The forecast: cloudy, with a chance of Batman?

With all the Batman-related links I’ve got to clear out, you’d think I was some sort of obsessed, er, *batfan*. Truth be told, I’ve really just been meaning to link to [this awesome article over at *Scientific American*]( for over a week now. If you’ve ever wondered what it would take to *become* Batman—aside from *more money than God*—you could do worse than to talk to E. Paul Zehr, the associate professor of kinesiology and neuroscience at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Who also, as it happens, has been practicing Chito-Ryu karate-do for over twenty-five years. And, not coincidentally, is writing a book called *Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero*, which is due to come out this fall.

As Professor Zehr points out, it’s not *becoming* Batman that’s hard—you could do it, given enough time, practice, and drive—Zehr pegs it at about 10-12 years to achieve the same level of physical conditioning and expertise in martial arts; although, if you also account for the fact that Batman tries not to kill anybody, that number goes up to 15-18 years.

What’s far more difficult, however, is *remaining* Batman. As Zehr says:

> **How would all those beat-downs have affected his longevity?**
> Keeping in mind that being Batman means never losing: If you look at consecutive events where professional fighters have to defend their titles—Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Ultimate Fighters—the longest period you’re going to find is about two to three years. That dovetails nicely with the average career for NFL running backs. It’s about three years. (That’s the statistic I got from the NFL Players Association Web site.) The point is, it’s not very long. It’s really hard to become Batman in the first place, and it’s hard to maintain it when you get there.

There are also (as Jason pointed out to me) [plenty of other, non-physical side effects]( inherent in being the Dark Knight. Such as slapping around your boy wonder. No. That’s not a euphemism.

So how likely is it that we could have a potential Batman among us? Zehr gives a rough estimate: multiply the percentage of billionaires in the world and the percentage of Olympic decathletes in the world. So, let’s give this a try.

According to *Forbes* there are presently [1,125 billionaires in the world]( (a substantial jump from the first listing, in 1986, which had just 140, and quite a jump from 1916 when there was just one). The youngest is Facebook founder [Mark Zuckerberg](, at 24 (there’s still time, Zuck! Get training now and you could be Batman by the time you’re eligible to run for president).

As of this writing, the US Census Bureau’s [world population clock]( puts the total inhabitants of the planet Earth at about 6,712,463,068. So, the percentage of billionaires on the planet is about 1.68×10-9 or 0.00000000168%.

The number of decathletes is a little harder to track down, but the [2008 Beijing Olympics website]( says that the targeted number of participants in Olympic athletics events (which includes but is not limited to the decathlon) is 1,100. That may be a generous number, but it’s pretty darn close to the number of billionaires, so let’s say “close enough.” The percentage of Olympic decathletes on the planet is then about 1.64×10-9 or 0.00000000164%.

Multiplying the two of those together yields our percentage of people who could be Batman: 2.75×10-20. Or 0.0000000000000000000275%. That’s a pret-ty small percentage of people. So, out of our world population used above, how many potential people could be Batman? Good news! 1.85×10-10, or 0.000000000185 people.

So, as that devilish villain *mathematics* would have it, it’s extremely unlikely—nigh on impossible—that Batman walks among us. But while there may be no Batman *today*…have faith in the *children*. Remember, little Timmy and Suzy, if you work hard and eat all your vegetables, *you* can grow up to be Batman some day.

Trust me: you don’t even want to *see* the paperwork on the chances of a single alien child crash-landing on a planet whose yellow sun *happens* to give him superpowers.