Thursday, October 14, 2010

Curious mathematical law is rife in nature - physics-math - 14 October 2010 - New Scientist

Curious mathematical law is rife in nature: A subject of fascination to mathematicians, Benford's law states that for many sets of numbers, the first or "leading" digit of each number is not random. Instead, there is a 30.1 per cent chance that a number's leading digit is a 1. Progressively higher leading digits get increasingly unlikely, and a number has just a 4.6 per cent chance of beginning with a 9 (see diagram).

The law is named after physicist Frank Benford, who in 1938 showed that the trend appears in many number sets, from the surface area of rivers to baseball statistics to figures picked randomly from a newspaper. It later emerged that such distributions are "scale-invariant": if you convert the units of the numbers in the set, from metres to yards, say, the set will still conform to Benford's law.

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