Are 'duplicate observations' getting incorrectly classified?

Duplicate observations are quite common nowadays on iNat. Most of our flags are just spammed with duplicate observation flags. I’ve even made a few myself by accident due to the uploader going wrong, or my own overlook.

A large portion of these duplicate observations are showing multiple instances of the same species. For example, it is currently O.K. on iNaturalist, to upload the same picture twice, if, there is two (or more) different species and both observations are for both species.

However … in the case of rarer species, a photo may be taken of two individuals of the same species and uploaded in two different instances. This would be labelled as a duplicate observation - but is it?

In the case of this imaginary observation, it doesn’t do that much other than give the observer one more observation, and the locality would be basically the same, and the GBIF data would be hardly noticeable. This is why, as a rule of thumb, most naturalists including myself just would make one observation for this.

So the real question for iNat Staff and other Curators - are we being fair to label different individuals of the same species in the same picture as a duplicate observation? If we are, how so?

Also, a lot of duplicate observations have one or more other species in the photo. Why not ID for those species instead of flagging it as a duplicate automatically?

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No, this would be two valid observations, and assuming that’s what the observer was intending and it wasn’t a mistake, shouldn’t be asked to delete the observation nor have their observation be flagged as duplicate.

I’ve done this in the past, but have gotten pushback from other people (“that’s not what the observer intended”). If the observer didn’t add any initial ID, I’m more liable to do so.

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Posting a separate observation for each individual can be useful in collecting data on population size and changes in seasonal activity. For example, if someone were to observe 1 individual of a certain species on a certain date, then observe 15 individuals of the same species on a different date later in the year, posting only one observation for that species on each date would give the false impression that that species was equally active on both dates.
Also, sometimes an observer will post 2 photos of 2 different individuals in one observation, thinking they are the same species, but each photo is actually of a different (but similar-looking) species. Unless the observer later splits the observation, the observation may end up with a broader identification that both species fall under or with an identification for only one of the species, and no observation for the other species.

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This is technically against the iNat guidelines, although in practice it isn’t really enforced in any way. From the guidelines: “An observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and location.”

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I totally agree.

I think that duplicate observations sometimes if uploaded as Unknown, and then changed, may have two different species. For example, a Rubus flagellarius is uploaded at 12 PM. Then at 1 PM, an unknown observation(the Rubus) becomes Rubus alleghiensis. It is the exact same observation, but it is two completely different species.

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