers LIKE the news that fits with their worldview and ignore the news that doesn’t, they unknowingly reinforce their existing opinions and isolate themselves from information that may require them to reconsider.

And for all my snowflakes and non-snowflakes out there wondering why racism, sexism and all the other “isms” and groupophobias won’t just go away. Because of out-group homogeneity bias, where we think we are more diverse and interesting and they are all alike.

If all this sounds abstract—sure, it is. Few people care to learn about our inherent biases because a) they don’t want to admit they are biased and b) learning is boring.

That’s why we need a superhero to make unbiased cognition sexy and exciting. You think people liked the idea of flying as a superpower in the 1920s? No. It freaked them out. Superman made flying cool. (Awesome little-known fact, btw: Superman was inspired by a governmental propaganda program from the 1920’s to get folks more comfortable with flying on commercial airlines2.)

Clearly, unbiased cognition needs a champion.

Does our superhero wear a cape? Does she spend her evenings fixing Wikipedia links that have been defamed by Breitbart readers? Does she prowl the streets at night looking for folks who’ve gotten into trouble by relying too heavily on, say, the availability heuristic or the representativeness heuristic? Is she tormented by her inability to relate to people who can’t get over their own confirmation bias? I don’t know. I’m not a “Comic Person.” At least I can recognize and admit my own bias. I’ll leave these details for folks who know the difference between Lois Lane and Lana Lang.

What I do know is this: we are all biased as hell. The smartest among us are no exception (looking at you Dr. Charles Xavier). There’s absolutely no chance that one of our political leaders are going to step up and model good awareness of natural cognitive biases.

So let’s create a superhero who can3.


[1] Technically, Wolverine’s claws aren’t made of “metal”—they are made of a fictitious metal alloy called adamantium. The defining quality of adamantium is that it’s practically indestructible. Hopefully this little aside gives me some street cred with the Comic Con crowd.

[2] I’m fucking with you. That wasn’t a thing. But some of you bought it for a moment, and I’d bet money your gullibility sprung from some cognitive bias. Which only goes to prove my point.

[3] I hereby declare that I, Jesse B. Stone, am the originator of the idea for Cognitively Unbiased Woman™. I thereby am entitled to a share in the royalties of any Iron Man or Captain America crossover films with said character.

Jesse Stone

Jesse B. Stone loves science and writing. Apologies if you were looking for the "Jesse Stone" played by Tom Selleck in the CBS movies.

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