Counting Beck rally attendees an inexact science

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Can we really get an accurate count of the number of people who attended Saturday’s Glenn Beck “Restoring Honor” rally? The answer might be, “No, we can’t.”

Crowd-counting science is far from exact. Much of it is based on examination of overhead photos to calculate crowd density and related statistics. It reminds us of the old intelligence agency practice of “shedology,” in which the Central Intelligence Agency and others estimated Soviet weapons numbers by looking at overhead photos of military sheds and calculating how many tanks they might hold.

Plus, numbers are inevitably colored by an estimator’s interest. Rally organizers usually say crowds were huge, bigger than expected. Critics will say the numbers were less than anticipated. That’s been the case for years.

Photos of the Beck event clearly show a big crowd. The weather was great – whatever the exact figure, there were a lot of people there. The area along the Reflecting Pool stretching out from the Lincoln Memorial was packed. Groups were gathered under trees far on either side. Large conglomerations of folks gathered all the way to the Washington Monument.

The crowd was big enough to disrupt Washington’s subway system, with service from at least 12 stops disrupted due to long lines for entry.

Given that context, let’s wade into the numbers.

Full story: Glenn Beck rally attendance: calculating how many really showed up – Christian Science Monitor