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PSPP-BUG: Inconsistency with SPSS when setting missing strings values wi

From: Dana Williams
Subject: PSPP-BUG: Inconsistency with SPSS when setting missing strings values with a number
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2020 17:52:22 -0700
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:68.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/68.10.0

I'm not sure if I've discovered a small bug or have simply made an unusual user error.

Background: Every semester I have my statistical analysis class compose a set of survey questions for themselves, answer the questions, then use the responses to create a dataset. My university has SPSS available, but not everyone can get it working (esp. now that classes are all online), so I recommend using PSPP as an alternative. Since I'm running Ubuntu bionic at home, this is perfect for me.

The problem: In the PSPPire GUI, we marked missing values for string variables with a zero (i.e., a "0" without the quote-marks) and then declared them to be missing as discrete values via the Variable View. I presumed this would work fine. When running frequencies in PSPP, all cases marked with a 0 successfully showed up as missing. When using this dataset--wholly created in PSPP during class time--in SPSS, however, students found that the cases that should have been missing were not marked as such, and just appeared in output tables as zeroes. I borrowed my partner's laptop and opened our dataset in SPSS and found the same problems the SPSS-using students had. SPSS showed missing values of 0 for those variables in the Variable View, so I was confused why they were nor marked as missing when doing a frequency test.

While in SPSS, I used the following syntax to try to reset the missing values to 0:

missing values [VARIABLENAME] (0).

This didn't change any of the frequency results. But, I wondered if SPSS might have thought that the missing value was set to the numeral 0, as opposed to a string of 0, so I used:

missing values [VARIABLENAME] ("0").

Instantly the values were caught as missing. In other words, I think that our use of the number 0 in PSSP didn't appropriately set itself as a character/string of "0"... or SPSS couldn't recognize this with the PSPP-created dataset. Or maybe, despite these variables being strings, we were somehow inappropriately allowed to enter a number value for missing in the Variable View.

For myself, I was using PSPPire 1.0.1 and SPSS 27.

I can share our PSPP-created and SPSS-saved/fixed dataset if this would help figure out the problem.

In solidarity,

Dana Williams, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Sociology
California State University, Chico

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