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Explaining the uneven distribution of numbers in nature: the laws of Benford and Zipf

Author

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  • Pietronero, L.
  • Tosatti, E.
  • Tosatti, V.
  • Vespignani, A.

Abstract

The distribution of first digits in numbers series obtained from very different origins shows a marked asymmetry in favor of small digits that goes under the name of Benford's law. We analyze in detail this property for different data sets and give a general explanation for the origin of the Benford's law in terms of multiplicative processes. We show that this law can be also generalized to series of numbers generated from more complex systems like the catalogs of seismic activity. Finally, we derive a relation between the generalized Benford's law and the popular Zipf's law which characterize the rank order statistics and has been extensively applied to many problems ranging from city population to linguistics.

Suggested Citation

  • Pietronero, L. & Tosatti, E. & Tosatti, V. & Vespignani, A., 2001. "Explaining the uneven distribution of numbers in nature: the laws of Benford and Zipf," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 293(1), pages 297-304.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:phsmap:v:293:y:2001:i:1:p:297-304
    DOI: 10.1016/S0378-4371(00)00633-6
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    Cited by:

    1. Ferrer i Cancho, Ramon, 2005. "Decoding least effort and scaling in signal frequency distributions," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 345(1), pages 275-284.
    2. repec:eee:phsmap:v:486:y:2017:i:c:p:711-719 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. T. Mir, 2016. "The leading digit distribution of the worldwide illicit financial flows," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 271-281, January.
    4. T. A. Mir, 2016. "The leading digit distribution of the worldwide illicit financial flows," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 271-281, January.
    5. Tariq Ahmad Mir & Marcel Ausloos & Roy Cerqueti, 2014. "Benford's law predicted digit distribution of aggregated income taxes: the surprising conformity of Italian cities and regions," Papers 1410.2890, arXiv.org.
    6. Lee, Joanne & Cho, Wendy K. Tam & Judge, George G, 2009. "Stigler's approach to recovering the distribution of first significant digits in natural data sets," Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley, Working Paper Series qt9745m98d, Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley.
    7. Clippe, Paulette & Ausloos, Marcel, 2012. "Benford’s law and Theil transform of financial data," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 391(24), pages 6556-6567.
    8. David Giles, 2007. "Benford's law and naturally occurring prices in certain ebaY auctions," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(3), pages 157-161.
    9. Grendar, Marian & Judge, George & Schechter, Laura, 2007. "An empirical non-parametric likelihood family of data-based Benford-like distributions," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 380(C), pages 429-438.
    10. Gottwald, Georg A. & Nicol, Matthew, 2002. "On the nature of Benford's Law," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 303(3), pages 387-396.
    11. Phillips, J.C., 2015. "Phase transitions in the web of science," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 428(C), pages 173-177.
    12. Bormashenko, Ed. & Shulzinger, E. & Whyman, G. & Bormashenko, Ye., 2016. "Benford’s law, its applicability and breakdown in the IR spectra of polymers," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 444(C), pages 524-529.
    13. Whyman, G. & Ohtori, N. & Shulzinger, E. & Bormashenko, Ed., 2016. "Revisiting the Benford law: When the Benford-like distribution of leading digits in sets of numerical data is expectable?," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 461(C), pages 595-601.
    14. Egghe, L., 2013. "The functional relation between the impact factor and the uncitedness factor revisited," Journal of Informetrics, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 183-189.
    15. Hürlimann, Werner, 2015. "On the uniform random upper bound family of first significant digit distributions," Journal of Informetrics, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 349-358.
    16. Dorogovtsev, S.N. & Mendes, J.F.F. & Oliveira, J.G., 2006. "Frequency of occurrence of numbers in the World Wide Web," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 360(2), pages 548-556.
    17. Tariq Ahmad Mir, 2012. "The leading digit distribution of the worldwide Illicit Financial Flows," Papers 1201.3432, arXiv.org, revised Nov 2012.
    18. Lee, Joanne & Cho, Wendy K. Tam & Judge, George G., 2010. "Stigler's approach to recovering the distribution of first significant digits in natural data sets," Statistics & Probability Letters, Elsevier, vol. 80(2), pages 82-88, January.
    19. Hsiang-chi Tseng & Wei-neng Huang & Ding-wei Huang, 2017. "Modified Benford’s law for two-exponent distributions," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 110(3), pages 1403-1413, March.
    20. Mir, T.A., 2012. "The law of the leading digits and the world religions," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 391(3), pages 792-798.
    21. Lee, Joanne & Judge, George G, 2008. "Identifying falsified clinical data," Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley, Working Paper Series qt8x00h1c1, Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley.
    22. Mir, T.A., 2014. "The Benford law behavior of the religious activity data," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 408(C), pages 1-9.
    23. Biau, Damien, 2015. "The first-digit frequencies in data of turbulent flows," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 440(C), pages 147-154.

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