The protest-crowd numbers game

Old Blog Import

Sociology professor revises protest figures downwards for DC rally:

Clark McPhail, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is one of America’s preeminent authorities on protest crowds. His award-winning 1991 book on crowd behavior,”The Myth of the Madding Crowd,” is required reading in his field. When the Washington Post wanted to estimate the numbers at the massive Promise Keepers march in 1996, they hired him on the Park Police’s recommendation. He attended last Saturday’s antiwar demonstration, and according to him, there were 60,000 protesters. Tops.

That will sound low to a lot of people. Larry Holmes, a spokesman for ANSWER, called it "a little bit on the ridiculous side" and suggested McPhail’s motivations are "political." But Joel Best, the University of Delaware sociology professor who wrote "Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers From the Media, Politicians and Activists," calls McPhail "the expert on this stuff." And McPhail insists his estimation methodology has nothing to do with politics. He’s been studying D.C. demonstrations since 1967, using a fairly simple mathematical formula — square footage divided by occupation density — to count everything from antiwar gatherings to the annual March for Life to the Million Man March to Promise Keepers … and last week’s D.C. rally.”