Does 'Research Grade' actually mean anything?

And they can add ids by typing? Agreeing ids. It’s a way to learn what you add, if you think people are learning when they hit agree, in most cases they don’t, they think agree means thank you, they think someone ided it then it’s right, you want the learning process to be made on mistakes, while another user suggests the way to make it based more on learning. And learning is what those users need, no matter what level of scientific knowledge they have, it’s the way to learn the site.


I agree. I do check RG observations sometimes, when I realize a certain species often gets mixed up. I sometimes find wrong IDs there… but usually only 2 IDs there and it is very easy to push them back… actually, kind of how science works as well. Someone puts an idea out and it might be valid until disputed.

Mistakes are allowed. And as many already pointed out, good thing is that they a relatively easily correct on this platform.


Saludos, @hawkparty (waving hello madly).

I am self-taught as well and use what I have seen referred to as a “sillyphone” to take the photos for my observations because that is what I have. You are correct that cultural attitudes and words can make some users feel unwanted or out of place.

So too a hierachy that places some users above others, however in this instance I am not sure a New User needing to type a species would be damaging. Let us assume the New User was never even aware that after making ten observations an Agree button would magically appear. Rather I think when that Agree button did appear, it would feel more like “Oh, now I have unlocked new features!” much like a reward.


Perhaps my comment was misunderstood… Of course new users could still add IDs in my proposed scenario (via either typing the ID manually, or via selecting it from the Species name box CV suggestions, when available/applicable). I personally don’t view this scenario as a ban from participation …and brand new users wouldn’t even know that an agree button exists for users who aren’t new, so how would they feel alienated?

Even though I respectfully disagree with your assessment of this issue, I get the feeling that I may have offended you. If so, I deeply apologize.


Would you rather contribute to more George observations, or more Gerald observations? Or to put it another way, do you think that Gerald’s RG holds more weight because of the large numbers it required than, say, an observation that the observer and their friend are sure is a beaver? What number of “people clicking the agree button” would be enough to “actually mean anything”?

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I would like to share a story of myself and one other user. We frequent the same taxon. I do not know this user personally. I have never had a true conversation with them outside of our discussions on observations. I very often take issue with their judgments and discourse with them. While I personally consider them to agree too much, perhaps they think the same of me? I wonder sometimes what reasoning went into their ID, perhaps they wonder the same of me? I question why they would push something to Research Grade, perhaps… you see? That “just hitting the agree button” simplifies the action into something mindless when you have no idea the experience, skill, intention of any user unless they provide their reasoning (which iNaturalist’s ID framework allows you to ask for directly if you would like!).

The truth is, I would not be the identifier I am without this user. I sometimes even see my words in their comments as we continue to focus on this taxon, so maybe I have impacted them in some way too? They have their one vote. I have mine. When I disagree with them, I add my vote for what I see and start a discussion. I bring in other users. More IDs happen. Sometimes I’m right. Sometimes I’m wrong. The site is functioning as intended and it regulates itself by more ID activity, not less. It was said already that it just takes one agreement to move an observation to RG. Why not the same for your agreement to move it somewhere more accurate? Each user has their singular vote. I have my own vote. And certainly actors that are behaving outside of the project guidelines exist, but they are visible to the entire community and can be responded to by users and moderated by curators. A user can be contacted, asked for more reasoning, challenged. And you yourself can participate.

Perhaps I am confused why the blame is placed on new users and why the solution would be to make the site even slightly unwelcoming to protect the words “Research Grade.” Solutions that involve making uploads so complex that the citizen scientist (potentially someone with no scientific training whatsoever) cannot upload is opposite to the iNaturalist project goals. You are losing observers, data, potential identifiers, and, most importantly, people who can be inspired by the environment. “Research Grade” is defined and has been since the site’s inception. It does not need to be protected and especially not by forgetting the iNaturalist project mission.

I also strongly oppose actions that involve hindering the agreement processes for users, new or established. In a case where the agree button is made unavailable to new users, users may not know the agree button exists at all. However, I do not know how the site being designed around separating them from the other users based on an assumption that new users are inherently harmful to the system would not be classed as “alienating”. New users are being othered in that scenario: they are having a site function withheld from them based on the fact that they are new, and only on this fact. They are made to do something tedious for an issue that is already regulated by the site as it was designed. It was already mentioned that overzealous agreement is not a problem unique to new users either. Why not allow the user to learn to use the site how it is used by everyone? Why not provide better onboarding information during the account set-up?

The culture shown in this thread and a few others has shaken me in the past few days as I’ve followed them. While folks have made exceptions and gone, well now you have become an expert so you have proven yourself worthy to the site, it is still insulting. I still was a novice and I can see how I still am looked down on as I have no real credentials. I completely understand the feelings of @hawkparty since what we are hearing is that folks consider users harmful just for learning how to use the site and ID taxa. I’ve volunteered countless hours studying taxa and contributing identifications at this point, so being treated like a nobody or being suggested that I should have had features of the site inaccessible to me is hurtful. That I should have thought it was a reward to be able to use the full site because I was proven valuable enough to keep? This site changed my life because it welcomed me and allowed me to make mistakes and learn. But dealing with a bit of overzealousness/inexperience by new users means that they need to go into a category to protect some words like Research Grade just makes my stomach churn.


I am sorry if my post at all contributed to your feelings. That was NOT my intention.

This forum, granted me “Basic User” and then some days later I was notified I was now a “Member”, granted new functions and capabilities. And I felt rewarded.

That was more what I was conceiving, not a punitive system of hierarchy based on education or identification levels or whatever other thing anyone feels othered by.


I think your concern is in part why I made this thread. ‘Research Grade’ is practically a label that in itself is just a confirmation that another user agrees with someone’s observation ID, no more, no less. This requires no expertise, no credentials, no research or experience to use (but yes in the background it enables export to scientific datasets - this is invisible to users).

But, it says ‘Research Grade,’ which implies applying some sort of scientific quality. So users are caught between the worlds of wanting to interact as a new or inexperienced iNatter but worried about applying the wrong ID because they’ve caused the observation to be ‘Research Grade’ and corrupting some dataset, even though in that state it absolutely requires further review by expertise on the import end anyway.

As commented here, most observations in common taxa are fine even with one ID, many in niche taxa require 3+ to get certainty, or alternatively are correct at one ID because an experienced person is more likely to use genus/species directly in the first place.

But, it is what it is and this is the way most people are used to it working. So going back to my original post, I think it is mostly meaningless in consequence, but it certainly has meaning in different ways to different people and it isn’t breaking anything.


I think this conversation has gotten a bit off-topic, in general, so I won’t continue other than to add: I value new users and new IDers, and am tired of being misquoted (which, by the way, is also hurtful).

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I’m being pedantic here, but I just want to clarify for the benefit of any newer users in this thread that possibly haven’t fully wrapped their head around the topic yet, that this isn’t exactly what RG means. Ignoring edge cases like ticking ‘this ID cannot be improved further’ for stuff at eg genus, the all-encompassing definition of RG is that you have two or more users that have added an ID to the record, and, that more than 2/3rds of these users agree on a taxon [species-level or finer]. I think this is an important distinction to make as you can have a situation where Users 1 and 2 have the same ID, i.e.

but, the record is not RG because user 3 does not agree


For those interested in further discussion specific to the usage (and name) of the “Agree” button, there is ongoing discussion on threads here and here.

One current idea is to suppress the Agree button on one’s own observations for everyone regardless of experience. That might keep things on a level playing while still intercepting the majority of misunderstanding / misuse of the Agree button. But… please direct any comments about such ideas to those threads instead of this topic. Thanks.


The problem is that there are people who interpret it as “good enough to do research with” by scraping data based on RG ID’s, when it’s not. Granted that’s more a problem from their end and not iNat’s, but it is iNat’s issue for giving it that name in the first place.

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iNat can’t be held responsible for people misinterpreting the meaning of RG when all it takes is to RTFM.


And really, a reasearcher who would use any dataset without checking it, just because it has the right name, are not doing good science anyways… that is for sure a problem on their end. It should also be a problem for them to get past peer review of any serious journal.
There are several measures in place before a RG observation indeed contributes to science and one should not worry too much about that while doing citizen science.

I don’t know any serious scientist who would use this data just like that AND without discussing it’s shortfalls anyways


Exactly, thank you. As a scientist who often ends up making use of other people’s datasets and participatory science methods, the largest part of many research projects is figuring out what exactly the data do and do not tell us, checking for data quality problems, etc. No one with any research training would take data at face value just because they are marked “Research Grade.”


This is kind of a pedantic comment but this seems imprecise to me as well. For using lots of observations for statistics sure that’s accurate, but there are plenty of individual records of rare/obscure organisms where there may not be the expertise on iNat for multiple identifiers to identify the organism, but they suspect or know the record is notable for one reason or another. For example observations of undescribed species or the first ever documented photo of a species are probably research-worthy, but often haven’t (or can’t) reach “Research Grade”. Different kinds of research.

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7 posts were split to a new topic: Why does it sometimes take so long to describe a species?

I’m guessing you don’t read much insect ecology then :joy:. They routinely gloss over the difficulty of species identification, to the point that it’s a recurring joke among taxonomists. E.g. “Bee species [that can only be distinguished by punctation patterns on the face] were identified visually at flowers.”


I also often feel like the term “Research Grade” is a bit misleading and the standard is too lax. I have seen dozens if not hundreds of observations where there is an egregiously wrong observation because two highly inexperienced users chimed in, one “identified” it and the other presumably hit agree. I find this annoying and dislike it.

On top of that, there’s the wild/not wild dilemma, which for some taxa is a huge issue because there are some regions in which 90%+ of the observations of that taxon will be landscaping plants. I strongly wish that iNat would, at least for certain taxa, make people opt-in to marking things as wild rather than list them as wild by default.

That said, there’s a lot I like about it:

  • On average, “Research Grade” observations are higher-quality than generic ones, and the effect is siginficant. Thus, by filtering out only “Research Grade” observations I can significantly decrease the likelihood of mis-ID’s and significantly reduce the portion of non-wild observations.
  • The deficiencies in the quality of the data can be improved. I can mark things as “Not Wild”, I can enter new ID’s, and furthermore, doing so is easy and fast, so I can help improve the quality of the dataset as I work. And not only do I do it, there’s a veritable army of other people do it, I frequently see people doing it more systematically than I do, like there are some taxa where people have been systematically going through and marking cultivated things as not wild, and this is awesome. Some days I go in and just ID certain taxa. Tons of people are doing this, and it’s wonderful.
  • As @dlevitis has pointed out, Research Grade is clearly, consistently, and publicly defined, and this is a huge benefit to researchers.

So yeah, it definitely means something, and it shows, given the fact that when I am doing research using iNaturalist data, I frequently toggle that box on my searches to show only Research Grade observations. It’s useful when I’m researching range / distribution / habitat, it’s useful when I’m looking for photos to use in an article or ID guide, it’s useful when I’m working on trying to learn how to ID something.

If it were not useful, I would not find it so immensely useful to toggle in my search. I think that’s the ultimate testimony of its usefulness.