Slightly OT: Crowd Guesstimation
The events unfolding Egypt are a long way from southern gospel music, obviously, but watching the massive crowds assemble in Cairo and then reading some of the attempts online to guesstimate the size of these gatherings brought two things to mind: 1)I am spectacularly crappy at crowd guesstimation whenever I have to give it a go at concerts, and 2)I wonder if there is some kind of reporter’s lore or passed-down tips among journalists or other observers of political gatherings and demonstrations to figure out how to guesstimate the size of these crowds when no easy counting method presents itself.
Obviously when we’re talking about an event in an auditorium, one can (theoretically) rough out a grid in one’s mind based on seats and rows and make a back-of-the-ticket-stub calculation about crowd size by comparing an approximation of capacity against how full the room seems (though I’m blogging proof of the limitations of even this method).
But the Washington Mall, or Times Square, or Tahrir Square? Based on a conversation with a National Parks Service official, USA Today came up with this formula:
Estimating the size of a crowd requires aerial photographs, dimensions of the gathering space, and an estimate of the crowd’s density.
Uhm, ok. But … Clearly most reporters (to say nothing of a blogger or freelance photographer in a far flung land) can lay hands on only some of this data in most cases, unless they are much better resourced than most media outlets these days. So what says the wisdom of the crowd around here? Any promoters or performers or die-hard fans have any reliable ways of guesstimating crowd size in open-air or ticketless or other unstructured settings? Let the crowdsourcing begin …. Lords knows I could use the help.
Update: In addition to the impressively thoughtful comments on this question, fellow blogger Daniel Mount chimed in via email:
I was involved in politics in my teen years (and through early twenties; I’ve been out for a few years). During the time I was a congressional campaign and later staff aide, my job sometimes included a physical head count, even if that meant standing in the back of the room for half of the event. I can tell you firsthand: Local newspapers, at least, average no better than you do. I have seen thirty-two vigorous protesters recounted the next day as “hundreds,” and 200+ shrink into a few dozen.
(Photo: Southern gospel nights at Silver Dollar City, via http://www.flickr.com/photos/12766752@N08/1383952601)Email this Post