The Art of Counting 

​My people (Zimbabweans) are in the habit of inflating things. From inflation proper to fellows who exaggerate their wealth and self worth, to “men of God”  who give unbelievable figures of the sizes of their flock, we give too much importance to huge numbers. Maybe it’s a remnant of those hyperinflation days,  when even this poor villager was a trillionaire many times over,  never mind that I couldn’t buy a loaf. 

You only need to look at how the crowd sizes are estimated at rallies or church services. In Zimbabwe one gathering can have as little as 10 000 people,  or as much as 1 million,  depending on who is doing the counting. Ranga Mberi has a brilliant post on his blog about this. 

I,  however,  didn’t expect to see the same in the world’s biggest democracy. But politics is a game of numbers,  and politicians  everywhere will take offense if you suggest they have fewer supporters than they believe. 

Trump,  through his Press Secretary,  took great offense when newspapers pointed out that the crowd at his inauguration was quite small compared to those of his predecessors. 

The Trump team claimed that the crowd was in fact one of the biggest ever, which of course is total rubbish. Photographic evidence clearly shows that the Trump crowd was much smaller,  never mind what Donald thinks. 

It prompted a couple of brilliant articles,  in The New York Times and elsewhere, about crowd counting. This one traces how crowd estimates have been done through the years (centuries actually) from just rough estimating that was really guesswork to satellite imaging. 

Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March of 1995 is mentioned in the article,  where the Nation of Islam claimed a crowd in excess of 1.5 million,  while the National Park Service said it was a mere 400 000. It became a huge controversy as the Nation of Islam threatened to sue and eventually specialists used mathematical computational techniques to get a better estimate. Interestingly  there was  a bill introduced that banned the National Park Service from spending public money on crowd estimations. 

In another article a Professor Still claims that Trumps crowd was only about a third of Obama’s 2009 one while The Guardian concludes that  “evidence certainly seems to challenge Trump’s assertion that he had drawn a crowd of as many as 1.5 million people.”

You’d think these are petty things,  beneath the notice of the President of the most powerful nation on earth but clearly Trump is not your usual president. 

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Tawanda Moyo

Author: Tawanda Moyo

Villager, Itinerant, Engineer, Reader

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