THE POWER OF ONE: BENFORD’S LAW
The concept of Benford’s law, also known as the first-digit phenomenon, has been known to mathematicians since 1881. It is counter-intuitive, difficult to explain in simple terms, and has suffered from being described variously as ‘a numerical aberration’, ‘an oddity’, ‘a mystery’ – but also as ‘a mathematical gem’. However, it has developed into a recognised statistical technique with several practical applications, of which the most notable is as a fraud detection mechanism in forensic accounting. This paper will briefly discuss and demonstrate the special numerical characteristics of Benford’s law. It will attempt to investigate the law’s possible application to the detection of data manipulation and data tampering that might exist in papers published in engineering and scientific journals. Firstly, it will be applied to an investigation of the so-called Fisher-Mendel controversy. Secondly, Benford’s analysis will be applied to six recently published papers selected from the South African Journal of Industrial Engineering.
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