Annotating museum specimens based on iNaturalist identifications

As someone who identifies both museum specimens and iNat observations, I would not want someone else annotating a museum specimen in my name, based on my ID of an iNat observation, unless it is very clearly stated “det. by… from photos posted at [URL of iNat observation] by…”

Despite our best efforts, there can be a disconnect between what was photographed in the field and the physical specimen that actually ended up being preserved.

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@jdmore : I understand your concern and of course agree that direct exam of the specimen can be very different than looking at photos of the specimen. However, I’ve been told by the “higher-ups” at my museum that an ID provided via iNat can be written directly on the det. label without qualifiers like “from images only”. We could discuss the pros and cons of this forever, but if you give a flat species ID without qualifiations on iNat, I would assume you might end up on a det. label somewhere if there is an associated specimen. I would suggest qualifying your ID if you feel like direct exam of the specimen would be needed - “probably…”, etc. If an expert qualifies their ID with my observations, than I reflect that on the det. label…

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I don’t think expecting identifiers to add this type of detail/qualifications to most/many identifications in comments is reasonable in most cases. Identifiers are not liable for the ways that other users/scientists choose to use the data as long as they made an ID in good faith. The process that generated that data is clear (I think iNat’s identification process and algorithm are fairly well documented if complex), so it’s up to end users to use the data appropriately.

I would definitely make the case that entering iNat IDs straight into a museum specimen/database is…inadvisable…in most cases, though perhaps users providing their true name/qualifications in a profile might make this process better in some cases, if the profile describes an identifier as someone that the museum might otherwise accept identifications from.

I am also not sure of the ethics of adding identifier information from iNat to a specimen, as the identifier is not necessarily aware that they are being listed as an authority for a museum specimen (which might lead to them being contacted about it in the future). I also think that if that identification is then added to GBIF or similar as if it is coming from the museum, then users of that data may be misled about the process that generated it. They may be under the impression that someone associated with the museum made the identification or QCed it when that is not necessarily the case. Lastly, this type of practice also seems (to me) like the museum taking some partial credit for work that they have not done - they are essentially data harvesting and repackaging, not generating new data, and that dilutes credit for the identification work already done on/by iNaturalist (which is already available on GBIF), even if the individual identifier is credited on the museum tag.

On a side note, adding museum specimens to iNat in large numbers is discouraged.

Yeah, I understand this is complex and might be controversial. I won’t reply after this, I just don’t have time for a prolonged discussion via the web (would be thrilled to discuss in person at an iNat gathering or Zoom forum sometime!).

  1. I have quite a lot of experience with both identifying photos on iNat and working in museums and identifying specimens (insects and spiders in my case) and I understand the difference between the two situations quite well.

  2. On “entering iNat IDs straight into a museum specimen/database”: obviously I don’t do this unless I can judge the reliability of the identifier and their ID from both their profile and my own personal knowledge of the taxa. In general, unless they are an expert that has published in that area or have years of experience with the taxon as an amatuer, I don’t use their ID. I am all too aware that there are some enthusiasts whose IDs far exceed their knowledge.

  3. On “I don’t think expecting identifiers to add this type of detail/qualifications to most/many identifications in comments is reasonable in most cases. Identifiers are not liable for the ways that other users/scientists choose to use the data as long as they made an ID in good faith” - I agree! I don’t expect identifiers to qualify their IDs every time - I would turn this around and say the following: If you are an expert and understand the limitations of photos and the need for examination of the specimen in certain cases, WHY would you firmly choose a species ID on a public website with your name associated with it, if you weren’t actually sure of the ID? As with any ID on either photos OR specimens, you should only ID to species if you are pretty darn certain (yes, this is tough to define) of the ID.

  4. On “I am also not sure of the ethics of adding identifier information from iNat to a specimen, as the identifier is not necessarily aware that they are being listed as an authority for a museum specimen (which might lead to them being contacted about it in the future). I also think that if that identification is then added to GBIF or similar as if it is coming from the museum, then users of that data may be misled about the process that generated it. They may be under the impression that someone associated with the museum made the identification or QCed it when that is not necessarily the case. Lastly, this type of practice also seems (to me) like the museum taking some partial credit for work that they have not done - they are essentially data harvesting and repackaging, not generating new data, and that dilutes credit for the identification work already done on/by iNaturalist (which is already available on GBIF), even if the individual identifier is credited on the museum tag” - I’m afraid this doesn’t make much sense to me - this is how museum specimen IDs work all the time - most museum specimens are identified by experts OUTSIDE the museum itself, usually via loans of specimens that are then later returned. All museums (I am speaking about Entomology) these days only have experts in a few areas and in no way can ever ID all of their specimens on their own.

The process I’m describing is completely transparent and ethical IMO - I post an observation with photos and text that also indicate I collected the specimen. I almost always post specimen photos in addition to live photos. The identifier provides a specific ID from these image and I put their name on the determination label and in my field journal/spreadsheet.

Perhaps I should emphasize that the situation above is what I’m referring to specifically in my comments. This may be quite different than if one was dealing with plants or birds, for example. But I think the principle is similar - don’t treat iNaturalist data casually if you are an identifier - if you aren’t sure of your ID, than be conservative and only ID things to the level you are certain of… :)

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Sorry - one more thing - just to be clear that this isn’t some radical idea/process that I decided on myself (adding determinations from iNat identifiers) - this was relayed to me by senior staff at a nationally known collection/museum that frequently attend meetings of museum collections managers.

And to mention something that has been discussed frequently on other posts I’ve read on this Forum - determination labels on museum specimens are not infrequently wrong and it’s important not to create what IMO is a false dichotomy between “casual, who cares, it’s only a photo on a citizen scientist website” observations and ““sacred”, gold standard” specimens in a museum - they can both be important pieces of biodiversity data and both should be treated seriously, when possible.

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That was not the point of my original concerns. I may be certain of the ID I make of photos on iNaturalist. I may also be certain of the ID of a museum specimen that I make after examining the specimen.

What I am not certain of is that the physical museum specimen represents the same organism that was photographed and posted on iNaturalist, nor vice versa (unless both were my own). That determination is being made by the person annotating the museum specimen, and should be attributed to that person, not to the iNaturalist identifier.

If both the iNat observation and the specimen were created and identified by the same person, then I have no problem with that (and I frequently do just that). The original context of your post to which I replied, however, was suggesting that other people should include their real names so that they could be used on museum annotations. That is what I would object to, because I as an iNat identifier have not been given the opportunity to verify that the physical museum specimen represents the same thing, so it’s inappropriate to put my name on the specimen in a way that suggests that I did so verify.

That should always be the case, unless the person named on the specimen annotation has personally examined that specimen, either at the museum or as part of a specimen loan.

I totally understand that this is something you have been told to do by others. I would just encourage you to share this discussion with those people, so that they are aware of the issues being raised about this practice.

Totally agree and have pointed that out in other threads. Which is why it’s all the more important that the determination label be ascribed to the person who actually examined the specimen and made the ID.

I’ll just end by saying there are ways to do what you have been doing while making proper attributions. For example, I could annotate a museum specimen like this:

Artemisia tridentata, det. J. Morefield, based on iNaturalist observation https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/141654307 identified by K. Schneider.

That would maintain proper attribution for the identification decisions being made by each person.

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BTW I separated this discussion into a new topic so as not to derail the original topic where it arose.

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(Background, for those without museum experience: The duplicate is a specimen made from the same plant or the same population and usually shared with somebody else.)

I consider using ID’s from iNaturalist to ID a specimen to be similar to having somebody identify a duplicate. When I annotate my specimen with the other person’s ID, I write, “duplicate determinated by AAAA BBBB 2023.” I would use an iNaturalist ID on a label, and I would write something like, “iNaturalist observation #11111111 determined by AAAA BBBB 2023.” Some note like this makes the process clear enough that a user of my specimen can evaluate how reliable to consider this identification.

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