06 - Gene Dating
The meta-analysis seems to imply that September 2nd plays a crucial role in the function of cells.
If files are imported or entered into spreadsheet software (such as Microsoft Excel) using the default settings, entries in cells are sometimes automatically reformatted.
A study from 2004 found that this error also occurs frequently in spreadsheets with gene names in scientific publications. The names are automatically changed to dates or floating-point numbers. Since these changes are irreversible the original information regarding the involved genes is lost.
A more recent study from 2016 revealed that the problem is still existent and no standardised solutions have been developed, yet. Roughly 20% of the investigated articles published in high-ranking journals in the field of genomics contained errors in the names of genes in spreadsheets. One example is the SEPT2 (Septin 2) gene, that plays an important role in the function of cells and is typically changed to 2 September in spreadsheets.
Since the data from such studies are a valuable resource for the scientific community and the data are usually reused by other scientists, the loss of information is extremely problematic. A spokesman of Microsoft responded to the results of the story: "Excel is able to display data and text in many different ways. Default settings are intended to work in most-day-to-day scenarios”. This means that the documentation of scientific data like genetic analysis is not part of the daily business of most spreadsheet tools and that proceeding with additional care is necessary when using these programs for certain data types.
The example shows that it is important to verify the accurate formatting of cells and the proper transfer of data into spreadsheets.