Benford’s law and geographical information–the example of OpenStreetMap

F.-B. Mocnik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
98 Downloads (Pure)


Few laws about geographical information are known, partly because geographical information is inherently complex. Tobler’s first law of Geography and, to a lesser degree, also his second law are among the rare exceptions. In this article, we explore the validity of Benford’s law in the context of the example of OpenStreetMap. More specifically, we compare the distribution of several numerical features of geographical entities to the Benford distribution. It is demonstrated that the numerical features examined are in accordance with Benford’s law to a varying degree with little variation between the types of geographical entities. Spatial patterns in the deviation from Benford’s law are shown to be similar for some aspects but to strongly differ for other ones. We show that many aspects of the data tend to deviate more than average from the Benford distribution in Africa, Greenland, smaller island countries, and, to a lesser degree, in South America. Also, the scale-dependency of Benford’s law is explored. Motivated by the use of Benford’s law to detect indications for fraud in economic and other datasets, future prospects and limitations to systematically develop intrinsic data quality measures are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1746-1772
Number of pages27
JournalInternational journal of geographical information science
Issue number9
Early online date7 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2021


  • Benford’s law
  • data quality
  • Geographical Shared Data Sources (GSDS)
  • OpenStreetMap (OSM)
  • Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI)
  • UT-Hybrid-D

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