How did about 50 species disappear from our project without notice?

But those two argument don’t exclude each other and address completely different aspects - one is a user behaviour, the other one a feature of the platform.

Also, there might often just be no ressources available for a non-expert to follow up.

I hope I understood your point correctly

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I’m not 100% sure of the intended meanings, but users should not agree to identifications that they can’t independently verify themselves/on their own expertise. This is true, even if it means that some observations lose RG status when a user deletes their account or otherwise withdraws an ID.


If you use a field guide or a key that you didn’t write, is that your own expertise? I suspect that many people think not, which is why so many observations remain at Needs ID.

Not to speak for anyone else, but as I see it the issue is more than just observations losing RG status if a user deletes their account. This is annoying, but not nearly as frustrating as losing all record of what the most recent ID was. Which has happened to some of us as a result of these recently deleted user accounts.

Say I ID an observation of mine to family level because that is the extent of my knowledge, and then someone with more expertise comes along and provides a genus or species ID. Which I don’t confirm (because I lack the knowledge) and nobody else confirms because there aren’t many IDers working on that particular taxon. And then that person deletes their account. The observation goes back to family level, where it may sit indefinitely with all the thousands of other observations waiting for someone to refine it. Unless I happen to remember what that ID was, I now have no way of reconstructing the lost information. And this has broader repercussions for the database as a whole – even an unconfirmed ID might have helped others figure out their observations.

I take some of the previous comments as noting the irony of this only happening because they had followed the rules and didn’t agree to an ID they couldn’t confirm. If they had done so, they would now at least have a record of what the lost ID was.

Or, as noted above, there may be observations where a user had corrected IDs without other users altering their IDs in response, and now, as a result of their account deletion, these observations are again listed under the incorrect ID, with no evidence that anyone had ever disagreed with it.

The loss of potentially quite vast amounts of information is alarming. In addition, if I’ve followed the discussions correctly, it seems that there are three prolific IDers who have deleted their accounts in the last month. That seems to me to be very concerning indeed. This isn’t something that should be a regular occurrence, and it makes one wonder what is going wrong to cause this.


Thank you for solving this, and for the very useful discussion that followed. I wholeheartedly hope that someone is working on maintaining the id-information anonymously with “deletedaccount” replacing the username. If the data was anonymized this way, and the id no longer counted towards RQ, but left a trace of the work done, then I could see no harm in this at all, and it would mean less waste of data.

Also, some of you actually took the effort to re-id a lot of the lost validations! THANK YOU - that was very kind! :)

Regarding ownership of the data: This is a citizen science platform, and once you submit an observation or an identification, you have donated a bit of your time, work and knowledge. People should be able to delete their personal information (and when they do, their validation should no longer count, since the accountability is lost), but I see no reason to waste data beyond that. You don’t get the right to pull up indigenous species that you planted at an NGO event, just because you leave the NGO!


You have very well reflected my major points.
It is not about losing RG, but about non-replicable information of what the deleted ID was.

One additional point I want to make:
It is not only just the loss of information, but also that the action by the deleted user of providing an ID in the first place might have prevented other experts to ID my observation. A prolific IDer might e.g. filter for observations which are above species level.
So, say my observation lost the specific ID and thus reverted from species level back to family or order after two or more years, it will not show up in the ID module unless you set the filters accordingly.
As I described above, there is a way to overcome this (by date updated), but this should be done shortly after the event, otherwise it doesn’t help much.

I think I could find all my affected observation and, tagging another expert, received a species ID in almost all cases almost instantly. Without that effort, they might have remained un-IDed for a loooong time


Solution: gain the knowledge. Look up that genus or species, learn what its features are, and then you can go ahead and confirm the ID because now it is from your own expertise.

In principle, yes, but I think it’s important to recognize that in practice that isn’t going to be feasible for everyone in all cases. Not everyone is good at IDing, and observers come from all different backgrounds and levels of knowledge. Even for those who do actively ID certain groups a lot, this skill doesn’t automatically transfer to all organisms in all kingdoms of life.

There are some taxa I know very little about but post occasional observations when I happen across them, because why not; I don’t know enough to even begin to recognize the relevant features, and even if the IDer mentions key characteristics of the species, it doesn’t mean I know how the particular observation at hand fits into the larger groupings of that family or order. Some taxa just confuse me. Others are simply beyond my skills at present – in some cases I have been able to narrow down an observation to genus or section, but knowing the distinguishing features is only of limited use because I simply don’t see what I’m supposed to be seeing. The eye has to be trained, too, and that takes practice.

Yes, ideally observers should be able to learn from the feedback provided by IDers, but whether or not they follow up in the form of entering their own ID in individual cases is a different issue than the data for tens of thousands of observations being lost because of the way iNat handles deletion of user accounts. The consequences of the latter are not the users’ fault.


Totally get what you mean… I love observing Lycaenidae, but I really suck at IDing them…

Even in the apider realm, where I feel at home, I have groups I just cannot identify further then family (e.g. linyphiids… rhey all look the same to me)


Exactly! I mean, the great thing about iNaturalist is that it allows me to access a collective body of knowledge that is so much wider than my own. Users shouldn’t feel obligated to become experts in everything they observe. They can appreciate their encounters with nature and enjoy learning more about the organisms they have observed without necessarily knowing how to ID everything themselves.


It is difficult to imagine learning more about an organism without at least acquiring some knowledge of what it is, even if only at subfamily or genus. Once you have “learned more about,” say, aphids, you will never again see an aphid and think of it as an unknown. If you understand an ID well enough to recognize that same broad taxon again next time you see it, then you understand it well enough to agree with it, at least at the broad level. And if you don’t – what could you have learned about it that means anything?

I for sure do learn about species someone suggested, but I might not be able to recognize them myself from similar ones.

For example ants… not my strongsuit. But if I get suggested a species I will always look them up and learn about them. I do not necessarily need to be able to distinguish a taxon to appreciate it. And one should also be aware that not everybody has the same goals when venturing out in nature and using this plattform… and thats ok


Learning about an organism =/= being able to distinguish it from other similar-looking organisms (with “similar” being a fairly relative concept that changes with experience). If someone provides me with a refining ID for, say, a fly or a beetle, I can look up the species, read about its habitat, how it feeds and reproduces, etc. This increases my knowledge and appreciation of what I have seen.

Will this also increase my ability to recognize it at a species or genus level in the future? Possibly (for example, if it is strongly tied to a particular habitat, or if the characteristics are easily recognizable). Possibly not.

Yes, having observed an organism before often contributes to recognizing generally similar organisms in the future. But am I required to learn that the distinguishing features for a particular species are the shape of the second whatitsname when viewed at exactly 120° and the number of hairs on the upper eyeball? No.

Learning how to ID is not a requirement for participation on iNat – I mean, that’s the whole reason the Computer Vision exists. Some users just want to know what they saw. iNat is not a platform for training taxonomists. It is a platform for connecting people with nature, whatever form that takes.

Edit: OK, I decided I am going to post this part after all. I’m sure it’s not your intent, but your repeated insistence on “just learn how to ID it” comes across as pretty dismissive of the concern originally being expressed here (the loss of IDs as a result of account deletion) and also a bit exclusionary (i.e., if you can’t learn how to ID it, you’re not trying hard enough).

The concern is about the disappearance of information (an ID provided by others) that is valuable for all sorts of reasons, including our own learning processes. Consider that perhaps I’m not able to make use of another person’s ID at the time they provide it, but in a year, or five, I might return to it. Or someone else might be able to use and learn from it. – Except now we can’t, because the ID is gone. In the case of the plant IDer, this isn’t general stuff like recognizing Asteraceae vs. Lamiaceae. There’s a reason why there are relatively few users who are adding species-level IDs to Carex and Prunus and Salix. These are difficult taxa and it takes not only knowledge but also practice to become confident at IDing them. It’s surely not so difficult to understand that some of us are both frustrated and saddened at the loss of this.


At this point, the original question has been solved here, and the conversation has diverged pretty far from the original question/topic. I’m going to set the timer to close on this in a day. If folks want to continue a conversation about the benefits of IDIng for learning species, feel free to make a new topic on it. We can also move any posts from this thread there if desired.


If you recall, my reference to aphids said that you would never again mistake an aphid for an unknown. Or, more specifically, I was trying to reply to this:

If it was my observation, and I saw disagreeing IDs, I would want to guard against this happening. The way I would do that is by comparing the taxa of both disagreeing IDs, and picking the one that I believed it looked more like. Especially if the disagreeing IDs were in different families or genera – even if I didn’t pick one of the two disagreeing species, I could at least agree with the family or genus of the one that I believed it looked more like.

But then, maybe that’s because I believe that the owner of the data (on iNat that would be me, the observer) is responsible for its curation.

I know the user from this post disagreed on one of my observations, I have no recall which one, disagreed not with my id, so there’s nothing that could be done from my side, that’s a hard group, so I generally id at genus, I remember who he disagreed with, but this expert also ided a lot of my observations and there’re many to choose from. And that’s one instance I remember, there likely were more. Salix out of flowering and their hybrids are only ided by botanists, I have a key for the region, but never end up getting where to a fitting species. That’s what experts are for, and they shouldn’t just delete their accounts out of blue.

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If I believed myself the “person responsible for curation of my observations”, I actually would take the opposite position and never attempt to feign a knowledge level I did not possess, for it would be in my best interests that “my data, whose curation I was responsible for” be as unimpeachable as possible, and that if questioned that I could answer and defend my identification.

Your position is perhaps the best one yet for deleting all of one’s data, including observations, when one leaves iNaturalist; if one is “responsible” for their curation, one cannot leave them behind.

If I thought I was responsible for curating mine, if I were told that, I would delete my account tonight. I do not have the knowledge base for that responsibility.

(Personally, as a committed “Upload an observation and then largely leave it to its fate” observer, I am hopeful that the "Leave but leave behind one’s observations" option will be developed.)


With respect, you keep quoting out of context. Your comment about “you will never again see an aphid and think of it as an unknown” was part of a larger comment about what “learning about an organism” means and recognizing it when encountering it again in the future as a result of feedback provided by identifiers. I responded to it as such. Nowhere was there any reason to think that you were actually talking about how one reacts to disagreeing IDs (someone IDing an unknown as an aphid does not imply disagreement).

For what it’s worth, the situation I was thinking of when I mentioned disagreements is as Marina described – a disagreement with a species-level ID by another user on an observation I was only able to ID at a higher level. In such a case, I am not simply going to agree with the ID of the user I think is more likely to be correct if I’m not capable of deriving that ID myself. I might try to start a discussion, either to encourage the other user to withdraw or acquire the knowledge to confidently provide that ID myself, but this may not always be successful.

Or there is the observation I have where this user disagreed with my species-level ID and I withdrew my own ID in response, because I suspected they were correct, but I did not confirm the new ID because I find amaranth utterly mystifying. Which resulted in my observation becoming “unknown” without me realizing it once the person deleted their account.

The repercussions of the lost information due to another user deleting their account are not something I can completely control or prevent. Nor are we notified about it when it happens. Furthermore, a major identifier deleting their account should not be an expected occurrence that we have to take precautions against. It doesn’t have anything to do with failing to learn or failing to take responsibility for my observations. Please stop implying this is somehow the fault of the observers who are affected.

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