The GI Joe Fallacy: knowing is not half the battle

Overcoming cognitive bias takes more than knowing.

Laurie Santos and Tamar Gendler, both at Yale University, have coined a fallacy: The GI Joe Fallacy. This fallacy is the common idea that knowing is half the battle.

When it comes to the cognitive biases that shape human and nonhuman animal behaviour, knowing about the fallacy is not enough. Speculating, Santos thought that knowing is perhaps a tenth of the battle.1

Or like “now I know” about reference dependence and loss aversion, [so] I won’t fall for that. …but knowing is not half the battle, when it comes to these biases. Because you can know about these biases like crazy. You can be complete experts in them and write papers about them, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to experience them as soon as you’re put in the right situation.

I’m stoked that they’ve named this and it’s a fantastic reminder of the difference between knowledge and practice.2 And it provides some insight into the challenge of needing structure to challenge oppressive cultural and political order.

Structure, practice. Training.

  1. It’s a good reminder for skeptics and philosophers that being aware of common shared proclivities to fall into thinking traps does not safeguard us from falling into those traps. There is some evidence that knowing helps, but let’s not overstate the case.
  2. I’ve been listening to the You Are Not So Smart podcast lately and enjoy David McRaney’s frolicking review of various kinds of cognitive bias and self-delusion. I just listened to his interview with Laurie Santos about the failures of reasoning that monkeys make in marketplaces, and how similar they are to humans. It’s very interesting.