Using Benford’s law to investigate Natural Hazard dataset homogeneity

Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Thomas Bodin, Anja Scheffers, Malcolm Sambridge, Simon Matthias May (doi:10.1038/srep12046)


Working with a large temporal dataset spanning several decades often represents a challenging task, especially when the record is heterogeneous and incomplete. The use of statistical laws could potentially overcome these problems. Here we apply Benford’s Law (also called the “First-Digit Law”) to the traveled distances of tropical cyclones since 1842. The record of tropical cyclones has been extensively impacted by improvements in detection capabilities over the past decades. We have found that, while the first-digit distribution for the entire record follows Benford’s Law prediction, specific changes such as satellite detection have had serious impacts on the dataset. The least-square misfit measure is used as a proxy to observe temporal variations, allowing us to assess data quality and homogeneity over the entire record, and at the same time over specific periods. Such information is crucial when running climatic models and Benford’s Law could potentially be used to overcome and correct for data heterogeneity and/or to select the most appropriate part of the record for detailed studies.

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