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Spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel and Open Office Calc is ubiquitous.Given the prevalence of PC’s in the government and business world, most people have Excel on their desktop and many small datasets are generated in Excel and disseminated as Excel files.“Seeing is believing” and most spreadsheet users seem to trust their own eyes more than they trust their software tools.Although we agree that human visual perception is an incredible tool for hunting ripe blackberries, we would argue that it is not evolutionarily suited to validating numbers and text.Getting back to our original theme, missing values in Excel are identified by cells that are truly empty.To understand what this means you have to understand the different cell types used by Excel.Here are a few we have encountered: The bottom line is that we recommend either “na” or “NA” as the missing value flag for CSV files. A lot of people have been taught that they overuse “me” and then overcorrect by using “I” even when the pronoun is the object of a verb or preposition. Two examples should get the idea across: The USGS Data Series 140 is a fantastic, century-long history of production and use data for a long list of minerals. Environmental Protection Agency issued a direct final rule that prohibits the use of chemical additives in gasoline for highway vehicles, effective January 1, 1996.Anything else is inviting trouble and expense for everyone downstream. The lead-use Excel file from this dataset allows one to track the year-to-year evolution of lead use in different categories, one per column. As we read above, cells of type EMPTY are to be interpreted as “we don’t know”. The Notes worksheet in the file states quite clearly: From 1987 to 1995, data reported on gasoline additives depicts a progressive phaseout. So the amount of lead used for gasoline additives, at least post 1995, is in fact zero.
We are quite fond of CSV files as a lowest common demoninator format for data exchange.
CSV files can be read by just about any software out there and greatly reduce the effort involved in reformatting data.
Many datasets are inherently tabular in nature and it is straightforward to export Excel worksheets as CSV files.
Anyone examining the data at some later date would be quite surprised at the sudden cold snap that hit St. Or perhaps they combined typos with a first-last switch and are really identifying “Tome Nota” — a Portugese language Christian youth ministry.
We can’t really know for sure unless we have a rock solid standard for storing the meaning “we don’t know” or “not measured” or “missing”.