14 - Wrong Direction

Unsichtbares Akkordeon

She not only cleaned up the basement, but demolished the whole house.


Tracy Teal was a student who studied computational linguistics as part of a master's degree in biology from the University of California at Los Angeles. She had spent months developing and implementing simulation software when she was finally ready to start her analysis. The first step before the analysis was to organize all important data and delete all unnecessary data. For the deletion process, she used the typical routine command "rm -rf *", which deletes all data in the current directory and in the subdirectories. The only problem was that she did not execute the command on the directory where the disposable data was located, but on the root directory of her project. Since this command, when executed in Unix systems, does not first put the files in the recycle bin, as it does in Windows or Macintosh, all project data was deleted in one fell swoop.

Tracy was lucky because an automated backup saved her work. To retrieve them, all she had to do was kindly ask her department's IT helpdesk whether they could restore her files. Tracy Teal is now Executive Director at The Carpentries, a non-profit organization that provides basic knowledge of coding and data science to researchers worldwide. Nevertheless, Tracy looks back at this situation in shame, because she herself had worked for the IT helpdesk before the accident. For her it was like "the lifeguard who needs to be rescued".

This story shows that even experienced scientists can make mistakes when dealing with data. A versioning or backup system should always be used for important data, so that complex data is not accidentally lost.