What would be easier: adopting a new nomenclature in order to avoid spreadsheet errors or customizing MS Excel to accomplish the same?
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Exactly. So, The Verge reports, that’s what geneticists are doing:
“It’s really, really annoying,” Dezső Módos, a systems biologist at the Quadram Institute in the UK, told The Verge. Módos, whose job involves analyzing freshly sequenced genetic data, says Excel errors happen all the time, simply because the software is often the first thing to hand when scientists process numerical data. “It’s a widespread tool and if you are a bit computationally illiterate you will use it,” he says. “During my PhD studies I did as well!”
There’s no easy fix, either. Excel doesn’t offer the option to turn off this auto-formatting, and the only way to avoid it is to change the data type for individual columns. Even then, a scientist might fix their data but export it as a CSV file without saving the formatting. Or, another scientist might load the data without the correct formatting, changing gene symbols back into dates. The end result is that while knowledgeable Excel users can avoid this problem, it’s easy for mistakes to be introduced.
Therefore the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee has created a new system that has resulted in 27 new gene names in the past year.