Flag identifications that are out of agreement with iNat's taxonomic structure?

What should we do about identifiers who deliberately misidentify species (deviate from iNat’s taxonomy) not because they are unaware, but because they disagree with that taxonomy?

This is a common thing in the reptile ID community. A series of papers have been published over the last 10-20 years splitting species in a way that many disagreed with. But iNaturalist has accepted those splits since their taxonomic basis (the Reptile Database) has accepted those changes. (These splits are also reflected in current field guides, etc).

But some users disagree so much with those changes that the deliberately go around identifying with the old names in protest. When asked to justify/explain their disagreement they criticize the author’s of the papers that split them rather than offering a basis for their different identification. And newer members have been given the impression that this is OK and that they can use whatever taxonomy they want.

This is not a rogue identifier on a few records, one individual has over 100K identifications. Most are perfectly fine, some are deliberately wrong. And they tend to tag like-minded individuals to agree with them with every ID. This prevents records from becoming research grade because of the disagreement on IDs and reduces the accuracy of our range maps.

Could we create a “flag” that says an identification is out of alignment with iNaturalist’s taxonomy?
The goal would be not to report the defiant identifiers, but to allow iNat to ignore some identifications in calculating research grade status and making range maps.

Chris Harrison (sandboa)

For reference, from the Frequently Asked Questions:

I don’t agree with iNaturalist’s taxonomy. Do I have to follow it when I add an ID?

As much as possible iNaturalist tries to follow secondary taxonomic authorities, for reasons explained here. We understand that not everyone will agree with the current taxonomy on iNaturalist, but we believe it is important that when you add an identification to an observation, you should follow the taxonomy here. This is important because:

  • It ensures we are all talking about the same things. While you may not personally agree with our current definition of Exampelia generica , everyone on iNaturalist will at least understand what is meant by an ID of Exampelia generica .
  • When taxonomy is updated, those updates will be correctly reflected in the ID.
  • It prevents messy taxonomic arguments on observation pages, where they don’t belong.

So if you don’t want to follow iNaturalist’s taxonomy for a taxon, please refrain from adding an ID for said taxon - you can add a polite comment instead. If you have an issue with any taxon on iNaturalist, you can go to the taxon’s page, click on Curate (under the graph) and select “Flag for curation”. There you can write a note (citing evidence), and the site curators can discuss your proposal.

iNaturalist’s taxonomy is a communally-curated synthesis, and thus no one agrees with all of it. If you can’t accept a taxonomy that you don’t completely agree with, iNaturalist is probably not the place for you, and you should instead consider other data recording platforms.

If someone is doing this, please send a message to help@inaturalist.org laying out the issue with specific examples. The current flagging system is pretty fragmented, so sometimes collecting it all in an email is just the best way to report this kind of issue.

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It depends if these users are experts (not necessarily academic) in a given field. Splittings will always be done as well as lumpings. Some of them will be correct, some other will be questionable.
Users’ knowledge in natural sciences is an added value of the community not a burden, so, in my opinion, there would be the necessity to deal case by case.

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Thanks for the suggestions. In this case the users are non-academic experts, but the problem is they are fighting their battles here on iNaturalist rather than some other more appropriate forum.
@bouteloua - Thanks for that link. That is an excellent suggestion and I will post the link to that when these issues come up.

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Put yourself in their shoes, maybe they are convinced that, in light of their experience, the taxonomy they are proposing is the best ever available for a certain taxon.
I think that a user who have demonstrated to have some valuable knowledge that deserves to be shared among the other users is something precious here.
Finally, who knows if all the average users are happy with the chosen taxonomy or if, at least those that are more willing to get more insight in the knowledge of a given group of species, are happier to read an expert’s point of view?

The difficulty here is that if there ever IS a taxon swap involving these species, they will not be corrected by it, because they’re usually stuck in genus-level limbo. And it makes it really hard for them to be found by searchers.

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Personally I think this is something that should be cracked down on quite firmly, if only for organizational purposes - people can argue about the exact taxonomic classification until they’re blue in the face for all I care, but it does nobody any good to have solid, verifiable observations thrown back into genus-level unconfirmed limbo just because someone disagrees with the taxonomic structure iNat uses.

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Last time this issue came up, it was noted that the appropriate place to have these discussions is somewhere centralized, in particular the https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/inaturalist-reptile-working-group, where explicit deviations from the “official” taxonomy can be proposed. I don’t see any sign that anyone dissatisfied with the current taxonomy has attempted to do so. Edit: see @bouteloua’s post below

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If I’m understanding correctly, and please correct me if I’m wrong @sandboa, the subject of this post is regarding people who are already aware of the current taxonomy on iNat, have already discussed the taxonomy with staff, but continue to add IDs that run against the established taxonomic framework. And are already aware of the policy mentioned above. So, what to do? (With an issue this pervasive, I believe it needs to be addressed by staff, not through the flagging/curation system.)

As far as generally talking about existing or desired deviations, those discussions usually take place on taxon flags. For larger discussions that relate to many different taxa or general policies, trying to hold discussions in the working group projects doesn’t work because only project admins can create new journal posts. More on that here https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/delete-taxon-working-group-projects-and-move-discussions-to-the-forum/5807

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OK, I’m feeling dense here. How would this even be possible, assuming taxon curation is up to date? Are people re-importing their preferred names from external sources? Is this even possible once that name has been put in synonymy on iNat?

If species A was split and the east half of the range is now considered species B, then continuing to use the name species A for observations in the east of the range is running against our taxonomy.

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Ah, thanks, so it’s a lumping-splitting thing, people using different concepts of the same name. That makes sense.

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No, you can’t import a name if it’s listed as a not currently accepted scientific name for a taxon.

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I can only suggest you to recruit more users that share your point of view and add more identifications that are in line with what you think it is the best for that taxon.
We had a similar issue for Italy. Observations of cultivated stone pines are often added, especially from people on vacation in Rome. Of course common sense would suggest that everyone could see that these trees are cultivated and not wild. Anyway in one case I did not succeed in convincing a user who claimed that those pines were wild and he was also supported by other users who clicked on thumb-up beside “the organism is wild”. The only thing that worked was to ask other Italian users to click on thumb.down.
So, it is possible that you won’t obtain anything if you will deal those users head-on.

As already noted, people who disagree with current iNaturalist taxonomy should be discussing the issue in taxon flags, not engaging in a battle of IDs on some random user’s observation.

If they have that discussion in a taxon flag, and are not successful in persuading others to their point of view, then they have two options, either add IDs using existing iNat concepts, or limit themselves to other taxa on which they agree. Knowingly adding incorrect iNat IDs can be cause for staff action and possible account suspension.

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@sandboa, can you please email some examples to help@inaturalist.org so we can a look?

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It was briefly mentioned earlier:

and then:

When the community is split between two species level taxa choices (assuming same genus), then the appropriate Community ID IS GENUS! This idea that you have to drag in similar opinion to weight your own ID is against iNat guidelines and design.

By all means, tag in extra opinion, but to do so selectively because you know they agree with you rather than the opposition is wrong and just plain “bad science”. If the opposition is unresponsive/absentee then it can be justified to weight an ID in such a way, but if they are holding their position out of belief, then the appropriate steps are to have dialogue and change their beliefs!

I will happily put weight on an experts ID, assuming I have come to recognise and trust their expertise of course. I do this to add weight to get an ID to RG, especially where I know their expertise is very high and there are likely to be no other identifiers that can contribute at that level. But if someone else chimes in and says something different, even in a comment, I immediately withdraw my ID as it was only weighting on the basis that the ID was not contestable! I also add weight where it is clear the blocking ID is absentee user, or is clearly wrong in their argument, but in this last case, I typically know enough about the taxa to know why they are wrong, so technically I am IDing on my own expertise.

When I tag someone in it is usually for their honest opinion. I am occasionally surprised to see them ID the other way, and I catch myself thinking “Really? Are you seeing the same photo I am seeing?”, but hey, that is how it works! What it means is, there is scope for more dialogue, but I don’t always have time to have that specific dialogue (so much to learn, so little time!) so I just let it ride. It doesn’t break iNat and the sun still comes up!

Now, having said all that, there are situations where I think “iNat is wrong”. @tiwane this might serve as an example, I’m not sure. Physalia is a genus that recently had some extra taxa added to it, and the paper that was used as the argument to add the extra species was about something else entirely and only mentioned off-hand that they believed there were these extra species distinctions, gave brief deterministic characters, and made a very clear statement that the genus needed revision. That to my mind does not equate to a publication supporting the split. WoRMS at the time did not list the new taxa (I don’t know if it still doesn’t). The extra species were added to iNat even though there was clearly no concensus amongst the community. For a short time afterward a brigade war on IDs was taking place. While this never got to the acrimony level that is alluded to above, it does highlight the need to circulate a better understanding of how IDs in iNat work, and what can and can’t be added in the way of taxa.

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I don’t mean to throw anyone under the bus here, but several of you have asked for an example. So here’s the one that pushed me to look for a solution. BTW - I like the solution of pointing out that it is a violation of the TOS and leave it at that.

In this example, there several individuals who are responding in jest to the discussion (we herp ID people are pretty familiar with each other), while others are being defiant (maybe me too?). I might note that I had responded to Bobby personally a couple of times and removed my responses in favor of pointing out the TOS.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/39031825

This is certainly not the only observation where this has happened, it is just a recent one.
FYI - the Burbrink referred to is Dr. Frank Burbrink who has published some taxonomic changes over the last 10 years which are unpopular with many non-academics (and some academics) in the herp community.

That thread seems a case where users are not in accordance for the identification and where the discussion has taken a wrong way. It should be carried on only on the basis of literature, users’ knowledges and evidences shown in the photos. But am I wrong if I have the impression that there is something beyond that specific thread?
Unfortunately this may happen since species identification is something that has always polarized people and it will always do.
Anyway, we are in a place where discussion among users should be fostered, even if in certain cases it will imply a strong criticism towards the chosen taxonomy, or at least I hope that it should be so.

I’m not a taxonomist, but it occurs to me that anyone could throw up a paper and call a snake a worm… would that be an accepted paper? Surely there has to be some mechanism for acceptance of a paper? In terms if iNat and it’s taxonomic framework sources, does the herp framework have any input to what papers are accepted? For instance in the case of plants, does PoWO just accept any paper and apply it to it’s taxonomy, or is there a degree of vetting to only apply papers that are generally accepted by peer review?

Assuming it’s a case of “any shoddy paper being accepted”, then surely the solution is to quickly put up another shoddy paper undoing the changes of the first?