Help prevent disruptive taxon changes with validation process

This was suggested at the “Improvements to taxonomic curation on iNat” wiki topic.

We suggest some sort of validation process for taxon change commit attempts that may result in disruptive changes that are likely to require reversal. Whether it’s a simple "are you sure you wanna do that? because reason...", or preventing a commit completely if it disagrees with the existing Taxon Framework Relationship (TFR).

Cases prompting such a validation process might include:

  • disagreement with existing Taxon Framework Relationship. For changes that would inactivate taxa with “match” TFRs (taxon framework relationships), modify a “deviation” TFR, or activate a missing TFR, at least pop up a caution/confirmation message, and/or consider requiring “senior curator” approval to complete the commit.
  • open flag on the taxon or its parent?
  • high numbers of existing IDs (multi thousands?)
  • commit attempt by someone other than the taxon change author

As someone who just did exactly one of these things, I heartily concur.

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It is something extremely necessary.
For plants, it happens that overzealus curators change the site taxonony following POWO at any cost. Common sense would require the establishment of a consensus process with the involvement of the comumunity to ascertain if the taxon change would be well in line with the most up-to-date and reliable literature as well as well accepted by most of the community.

The site is very clear in directions to curators that taxonomically it does not attempt to follow primary literature. While deviations from the selected site references are permitted, following primary literature or regional lists etc is not how the site manages taxonomy.

Just to be clear, I am not arguing either in favour if or against the policy in any way, just restating what has been the consistent communication of the site owners.

I know well that following literature is not encouraged here and I think that this policy can be agreed in most cases.
I was referring to those cases in which the taxonomy adopted in POWO is not, in turn, adopted in “official” floras of many countries. In these cases it is the alignement with POWO that could turn out to be not so understandable by many users.
Hoping that it is clearer now.

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Thanks for bringing this thread to my attention @bouteloua. I hadn’t seen these but independently produced a slide that has 3 out of 4 of these recently:

In any case I’d be very supportive of this feature as you’ve described it (validation prompt triggered on those 4 cases) with instructions advising participating in/starting a flag and waiting a bit.

You had set the obs threshold at > 1,000? that seems fine to me.


If it’s just a pop-up / prompt, I think setting the bar lower, at ~100 observations, is ok.

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Could we also include in best practice validation those changes that may affect multiple countries, regardless of observation numbers?


An issue is how to get consensus? Mentioning a few top identifiers may help.
But most flags seldom get comments. And even creating a swap (but not committing it) seldom elicits a comment. How do we get feedback?

Do we perhaps need a notification on all users observations notifying them that the swap has been created, like the one for when it has been committed. But it will create too much clutter.
Perhaps just the top 10 observers and 10 identifiers can be notified of the created swap on their dashboard (and not on the observations?).

Can we also agree on a definite proposed time period for feedback: say 10 days or perhaps two weeks?

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Now if an input taxon has 1000 or more observations, there is a warning.

@loarie any thoughts on implementing the other validation suggestions here?

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I think an important situation that should trigger a validation process would be when rare/listed taxa would be lumped into a more common taxon. Even one instance of this should trigger a warning. There is a legitimate reason to lump sometimes but quite often there is little or no evidence to support a lumping that might be the treatment POWO follows. This is where the various treatments of Malacothamnus get tricky as many of the listed taxa aren’t included in recent treatments and most aren’t in POWO. I’m keeping an eye on this genus, but what about all the others that may be in a similar situation. It would suck for rare taxa to get lumped only to have to be split back out again in a year or two. If obscuring is important for those rare taxa, that could be lost during the lumping as well.


In some cases it is most valid to make a taxon change based on literature, for example when a consensus revision has occurred but not yet been reflected in typical reference sources.