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An Early Seed

Working in an actuarial environment, I found the use of spreadsheet wildly pervasive. Likewise, confidence in one's own spreadsheet creations was just as pervasive.

At times that confidence -- whether my own or that of others -- proved problematic, yet my understanding of how to properly temper that confidence without resorting to shame and/or humiliation was naïve -- bordering on complete ignorance.

An early seed for skeptical/critical thinking was when I came across this research by Raymond Panko from the University of Hawaii. Much like the first images of the Eagle Nebula, this article from 1998 (the first page and abstract are listed below) planted a seed in my thinking that is still growing today.


What We Know About Spreadsheet Errors

Raymond R. Panko
University of Hawai’i
College of Business Administration
2404 Maile Way
Honolulu, HI 96822 USA

Email: panko@hawaii.edu
Home Page: http://panko.shidler.hawaii.edu
Spreadsheet Research (SSR) Website:

This paper: http://panko.shidler.hawaii.edu/ssr/Mypapers/whatknow.htm


Although spreadsheet programs are used for small "scratchpad" applications, they are also used to develop many large applications. In recent years, we have learned a good deal about the errors that people make when they develop spreadsheets. In general, errors seem to occur in a few percent of all cells, meaning that for large spreadsheets, the issue is how many errors there are, not whether an error exists. These error rates, although troubling, are in line with those in programming and other human cognitive domains. In programming, we have learned to follow strict development disciplines to eliminate most errors. Surveys of spreadsheet developers indicate that spreadsheet creation, in contrast, is informal, and few organizations have comprehensive policies for spreadsheet development. Although prescriptive articles have focused on such disciplines as modularization and having assumptions sections, these may be far less important than other innovations, especially cell-by-cell code inspection after the development phase.