[Classics] On a class of skew distribution functions

HERBERT A. SIMON

Biometrika, Volume 42, Issue 3-4, December 1955, Pages 425–440,

It is the purpose of this paper to analyse a class of distribution functions that appears in a wide range of empirical data—particularly data describing sociological, biological and economic phenomena. Its appearance is so frequent, and the phenomena in which it appears so diverse, that one is led to the conjecture that if these phenomena have any property in common it can only be a similarity in the structure of the underlying probability mechanisms. The empirical distributions to which we shall refer specifically are: (A) distributions of words in prose samples by their frequency of occurrence, (B) distributions of scientists by number of papers published, (C) distributions of cities by population, (D) distributions of incomes by size, and (E) distributions of biological genera by number of species.
No one supposes that there is any connexion between horse-kicks suffered by soldiers in the German army and blood cells on a microscope slide other than that the same urn scheme provides a satisfactory abstract model of both phenomena. It is in the same direction that we shall look for an explanation of the observed close similarities among the five classes of distributions listed above.

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