Authorship and iNaturalist

Are there many/any studies resulting from iNaturalist data where the observers or identifiers were extended the opportunity for authorship?

Do you think this should occur more often? Under what circumstances? How?

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This is a thread you’d probably be interested in if you haven’t seen it: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/published-papers-that-use-inaturalist-data-wiki/2859/2

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I’ve published a few small observations (natural history notes, distribution notes) with iNat users. These just used one observation to document something novel, so my process was to DM the user, ask if they’d be interested in working on a small publication (all said yes), and then start. I generally wrote a first draft and then sent to them for comments/edits. I offered them first authorship and took “senior” authorship.

I’m also working on a slightly longer paper with an iNat observer that will end up having a similar process. In this case, the observer did some extra work (collected follow up samples). There will be a few more coauthors (extra analyses), but the process was largely similar. It helps that the observer is an academic (in philosophy though!), so the process was familiar to them.

I think a big caveat would be that this would only work when there’s one (or maybe a few) key iNat user/s to get in touch with. In a case where there’s a larger group of observers/identifiers, it probably isn’t feasible or maybe even appropriate to have them all as authors. One good way to have a reproducible way to give credit for the data is to pull it from GBIF. GBIF will give you a DOI that you agree to cite when using the data in a publication that would let any future people be able to access the data, including observer accounts and some identifier info. You could also acknowledge users. But I think a fair way to treat large datasets from iNat is the same as those from publicly available natural history collections. The individual collectors or museum experts wouldn’t generally have authorship (unless they added something additional beyond the previously completed specimen collecting/curating), but the institutional contributions would be acknowledged. But I’m sure lots of folks have different ideas/suggestions!

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The bar for co-authorship can be quite high, especially if there’s substantial work to be done collating, analyzing, and interpreting the observational data. Acknowledgements, OTOH, are quite common. I’d expect papers based on iNat observations to cite/acknowledge iNaturalist, and specific acknowledgments of users contributing rare, challenging, or unusually high-quality observations might be in order.

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The journal Herpetological Review publishes short notes on natural history and new distribution records for amphibians and reptiles and I’ve seen at least a few such notes in HR that originated as iNat records. I’ve co-authored one such note, where I contacted the two observers (one of whom took the photo and submitted the iNat record), asked if they wanted to do a note, and then drafted the short ms. for them (I was third author.) A lot of such small discoveries worth a published note in some journal are buried in the millions of iNat records.

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As somebody to makes a lot of identifications, I’d like to say that the person who posted the observation (and presumably took the photo) should become a co-author. If I’ve added an identification, I shouldn’t be. In my opinion.

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Three of mine are in HR as well! Sounds almost identical to my experience.

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An interesting question in the internet age is, can a record on iNat become a citable “publication” on its own? I’ve seen some very well-documented records on iNat with good photos and detailed notes that provide some interesting info (on distribution, natural history, etc.) and could potentially be referenced in the Literature Cited of a publication … assuming the publication in question allows the citation of internet sources. But how then would you cite it? Does a noteworthy record on iNat not become 'real" until it is reformatted as an article and published in a paper or electronic journal?

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I have already once been given co-authorship on a short paper based only on my iNat records of the species in question.

Atha, D., B. Boom, A. Thornbrough, J. Kurtz, L. McIntyre, M. Hagen, J.A. Schuler, L. Rohleder, S.J. Hewitt , and J. Kelly. 2017. Arum italicum (Araceae) is invasive in New York. Phytoneuron 2017-31: 1–18. Published 28 April 2017. ISSN 2153 733X Online at: :http://www.phytoneuron.net/2017Phytoneuron/31PhytoN-ArumitalicumNYBG.pdf

The first author says he is going to write another short paper about a plant that is new to NYC and NY State, and put me on that one as a co-author too, again because of my observations, and also because I am going to make pressed samples for the NYBG herbarium.

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I recently published a paper that used 223 observations from 19 observers. I only used a few observations from most observers, but the highest number of observations came from a user (Casey Richart, @pileated) I happened to know from grad school. I invited him to be a co-author, and along with the project PI, he made significant contributions to the paper that met the journal’s guidelines for authorship credit. For the rest of the users, I acknowledged them in the paper and created a project to show the observations I used. Although I realize that using a DOI from GBIF is a useful way of making your data set transparent, it only works if you are using research grade observations (which despite the name, are not always necessary for research).

For anyone interested, here is the paper: https://rdcu.be/b500V and here is the project page: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/vegetation-mapping-accuracy-assessment

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But sometimes, if you’re doing research on a certain taxa you might have only 1 each submitted by each observer but you might have 90% of those observations were IDed by a single user. In that case, I almost feel like the identifier might be more deserving of coauthorship than any individual observation contributor

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I’ve been trying to figure out how to show the non-research grade observations I use and making a project is such a great idea! It also seems like a great way to let the observers know, by adding it to the project

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Yes you can cite one or more iNat observations in a paper. I have done that. Because yes, to some extent the info is already published by being up on this site.

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In my opinion, I think it wouldn’t be a publication, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a ‘research object’ that could be cited independently. Similar to an herbarium specimen, or ice core, or other physical or digital objects.

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i wasn’t involved in this at all, but my understanding is that one of this person’s observations (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&taxon_id=194772&user_id=farkleberry) led to further discussion and a focused effort by this observer and others in the area to collect a museum specimen, which then was included and cited in a range extension note (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325364151_Recent_Noteworthy_Distribution_Records_for_Deinopis_spinosa_Marx_1889_Araneae_Deinopidae_in_the_Southeastern_United_States), in which that observer was included as a co-author.

I agree with this sentiment. I don’t have strong opinions on when and where the observer merits co-authorship, but for many of my observations that have turned out to be exceptional and “scientifically interesting,” it was the person who did the identifying that made it so. Either by contributing her specialized expertise, or recognizing that something was “out of range,” etc.

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We’ve recently tried to be more clear about this in the FAQs, but citing iNat records from GBIF at all is a huge help, because it makes a link back to iNaturalist in a trackable and scalable way in the form of the citation tracker on the GBIF dataset. (Curators can help wordsmith this for clarity since the FAQs are a wiki page).

How should I cite iNaturalist?

Please cite a GBIF download! The easiest way for us to track research using iNaturalist is for you to download and cite a corresponding dataset from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Once per week, research grade records on iNaturalist that are licensed for re-use are shared with GBIF. If you need additional records from iNaturalist that are not available from GBIF, you can also cite a dataset downloaded directly from iNaturalist. Citing a DOI for a GBIF dataset allows your publication to automatically be added to the count of citations on the iNaturalist Research-Grade Observations Dataset on GBIF.

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Thanks for the clarification, @carrieseltzer. It seemed confusing to cite a GBIF download for just a subset of the dataset (especially when I already included a web map with a link to every observation), but I realize now that it is useful for sake of the citation tracker. Next time I’ll make sure to cite a GBIF download!

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I would like to highlight that the work to be attributed to an observation is in most cases not the time needed to take that individual picture and upload it to iNat but it is the much bigger work (ok and the fun) related to making and uploading thousands of observations without which that rare and valuable observation wouldn’t ever been recorded.

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My expereince has been that my data is used, sometimes to draw false conclusions and assumptions, but I have never been asked by a single researcher about them or to give me credit. It’s quite frustrating, especially on species where a large percentage of the observations are mine. This happened recently to me. It used to be considered data theft and unethical, but since they are published online, researchers must now feel it’s okay to just cite iNaturalist, and not the data collector.
I am publishing quite a few of my own findings now, especially the species that I have collected far more than anyone else and have new findings to share, hopefully before other researchers mine my data. That’s my only hesitation about posting my findings on inat, is how frequently my data is mined without citing me as the source.

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