Editorial: Size of Sinulog crowd

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Monday, January 20, 2014


FINALLY, a lower estimate on the number of people that crowded last Sunday’s Sinulog grand parade. The police estimate of 3.5 million was “smaller” because last year the estimate was 4 million.

The smaller estimate of the crowd size was a departure from the past practice of stating that the number of people that were in the grand parade was bigger than the one in the previous year. The practice could lead to an estimate that would be absurdly big after years of counting.

Still, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama described the police crowd estimate as too conservative. He didn’t present his own estimate, though, except by saying that “there was a deluge of people.”

"It's very rare that you have the report of a crowd size where there isn't some incentive to exaggerate one way or the other," says Hanna Fry, a mathematician from University College London.

The British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) sought her out when it published an article in July last year about the nationwide anti-government demonstrations in Egypt that toppled the Islamist government of Mohammed Morsi. It was titled, “Counting Crowds: Was Egypt’s Uprising the Biggest Ever?”

One can also ask: Did Quiapo Church host the biggest procession of the Black Nazarene on record? Church officials pegged the size of the crowd that gathered last Jan. 10 at 10 million. Last year, they pegged the procession crowd at 9 million.

One million is big enough. Ten million could be an exaggeration.

One way to estimate the size of the crowd, according to BBC, is to take a satellite image of the event, and then draw a grid on the image. Count the people in one grid and multiply it by the number of grids.

But an expert noted that “crowd boundaries are not clearly defined and people do not scatter uniformly.” The problem is compounded when one counts a moving crowd, like the Black Nazarene or Sto. Niño processions or, yes, the carousel-type Sinulog grand parade.

Some journalists take the “Pontius Pilate route” by asking the organizers come up with their usually bloated crowd size estimate and contrast this with estimates from other sources, like the police.

Then they let their readers weigh which of the estimates are closer to the truth.

Of course, because of the difficulty of counting the number of people in a crowd, no one can be sure that an estimate blurted out by anybody is close to what is real.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 21, 2014.

Opinion

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