Exploiting My A-To-Z Archives: Benford’s Law

Let me close out the week by bringing back a piece about my car. It was part of the Summer 2017 A to Z. It didn’t by itself determine just when in 2017 I would do an A to Z sequence, but it did set a deadline for me.

Benford’s Law is one of the many mathematics things not quite named for the correct person. Simon Newcomb, one of the United States’s greatest 19th century astronomers, wrote about it first. But Frank Benford in 1938 publicized it, with a paper titled The Law Of Anomalous Numbers. And it’s a great weird phenomenon. Look at sets of data from the real world: street addresses. Lengths of rivers. Heights of tall buildings. The mileage reading on car odometers. The leading digit is more often a 1 than a 2, more often a 2 than a 3, more often a 5 than a 6, and so on. It seems bizarre this should happen. Especially in things that seem to be independent of human construction, like masses of asteroids, it’s bizarre this should happen.

So it’s fun to spend some time looking at this strange business.

My other essays from the Summer 2017 A To Z are at this link.


Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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