Reporting: The Perils of Crowd Counting

When rebellious students massed at Berkeley's Sproul Hall Plaza last December, how many were there? Police estimated 7,000 to 10,000, and the newspapers dutifully reported the figure. But one reader was dissatisfied. "Estimating the size of a crowd may be the last area of fantasy in the newspaper business," observed Herbert A. Jacobs, 63, a longtime Wisconsin newspaperman who now lectures at the University of California. Jacobs set out to make a more scientific calculation.

First, he bought an enlarged aerial photograph of the mob scene, ruled it off in 1-in. squares, and used a magnifying glass to count...

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