Autocorrect errors in Excel still creating genomics headache

Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02211-4

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Excerpt:

In 2016, Mark Ziemann and his colleagues at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, quantified the problem. They found that one-fifth of papers in top genomics journals contained gene-name conversion errors in Excel spreadsheets published as supplementary data2. These data sets are frequently accessed and used by other geneticists, so errors can perpetuate and distort further analyses.

However, despite the issue being brought to the attention of researchers — and steps being taken to fix it — the problem is still rife, according to an updated and larger analysis led by Ziemann, now at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia3. His team found that almost one-third of more than 11,000 articles with supplementary Excel gene lists published between 2014 and 2020 contained gene-name errors (see ‘A growing problem’).

Simple checks can detect autocorrect errors, says Ziemann, who researches computational reproducibility in genetics. But without those checks, the errors can easily go unnoticed because of the volume of data in spreadsheets.

Author(s): Dyani Lewis

Publication Date: 13 August 2021

Publication Site: nature

Virtual Meetup: To Err is Human but to ISERR is Never OK!

Video description:

Have you ever built a perfect financial model without any errors? Thought not! And for that reason, all good modellers know they need to include some error checks. But what is not as clear is how many error checks you should have, when you should include them and what form they should take. Excel “helpfully” provided us with functions like ISERR, ISERROR and IFERROR but as you progress your modelling journey you should learn to avoid these functions. Plus, you also learn the sad truth that Excel can’t even do basic maths sometimes! Join us to hear from financial modelling specialist Andrew Berg, who has spent years building models, and so happily admits he has probably already made most of the mistakes you haven’t yet had a chance to! The good news is that he is willing to share the tips he has learned about the right types of error checks to add to your models so you don’t have to learn the hard way. ★Download the resources here ► https://plumsolutions.com.au/virtual-… ★Register for more meetups like this ► https://plumsolutions.com.au/meetup/ ★Connect with Andrew on Linkedin ► https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-be…

Author(s): Andrew Berg, Danielle Stein Fairhurst

Publication Date: 2 June 2021

Publication Site: YouTube

How the government’s mistaken prices disclosure derailed a big follow-on solicitation

Link: https://federalnewsnetwork.com/contracting/2021/07/how-the-governments-mistaken-prices-disclosure-derailed-a-big-follow-on-solicitation/

Excerpt:

When the Defense Information Systems Agency sought a new satellite services acquisition on behalf of the Navy, it included a spreadsheet so bidders could fill in their prices. But the spreadsheet included the prices from the current contract, which were supposed to be inaccessible. For how things turned out, Smith Pachter McWhorter procurement attorney Joe Petrillo joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

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Joe Petrillo: Sure. This is another excel spreadsheet disaster, and we talked about one a few weeks ago. It involved an acquisition of satellite telecom services for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. It was an acquisition of commercial satellite telecommunications services. And they were divided into both bandwidth and non-bandwidth services. And the contract would be able to run to for up to 10 years in duration. Part of the contract, as you said, was an excel spreadsheet of the various different line items with blanks for offers to include their price. Unfortunately, this spreadsheet had hidden tabs, 19 hidden tabs, and those included, among other things, historical pricing information from the current contract. So Inmarsat, which was the incumbent contractor, holding that contract, notified the government and said, look you’ve disclosed our pricing information, do something about it. So the government deleted the offending spreadsheet from the SAM.gov website. But they understood and this was the case, third party aggregators had already downloaded it, and it was out there, it was available.

Author(s): Tom Temin, Joe Petrillo

Publication Date: 8 July 2021

Publication Site: Federal News Network

The tyranny of spreadsheets

Link: https://financialpost.com/fp-work/the-tyranny-of-spreadsheets-we-take-numbers-for-granted-until-we-run-out-of-them

Excerpt:

Somewhere in PHE’s data pipeline, someone had used the wrong Excel file format, XLS rather than the more recent XLSX. And XLS spreadsheets simply don’t have that many rows: 2 to the power of 16, about 64,000. This meant that during some automated process, cases had vanished off the bottom of the spreadsheet, and nobody had noticed.

The idea of simply running out of space to put the numbers was darkly amusing. A few weeks after the data-loss scandal, I found myself able to ask Bill Gates himself about what had happened. Gates no longer runs Microsoft, and I was interviewing him about vaccines for a BBC program called How to Vaccinate The World. But the opportunity to have a bit of fun quizzing him about XLS and XLSX was too good to pass up.

I expressed the question in the nerdiest way possible, and Gates’s response was so strait-laced I had to smile: “I guess… they overran the 64,000 limit, which is not there in the new format, so…” Well, indeed. Gates then added, “It’s good to have people double-check things, and I’m sorry that happened.”

Exactly how the outdated XLS format came to be used is unclear. PHE sent me an explanation, but it was rather vague. I didn’t understand it, so I showed it to some members of Eusprig, the European Spreadsheet Risks Group. They spend their lives analyzing what happens when spreadsheets go rogue. They’re my kind of people. But they didn’t understand what PHE had told me, either. It was all a little light on detail.

Author(s): Tim Harford

Publication Date: 29 June 2021

Publication Site: Financial Post