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Statistics can help us avoid counterfeit goods on the internet

Consumers need to know the true perils of purchasing artwork or luxury goods on the Internet, say statisticians in a paper published today in Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association.

Currently the operators of internet auction sites are not required to guarantee the authenticity of items listed. Today's Significance article, which is a preview of a more detailed article to be published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society – Series A: Statistics in Society, shows that statistical methods used previously in evaluating the accuracy of medical screening tests can be successfully applied to assess the misrepresentation of items offered for sale on Internet auction sites.

For consumer protection agencies or producers of expensive goods this is a significant step forward in enabling them to monitor the authenticity of objects offered for sale on the Internet. The results also indicate that the laws on misrepresentation of items for sale on the internet need to be strengthened to provide further protection of the public, claims lead author Professor of Statistics and Economics, Joseph L. Gastwirth, of George Washington University.

In the study the accuracy of the descriptions of artwork by Henry Moore offered on eBay were examined over a period of eighteen months. Two expert evaluators classified the artworks independently, with a third evaluator collecting the data and sending it to them separately. Adapting an established statistical method used to evaluate the accuracy of classifications in medicine and social science, the authors were able to estimate the percentage of artworks which were misrepresented.

The results of the study showed that over 80% of the small sculptures and drawings indicated by eBay sellers as by Henry Moore were in fact not genuine, while over 90% of the signed prints were genuine. "This method should be useful in assessing the reliability of descriptions of works by other artists, as well as some luxury goods," said Professor Gastwirth. "It may also prove useful in the application of statistics in legal cases concerning infringement, as it can be used as a first step in determining the percentage of goods of a certain type that are counterfeit."

The implication for buyers of artworks on internet auction sites is clear. The high proportion of counterfeit works by Henry Moore serve as warning to people looking to buy works by any major artist in this way; they need to exercise extreme caution.

This study is published in the quarterly magazine Significance. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact

Full Citation

"Dare you Buy a Henry Moore on E-bay?" Gastwirth J L, Johnson W; Significance; March 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1740-9713.2011.00470.x. Direct URL upon publication:

The full study will be published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society): "Estimating the fraction of 'non-genuine' artwork by Henry Moore for sale on eBay: application of latent class screening test methodology" Gastwirth J L, Johnson W and Hikawa H.; J.R.Statist.Soc.A; July 2011 174, Part 4 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-985X.2010.00682.x

About the Author

Joseph L. Gastwirth is Professor of Statistics and Economics at George Washington University, Washington D.C. He is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and American Association for the Advancement of Science. To arrange an interview with the author, please contact

About the Journal

Significance, published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association, is a quarterly magazine for anyone interested in statistics and the analysis and interpretation of data. Its aim is to communicate and demonstrate in an entertaining, thought-provoking and non-technical way the practical use of statistics in all walks of life and to show informatively and authoritatively how statistics benefit society. Significance can be accessed online at:

Updated daily, the recently launched Significance website brings you a statistical view of what is going on in the world covering topical news stories from a wide variety of areas. The website can be accessed at

About the Royal Statistical Society

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) is the UK's only professional and learned society devoted to the interests of statistics and statisticians. It is also one of the most influential and prestigious statistical societies in the world. The Society has an international membership, and is active in a wide range of areas both directly and indirectly pertaining to the study and application of statistics. For more information, please visit or contact Andrew Garratt, RSS Press & Public Affairs Officer on +44 20 7614 3920 or

About the American Statistical Association

The American Statistical Association is the world's largest community of statisticians. The ASA supports excellence in the development, application, and dissemination of statistical science through meetings, publications, membership services, education, accreditation, and advocacy. Our members serve in industry, government, and academia in more than 90 countries, advancing research and promoting sound statistical practice to inform public policy and improve human welfare.

About Wiley-Blackwell

Wiley-Blackwell is the international scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly publishing business of John Wiley & Sons, with strengths in every major academic and professional field and partnerships with many of the world's leading societies. Wiley-Blackwell publishes nearly 1,500 peer-reviewed journals and 1,500+ new books annually in print and online, as well as databases, major reference works and laboratory protocols. For more information, please visit or our new online platform, Wiley Online Library (, one of the world's most extensive multidisciplinary collections of online resources, covering life, health, social and physical sciences, and humanities.

Michelle Martella | EurekAlert!
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