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No Data?  Excel’s Autofill is not the answer

Two economics professors have been caught using Excel’s Autofill feature to fill in the blanks to complete a published academic paper.

study on green innovations and patents in 27 countries by two professors has come under scrutiny by a student as reported, by Retraction Watch.

The paper was said to use “balanced panel data” which is economist speak for the underlying data being complete with no missing info.

But there was missing data since statistics weren’t available for some countries.

The solution, incredibly, was to use Excel’s Autofill to fill in the blank cells.

There are accepted ways to estimate values where hard data isn’t available (aka “imputation”) but Autofill is NOT one of them.

Asked about these gaps, Professor Heshmati explained:

“He had marked anywhere from two to four observations before or after the missing values and dragged the selected cells down or up, depending on the case. The program then filled in the blanks. If the new numbers turned negative, Heshmati replaced them with the last positive value Excel had spit out. “

Source: Retraction Watch

If not AutoFill, a simple copy/paste was done. Missing values for New Zealand and USA were copied from cells with numbers for the Netherlands and UK!

This misuse of Excel has been described as ‘horrendous’ and flat-out ‘cheating’.

This isn’t the first time bad Excel practices have been used in a published economics paper. Global economic policy was influenced by a widely quoted paper which had elementary Excel errors, see Excel’s effect on economic policy .

See Retraction Watch for the whole story.

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