What does Excel and an Incel Have in Common — and How does this Screw with Science?

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Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

There’s been a joke circulating of late:

What does Excel have in common with an incel?

Answer: They both think something’s a date when it isn’t.

Excel has a certain notoriety for looking for dates and auto formatting them. And sometimes it will even decide that cell is a date forever and you have to delete an entire row or column to get it to believe you. Excel can be insanely stubborn about dates.

So, How does this Affect Science?

Specifically, Excel’s stubbornness about dates affects genetics.

So, here’s an example.

Membrane Associated Ring-CH-Type Finger 1. This is a not very sexy gene involved in protein management in multiple species including humans, horses, and dogs.

The approved symbol for this gene was MARCH-1.

Type that into Excel and it auto-converts to 1-Mar. You can’t globally turn this off. You have to remember to turn it off for the specific cells, at least at the row/column level. Then you export it, somebody else imports it…and Excel turns it right back into a date.

These errors even make it into published papers. A lot of published papers.

And no, Microsoft doesn’t seem to want to offer a fix. After all, this is a pretty niche use case and they at least believe the majority of people want the date auto formatting (Here’s a tip, Microsoft, many of us actually don’t. It’s annoying. If I want a date I’ll type a date).

Which has resulted in, well.

MARCH-1 is now MARCHF-1. 27 genes in total have had their official acronyms altered and it’s now policy to consider “data handling and retrieval” when coming up with new ones.

Basically, it’s easier to change the science than get Microsoft to change their software. It’s literally easier to go through and change thousands of references. Sorry, Microsoft, you’re…drunk?

About as easy as getting an incel to acknowledge that meeting for coffee isn’t a date, right?

Oh, and that 1? Put there in the first place so the gene wouldn’t be mistaken for a month, or a bunch of people mad at Donald Trump.

So, What are the Rules for Gene Names Anyway?

You might know there’s a gene called “sonic hedgehog.” It’s essential for embryonic development. It’s one of a number of hedgehog genes.

And some comics nerd called it that and now it’s official and we can’t escape it. They’ve tried to change it. It won’t go away.

There are now strict rules for naming genes.

Those rules include things which make you go “scientists.”

Gene names can’t refer to species, contain the letter G, or be “offensive.” (One gene used to be called headcase homolog. They changed it. It referred to fruit fly exoskeleton shape, but…)

Presumably “sonic” isn’t offensive enough to force a change. Or, yeah.

Other things scientists have tried, though, include naming a gene “cheap date” because it made you drunk faster. Naming a gene POKEMON (which resulted in a trademark lawsuit and a rapid change). Oh, and then there’s SPOCK1, which gives zebrafish pointed ears.

There’s a ton of this, which resulted in, well. Rules. Because we can’t leave scientists unattended or they will name genes “lunatic fringe,” “manic fringe” and “radical fringe.”

And now they have to not be confused with dates.

(Btw, scientists are awesome and I love them. Including sonic hedgehog and calling a crucial heart development gene “tinman.” I adore this stuff. But I can see why there might be issues with some of it…)

At the same time, one has to wonder why science has to change not the software. Microsoft, can we please have a way to globally turn off the date behavior? Please?

Written by

Freelance writer, freelance editor, novelist and short story writer. Jack of many trades. https://www.jenniferrpovey.com/

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