3 Reasons We Don’t Do Statistics in Excel

Over the last few years we have wondered whether spreadsheet software like Excel will soon make statistics software like SPSS or SAS obsolete.

Spreadsheets have amazingly powerful and often intuitive capabilities.  They have many of the statistical functions we use every day.  Younger people entering our profession rarely know programs like SPSS or SAS, and we see them turning to Excel to generate frequencies, calculate means and proportions, create charts from data, and so on.  The same goes for our customers.  Many do not have statistical software, so when they need numbers and statistics, they often work in Excel.

But Versta Research continues to invest in advanced statistical software rather than doing our work in Excel for three important reasons:

1. Speed and efficiency.  The tools we use are designed to do exactly what we need.  Spreadsheets require more effort to manipulate data, set logic rules, and write formulas that we can otherwise do with just a few clicks.

2.  Leveraging analytical innovation.  Our statistical software leverages the newest techniques in developing areas of statistical theory and applications, especially from software developers like Sawtooth who are pioneers in choice modeling.

3.  Accuracy.  As anyone who has created a moderately complex spreadsheet knows, it is frighteningly easy to make errors in spreadsheets (data errors, sorting errors, formula errors, copy-and-paste errors, cell reference errors, and the list goes on) and it is often difficult to find, detect, and untangle those errors, if indeed they are ever found.

To be sure, Excel is a powerful tool that we use all the time and every day, in part because it can be used in so many creative and flexible ways.  We use it help us track, manipulate, and visualize statistical output, for example.  We also use it as an efficient way to write multiple lines of programming script that we then paste into our statistical programs.  But when it comes to the core of our statistical analysis, we rely on the best-in-breed software tools that continue to outpace the capabilities of a spreadsheet.

Joe Hopper, Ph.D.

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