The iPhone's autocorrect feature is often a help, but also a major source of embarrassment. So much so there is a whole website dedicated to nothing but embarrassing autocorrect moments.
Those are merely embarrassing moments. Microsoft Excel, the de facto spreadsheet application in the world, is making a mess of scientific papers all over the world thanks to the software's own auto-format and autocorrect functions.
According to the BBC, a report from the Melbourne, Australia-based academic institute Baker IDI, found four 704 errors in genetic names in 3,597 published scientific papers. That's almost 20 percent of all papers. For example, Excel changed the name of a gene called SEPT2 (short for Septin) to a date, September 2.
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It's unfair to fault Microsoft or Excel in an instance like that. What do you think of first when you see "Sept2," the second of September or Septin 2? Unless you're a geneticist, it's September second.
And I don't think this should lie on Microsoft's head, either. Now that they know, scientists should be much more careful in their data entry and make sure to catch these changes. They also have the option of turning off auto-format as they type.
Thankfully, the scientists agreed. Ewan Birney, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute, told the BBC he doesn’t blame Excel or Microsoft, but his fellow scientists.
"What frustrates me is researchers are relying on Excel spreadsheets for clinical trials," he told the Beeb. The Excel gene renaming issue has been known among the scientific community for more than a decade, and it should only be considered for "lightweight scientific analysis."
Birney said the scientific community has known about this since 2004, but rather than address the problem, errors in scientific papers have simply gone up "at a rate of 15 percent per year."
I don't know about you, but I find that level of sloppiness by scientific researchers to be very disturbing. What else are they screwing up?
I don't blame scientists for using Excel. Where else can you get an easier-to-use row-and-column database, which is essentially what it is? OpenOffice and LibreOffice, obviously, but chances are these scientists had Microsoft Office on their work PCs and used what they were given. Excel is the simplest way to set up a database; you just plug in your data and go. Only now, you have to be more careful with what you plug in.