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COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Sampling—how big a sample?

C G Aitken
Journal of Forensic Sciences 1999, 44 (4): 750-60
10432610
It is thought that, in a consignment of discrete units, a certain proportion of the units contain illegal material. A sample of the consignment is to be inspected. Various methods for the determination of the sample size are compared. The consignment will be considered as a random sample from some super-population of units, a certain proportion of which contain drugs. For large consignments, a probability distribution, known as the beta distribution, for the proportion of the consignment which contains illegal material is obtained. This distribution is based on prior beliefs about the proportion. Under certain specific conditions the beta distribution gives the same numerical results as an approach based on the binomial distribution. The binomial distribution provides a probability for the number of units in a sample which contain illegal material, conditional on knowing the proportion of the consignment which contains illegal material. This is in contrast to the beta distribution which provides probabilities for the proportion of a consignment which contains illegal material, conditional on knowing the number of units in the sample which contain illegal material. The interpretation when the beta distribution is used is much more intuitively satisfactory. It is also much more flexible in its ability to cater for prior beliefs which may vary given the different circumstances of different crimes. For small consignments, a distribution, known as the beta-binomial distribution, for the number of units in the consignment which are found to contain illegal material, is obtained, based on prior beliefs about the number of units in the consignment which are thought to contain illegal material. As with the beta and binomial distributions for large samples, it is shown that, in certain specific conditions, the beta-binomial and hypergeometric distributions give the same numerical results. However, the beta-binomial distribution, as with the beta distribution, has a more intuitively satisfactory interpretation and greater flexibility. The beta and the beta-binomial distributions provide methods for the determination of the minimum sample size to be taken from a consignment in order to satisfy a certain criterion. The criterion requires the specification of a proportion and a probability.

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