Great Britain lost more than 16,000 positive COVID-19 test results, apparently because they use an old version of Excel that doesn’t have enough rows or columns to handle the data.

Australian mathematics comedian Matt Parker, a well-known spreadsheet fan, has fun talking about the case in this YouTube video. (It also talks about an issue that biologists have: Excel thinks gene names are dates and “auto-corrects” them – the fix was to rename a bunch of genes! Plus it has a funny fake commercial.)

Speaking as somebody who has done his share of data-analysis stories using Excel, I am sympathetic with screwups when combining data. But I think the underlying issue is that government agencies are often behind the times when it comes to using software and hardware. Incompatibility and errors often result.

Why? Because legislators and taxpayers hate spending money on software/hardware upgrades for “those darn bureaucrats.” It’s like spending money on building upkeep, which tends to get cut when government budgets are put together – it seems like something non-vital that can be put off. So we put it off and pat ourselves on the back for “cutting waste,” then look for somebody to blame when screwups happen.

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