Feeding the five thousand -- or was it three? Researchers claim most crowd estimations are unreliable

Aug 25, 2011

The public should view crowd estimation with scepticism, say the authors of a study published today in Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association, as they suggest more reliable alternatives to current estimating methods.

Estimates of sizes vary greatly, and the success of an event is often measured by the size of the crowd. Organisers of the 2007 "Stop the War" demonstration in London reported crowds of 60,000, whereas the police reported just 10,000. The US Government's estimate of the crowds at Obama's inauguration ceremony was 1.8 million, while other were much less, closer to one million. "In the absence of any accurate estimation methods, the public are left with a view of the truth coloured by the beliefs of the people making the estimates," claims Professor Paul Yip, of the University of Hong Kong, one of the authors of the study.

Such a huge in estimates is currently not unusual and suggests the use of crowd sizes as a political tool. Larger crowd sizes are a means of recruiting others to the cause, and it is more difficult for the authorities to ignore demands. "The authorities are sometimes put in a difficult position," says Yip. "It is important to highlight the shortcomings of existing estimating methods."

In today's study, the authors reveal several more accurate, more reliable methods of estimating crowd sizes. Currently, even when searching for the truth, there is a wide margin of error. The authors recommend organisers and authorities use an area x density estimating method for static crowds, which reduces the margin of error to less than 10%. Furthermore, they have devised an entirely new method of reliably estimating mobile crowds. Two inspection points are placed along the route where the number of participants is estimated, not too close together and with one near the end. In applying this two-inspection-point method to the Hong Kong 1st July march (a demonstration of widely-varying claimed size and of great political sensitivity) since 2003, more reliable estimates can then be obtained.

"It is important to rectify the myth of counting people. The public would be better served by estimates less open to political bias. Our study shows that crowd estimates with a margin of error of less than 10% can be achieved with the proposed method," Yip concludes.

Explore further: Project finds that persons with disabilities are not well represented in the European labour market

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Does the wisdom of crowds prevail when betting on football?

Nov 15, 2010

the number of points by which a strong team can be expected to defeat a weaker team—are supposed to reflect the "wisdom of crowds." But a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that crowds don't have a clue ...

Global war deaths have been substantially underestimated

Jun 20, 2008

[B]Research paper: 50 years of violent war deaths from Vietnam to Bosnia[/B] Globally, war has killed three times more people than previously estimated, and there is no evidence to support claims of a recent decline in ...

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

11 hours ago

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

12 hours ago

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

12 hours ago

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

Consumer loyalty driven by aesthetics over functionality

Dec 17, 2014

When designing a new car, manufacturers might try to attract consumers with more horsepower, increased fuel efficiency or a lower price point. But new research from San Francisco State University shows consumers' loyalty ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.