Computer Science

1 In 5 Genetics Papers Have Microsoft Excel Errors

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

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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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