Power Outage Led to San Francisco Super Bowl Surge? Not So Fast

Matthew Dowd

By Matthew Dowd

Feb 4, 2013 4:00pm


In the aftermath of the Super Bowl, one of the most repeated “insights” is that the power outage delay changed the momentum of the game and allowed a big comeback by San Francisco. To me, this is classic cause-and-effect attribution bias or error.

In this instance, Baltimore was doing great and San Francisco poorly, and then the power went out and game was delayed 34 minutes. In the aftermath, San Francisco mounted a comeback and, therefore, we say comeback is because of the delay.

While this is possible, I suggest it is very unlikely.

ap san francisco 49ers ll 130204 wblog Power Outage Led to San Francisco Super Bowl Surge? Not So Fast

(Dave Martin/AP Photo)

Two weeks ago, San Francisco had a similar comeback against Atlanta and there was no half-hour delay. And Baltimore has played flat, at times, this year, losing leads with no power outage involved. My guess is this all was the normal cycle of two evenly matched teams where the ebb and flow would result in a close game.

This kind of attribution bias happens all the time in many areas of life.  We hear someone is getting divorced and then we hear their spouse had had an affair, and we postulate that the divorce is because of the affair. Maybe. More likely is that the affair was symptomatic of some bigger issues and the divorce represented a much deeper reflection than just a reaction to a single event.

In politics, too, this bias occurs all the time. Someone is leading in the polls, and then some event or speech happens and there is a drop in the polls – so we surmise the drop in the polls is because of the intervening event. Again, possible, but more likely a deeper story exists or, maybe, it’s just a momentary unconnected blip.

So as we all discuss this exciting Super Bowl, or as we make judgments in many areas of our life or about others, let’s all be careful of attributing cause and effect where it may not exist and try as best we can to get at the real story.

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