Benford’s Law (Psalms 19:1-4 )

Accounting fraud. Baseball statistics. Distances of galaxies from the Earth.

Surprisingly, all of these disparate and seemingly unconnected data points follow a principle dubbed “Benford’s Law.” Named for the physicist, Frank Benford, it is also known as the “Newcomb-Benford Law” and the “First Digit Law” and postulates that the number 1 is more frequently represented than the other digits, 2 through 9 when examining data sets of large numbers.

Although the application of traditional probability analysis should lead to the conclusion that each number has an equal 1/9 chance of being used, Benford found that the number 1 is represented about 30% of the time when dealing with these sets of large numbers. Even more surprising, is the following numbers such as 2, 3 until 9, occur with decreasing frequency by approximately 11%. This logarithmic scale is illustrated here. 

Source: The

What are the real world applications?

It turns out that so many random processes follow Benford’s law that when one attempts to fraudulently change the numbers, it will violate the law and raise concerns. This is exactly what happens in forensic accounting. During the Dot-com bubble and bust, a number of very high profile companies were cooking their books. Retrospective analyses clearly demonstrated a deviation from Benford’s Law which could have alerted auditors. Presently, Benford’s law is used by auditors to screen for fraudulent tax returns. As University of Maryland researcher Professor Jen Golbeck noted, “It’s amazing to see how Benford’s law, something that a human being observed, can be applied to everything that we see around us, from taxes, music, sports, crime, votes, social media and the entire universe as well. You name it, and Benford’s Law is probably there.”

A law that is present in every activity we are engaged in, infuses many natural phenomena, and even is embedded within the workings of the universe. This sounds familiar!

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world…

Psalms 19:1-4 (NLT)

God has embedded His omniscient and omnipresent qualities into His Creation. As we discover more principles of how God operates in His world, it should not surprise us that our world is not a random assortment of physical forces. The beauty and complexity of Creation should lead us to the beauty and supreme intelligence of God, its Creator. 

Indeed, all Creation proclaims the glory of God!

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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