Dealing with internet misinformation and GIGO databases

The databases iNaturalist uses as sources, like GBIF and ITIS, are well known to suffer from the problem of GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. This also means that errors from one propagate to others, making it look like something is common when it actually stems from one mistake.

I mention this because I found that Lobelia monostachya is listed with the common name “Waianae Range lobelia”, despite the fact that it is a narrow geographic endemic to the Koolau range (there are two mountain ranges on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, the Koolau in the east and the Waianae in the west, and a number of species are found in only one). When I flagged it, it was pointed out that the name is in “wide usage”, which in this context means the USDA plant index, ITIS, and NatureServe. It seems to have originated with the USDA site, and then propagated to the others. Probably someone was tasked with making up common names for species that didn’t have any (the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as endangered with “no common name” in 1996) and accidentally put down the wrong mountain range.

I get that there’s a lot of gray, but how do we deal with cases like this where it’s obviously wrong? Do we just leave it wrong?


Is there another common name that can be used as the default common name instead?

1 Like

Common names just mean a name that is in common use, they don’t necessarily have to be accurate. If there are experts who agree on a different common name, then there would be no problem, curators would make that the default. Can you provide one?

1 Like

Part of the issue is that the overwhelming majority of species don’t have common names, at least not at the species level, but these databases (and consequently iNat) require that they have one. So yes, I could make up my own common name, and it would at least be accurate, but it would still be something people don’t actually use.

iNat does not require a taxon to have a common name, and as far as I am aware there is no process by which a common name can be auto-imported. They can only be added manually.


This is my understanding too. Anarta trifolii seems to be commonly known as the ‘Nutmeg’. I have always called it the ‘Clover cutworm’, which is in the list of common names, but not the main one. I set the latter to be the name in Manitoba - I don’t know how widely used it is in Canada as a whole.
I have also encountered a few moths that do not have a common name at all.