If you've ever used a spreadsheet program, you know the frustration of entering one thing and seeing it autoformat to another. If this formatting error goes unnoticed it might be a serious problem when it comes to your finances, but it's catastrophic when it comes to science. A study in the journal Genome Biology found that 19.6%—roughly 1 in 5—of genetics articles published with Excel files contained these types of errors. The problem stems from the way gene names are written. For example, the gene "Membrane-Associated Ring Finger (C3HC4) 1, E3 Ubiquitin Protein Ligase" is known as MARCH1 in shorthand, which Microsoft Excel's default settings automatically convert to "1-Mar" or another calendar date format. Likewise, when scientists entered genetic ID numbers, they were turned into floating-point numbers ("2310009E13" became "2.31E+13", for example). According to Popular Mechanics, scientists can't just reformat their Excel files, as that won't turn the calendar dates back into gene names. Instead, they must manually reformat a blank document and re-enter their data cell by cell. Luckily, these errors don't have much impact on the papers' original findings, but they will post a problem for any scientist who wants to replicate a study. Learn more about scientific studies in the videos below.
How Microsoft Excel Is Screwing Up Science
One little autoformatting issue is posing a whole lot of problems.
Top 5 Things Wrong With Science
Science isn't perfect.
The History and Future of The Scientific Method
Hear about the times and troubles of the most important principle in science.
Written by Ashley Hamer September 12, 2016
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