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IN THESE DAYS OF alternative facts, I realize that anything scientific may be a hard sell to some. However, recent brouhahas over counting people make this an irresistible topic of scientific research.
The easiest crowd counts come from events of controlled attendance. Ticket sales, turnstiles and butts on seats are good indicators of how many people attend a given event.
Or, so it would seem, at the President-in-Wanting’s press conference on January 11, 2017, or his January 21, 2017, visit to the Central Intelligence Agency’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters.
Though I am hardly privy to such matters, I would guess such high-security locations and highly touted speaker would have accurate guest lists. Thus, it would seem that matters of crowd response—applause and the like—would also be easily assessed through the guest list and live tv feed of the room’s activities.
As a brief aside concerning the press conference, I was surprised that in a place as high-buck as Trump Tower’s ballroom, the press conference’s tv feed all but precluded hearing the journalists’ questions. Gee, we heard the angry responses and occasional applause just fine.
Similar crowd shilling occurred at the CIA love-fest. It could have been a tough house indeed, what with the President-in-Wanting’s 4:48 a.m. communication on January 11, 2017, in which he tweeted, “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Yet, according to the transcript of his CIA presentation, the President-in-Wanting asserted, “But I want to say that there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump. There’s nobody. (Applause.)”
This, in turn, lead to an alternative-fact firestorm concerning just who was doing the applause, the CIA folks or President-in-Wanting shills.
Alas, now we learn even butts on the seats can’t be an accurate assessment of crowd sentiments.
Inauguration Day versus the next day’s Women’s March calls for rather more science (you should excuse the word) than simply counting butts. It turns out crowd counts at public events, especially large ones, are complicated.
Generally, photographic evidence is used, a technique not unlike how medical technicians assess blood counts. You have a photograph or micrograph of what you’re counting. Divide it up with a grid into equal segments. Carefully (and laboriously) count the number of people, white corpuscles, knitting stitches, whatever, in some representative segments. Average this number, then multiply by the total number of segments.
Sources, for example Scientific American, give credit to Herbert Jacobs, 1903–1987, a Professor of Journalism at University of California, Berkeley, for applying the idea to crowds. It’s said that during the Vietnam era, grid lines of an adjacent plaza helped Professor Jacobs estimate the number of protesters during the 1960s Berkeley riots. The technique is now called the Jacobs Method in his honor.
The method has since been refined: It’s calculated that a loose crowd, with people at arm’s length from each other, has around 10 sq. ft. per person. Moderately dense crowds have around 4.5 sq. ft. per person. The most packed, appropriately called “mosh-pit” density, offers only 2.5 sq. ft. for each person.
By the way, I couldn’t let mosh pit go without a bit of research: I learned a mosh pit is the area in front of a stage at which moshing takes place. Moshing is a form of dancing perfected in the 1980s by the hardcore punk scenes in California and Washington, D.C.
The nearest I’ve ever come to such density was at a German street fair where, literally, it would have been possible to raise one’s feet and let shoulder contact inch one along. It was scary, and I quickly sought solitude.
Scientists (there’s that S word again) who specialize in such matters suggest that the Washington, D.C., Women’s March had perhaps three times as many people as the Inauguration.
Marcel Altenburg and Keith Still, specialists at Britain’s Manchester Metropolitan University, estimate the Women’s March crowd had at least 470,000 people. The Inauguration had about 160,000 people.
By contrast, the President-in-Wanting told his CIA audience, “And it’s said we drew 250,000 people. Now, that’s not bad, but it’s a lie. We had 250,000 people literally around—you know—in the little bowl that we constructed. That was 250,000 people. The rest of the 20-block area, all the way back to the Washington Monument, was packed. So we caught them, and we caught them in a beauty. And I think they’re going to pay a big price.”
More’s the pity, it seems science is paying the price as well. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017