A request for our Curators

I greatly appreciate the time and effort from our curators, so this is not meant to be a gripe. But it is often frustrating when I have worked closely with botanists and other knowledgeable individuals to identify an observation, only to have it changed by a curator with no explanation.

As you work to vet and correct observations, do you ever consider offering a short comment on the “why” you have chosen to flag or change an observation? On multiple occasions, I have had numerous observations changed by a curator. I have usually worked closely with botanists to choose the species I select for identification, and it’s a bit frustrating to see them changed without comment. It honestly makes me question the curator’s judgement at times. A simple note would be extremely helpful.

Just a thought.


Are you talking explicitly about taxon changes? And wishing there was more detail in the description? In my experience, most people don’t realize the changes have a specific page with a description (sometimes I just link to a flag). Probably because most users don’t see the dashboard notifications.


It sounds like you’re referring to identifications on an observation.

To be clear, Curators have no more power than any other user when it comes to adding identifications - everyone’s ID is weighted the same. Curators edit taxonomy and moderate content. See https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/curator+guide


See also


I’m not a curator, but as someone who makes thousands of IDs and could make thousands more if I had time, I often don’t leave comments on why I chose a particular taxon because it slows down the process and most observers don’t seem to care. I’m happy to answer messages politely asking me to explain how to tell two species apart or why I think it’s one and not the other – and I’ve sent similar requests myself – so you can always ask people for more information. I’ve gotten some great pointers on insect ID (not my specialty) that way.


Honestly I explain my IDs only when asked why I did that change, usually I avoid explanations so much, I wouldn’t want to do mansplaining hehehe but don’t feel frustrated by that, it’s part of the process, and backing out and being wrong is totally fine.


I often leave explanations for why previous IDs were wrong, but I also often work by doing a whole bunch where one taxon is frequently misidentified, and in that case I’m not going to keep repeating it. Sometimes I’ll do it once and then copy and paste, but even that takes up more time.

TBQH a lot of those kind of observations appear to be made by people with few obs and who just accepted the top CV ID without putting much effort into checking whether it was correct or not. I’m less inclined to put an explanation for those versus one made by someone who is actively learning, and it’s not always immediately obvious who is who as you’re going through a lot of them.


this about covers it! though I wonder if the OP is possibly also referring to adding a disagreeing ID, without a full understanding of how the Community Taxon process works? (per the topics linked by Elliott above)

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If you’re talking about general IDs, those are made by other users, not by curators in their curation capacity.

iNat uses a community based ID system, not a top-down curator based ID system. Sometimes people make mistakes, both when making the initial identification on their own observation, and when making IDs for other people’s observations.

If something is flagged, that’s often done by another user as well. This brings the observation to the attention of the curators to evaluate the reason for the flag, but again, if something is flagged that’s not usually by curators in their curation capacity.

For things like taxon changes that automatically affect identifications on observations there is documentation that goes along with it, but that’s on the page that deals with the taxon page, not on every individual observation page.


I looked over all of your observations (so much fascinating diversity in the interior highlands!) and I couldn’t find any that suffered from disruptive changes to the plant taxonomy, as speculated above. There were a few repeated disagreeing IDs - but as far as I can tell these were added with a discussion and explanation (on at least one of the relevant observations).

Did you happen to delete the observations with the unexplained disagreeing IDs?


I can understand why a disagreeing ID could be irritating, but, as others have said, it sounds as if you’re talking about community IDers rather than curators. When you’re posting an observation where there is information to corroborate your ID but not visible in the photo, this can be added in the notes. This could include, for example, the fact that the ID you’re suggesting has been chosen after consultation with a “knowledgeable individual”. An IDer expert in that field may disagree anyway, but in that case they are much more likely to offer an explanation for the disagreement.
If someone disagrees with your ID without an explanation, you can always try tagging that person to ask for an explanation. Most of the time they will be only too willing to explain and share their knowledge with you and other users.
As a last resort, if you’re really sure of the ID and “don’t think the community’s opinion should overrule your own”, you can opt out on your account settings page. As the explanation goes:

People will still be able to add identifications, but your observations will remain associated with the taxon from your identification. This means your observations will not be eligible for Research Grade status unless your identification matches the community’s opinion.

Not sure though that you can do this for individual observations.


It is possible to opt out of community ID on individual observations. I actually recommend doing this instead of globally opting out.

If there is at least one ID besides your own that is different than your ID, there will be a bit of text with the words “opt out” or similar above the box explaining the community ID on the right side of the page.

But I agree that this should really only be a last resort – i.e., if you have already tried communicating with other users to understand why they disagreed with your ID.


Some IDers --curators or not-- going on a misidentification-rectifying spree (quite commendable imho) can also be ill-informed or over-the-top due to overconfidence, or ignorance of regional peculiarities, or use of outdated/subpar references, or personal opinions on taxonomy, or whatever.
In such cases, Opt Out is a convenient mitigation option; another one is to refrain from posting these ‘contentious taxa’ till the spree is over and things cool down. :)


I wonder if you would be allowed to give a link to one of your affected obs.
Then people could explain why what happened.

Or simply list the IDs? ‘My’ Species A. Species B. …

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I find two things that help with getting ID comments:

  1. Adding a detailed description how you arrived at your initial ID, e.g. if you keyed things out with a botanist, mention which key you used and what the identifying features are. I find if it is obvious that careful thought went into making an ID suggestion, chances increase that a disagreeing identifier will also offer some detail why they think differently.

  2. Ask for more detail. I find most identifiers are happy to explain when asked for specifics. I’ve only had a few who just flat-out won’t respond to a question how they arrived at their ID and what features are important. Most are happy to explain.


There are absolutely legitimate reasons for opting out of community taxon.

I think it’s particularly helpful in cases where one wildly wrong ID (e.g. mis-typed/wrongly selected taxon or misunderstanding about the focus of the observation) results in a high-level community taxon that prevents the observation from being seen by experts. Typically I use opting out as a temporary measure until the issue gets sorted out (via dialogue with the user who added the ID, soliciting IDs from other experts, etc.). I’ve also occasionally used opting out to keep an observation at a higher level if it is a taxon that is subject to uninformed species-level IDs (e.g. Taraxacum).

But I don’t think opting out should be the first response to getting an ID that one doesn’t agree with, before one has evaluated the basis for that ID – why it was made, who made it, whether it is justified, etc.

IDs aren’t set in stone. They’re part of a collaborative process of finding consensus and sometimes there will be disagreements along the way. As a rule, one wrong ID is just a bump in the road – it doesn’t somehow devalue the observation or permanently prevent it from ending up with the right community ID.

Sometimes opting out seems to be motivated by a reflexive dislike of what is perceived as “interference” with one’s observations without understanding how the community taxon works. In such cases, I think it is a huge missed opportunity to open oneself to that process of collective knowledge production.

It is also worth nothing that if you have opted out of community taxon, your observation will not reach “research grade” unless the community taxon is the same as the taxon you have chosen. In other words, if someone entered an ID that you think is wrong, you will still have to either convince the IDer to withdraw or change their ID, or you will have to get other IDers to override that ID if you want to have the RG label. So for the purposes of RG status, there is not necessarily an advantage to opting out.


How does one opt out of community ID for a particular observation? In the Help it says “If it is your observation, your ID differs from the community’s assessment, and you prefer that your ID take priority, it is possible to reject the community ID by clicking the “Reject?” link above the community ID.” But I don’t see a “Reject?” link when I look at some random observation of mine. Maybe it only appears if your personal ID doesn’t match the community ID?

Yes, exactly.


As a fairly new user, I will add a few comments regarding iNat functionality that I believe contribute to this issue and suggest some improvements.

  1. iNat does not provide a list of key characteristics for each species, subspecies, or variety. Links to Wikipedia are mostly blank pages or, at best, only suitable for elementary school science reports. Expecting amateurs to slog through a dichotomous key is unrealistic. An experienced curator should be able to assemble a useful list of features in a few minutes - saving millions of hours of user frustration and vastly improve the quality of research grade observations.
  2. What appear to be range maps on the species page really aren’t. I think they have something to do with management agency listings. The color coding is not defined on the map legend. If the GBIF overlay is checked, the distribution often looks completely different, apparently the red dots indicate source locations of curated collections. I think the presentation graphics could be much improved.
  3. In my experience, iNat generally does not make suggestions for subspecies or variety. And actually makes it relatively difficult to enter a subspecies or variety identification. This has contributed to the chaos resulting from the recent taxon change for Mesquites. Here in the southwest U.S., our locally abundant Western Honey Mesquites were often identified as Prosopis glandulosa (Honey Mesquite) instead of P. glandulosa var. Torreyana. These previously correct, but inaccurate, identifications were retained as P. glandulosa in the taxon change, but P. glandulosa is now the previous Eastern Honey Mesquite and var. Torreyana is replaced by a new species Neltuma odorata. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of observations are now the wrong species. And how is this incorrect data being used by the new geomodel? This could have been handled much more proactively by iNat staff.
  4. I read recently that iNat computer vision only “looks” at the first photo in an observation entry. I had previously noticed that I was getting better species suggestions when I entered my most detailed close-up photo first. But I often see observations with an overall/environment photo as the first photo, no wonder there are so many incorrect initial identifications.
  5. The species photo galleries do not appear to be curated at all. How are photos selected for display in each plant phenology category? When I’m entering a plant observation I will attach several photos and select all of the attributes that are present on the specimen. How does iNat decide which photo is displayed under budding, flowering, and fruiting? Apparently it doesn’t because I’ve seen all of my photos repeated under each category. This is not helpful to the observer or the identifier.

Not a curator but add a lot of identifications. Going through dozens or sometimes even hundreds of observations a day, its hard to provide an explanation for each one. Many IDers will give one if you tag them however!