How does iNaturalist define who is a scientist and who is not?

Hello all,

I’ve been wondering for a while - iNaturalist shows the text “X is a natural scientist!” on some profiles to indicate professionalism, and doesn’t on others. Many people that have it I know to actually be scientists, but some others have been fellow students quite shocked to learn that they are labeled “real scientists” on the platform, afraid their word might be taken with more weight than it should. So the problem is: how does iNat define the scientist status of its users? I cannot find anything on profile settings or editing where one could tell iNat that they are a scientist, so iNat must make the assumption itself. On what basis is that assumption made and how to make it more accurate? Can a person affect this status themselves?

I thought maybe it’s got to do with using university/research bureau email addresses on the platform, and to experiment with that, I changed my email to the university email. Didn’t make me a scientist ;) And that would make sense - not all university people are biologists, and not all biologists are affiliated with a university anymore, after all. However, that made me even more confused, because I can’t figure out what is the tidbit of information that iNaturalist clings onto when judging someones professionalism, if not even the email address. There just isn’t such information on the profiles to grab.

I tried to look everywhere for information on this, but I can’t find anything. I think this is something that would benefit from looking into, because even if it’s banned by community standards to dismiss other people by their hobbyist status or something, being a natural scientist does create stronger implications of knowing their stuff on the subject when making IDs and if people don’t even know they have that mention on their profile, they will not know the weight of their word.

Best wishes,
Kaiu T.
Ecology major
University of Turku

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Everyone is welcome here, whatever level of interest or experience. I think the message you’re talking about is “X is a naturalist!”, which is simply the default text when a new user signs up for an account and doesn’t enter anything in their profile.


Oh! In the Finnish version of the translation, “naturalist” is translated into something that actually means “natural scientist”, not “naturalist”. So that must be where the confusion came from. Thank you for the explanation!


If you think the Finnish translation is conveying something that it shouldn’t, that’s definitely worth bringing up. I think @kueda is the one to call.


Yes, I would think so. As established, now it gives a misleading idea that a person who hasn’t written an introduction of themselves is a professional, which is probably not what we’re looking for here. It has sometimes affected who we ask for ID’s, for example! Thank you very much for patching this up.


You can suggest a better translation at, and I’m happy to defer to the opinions of native speakers, though I’m guessing @mikkohei13 has an opinion.

FWIW, “naturalist” is a complicated word in English. If you’ll forgive the amateur / armchair history, in the 17th and 19th centuries it would have been considered synonymous with “scientist” and not had a particularly “professional” connotation. In the 20th century much of scientific interest become more specialized and codified into institutions, and the general study of natural phenomena perceivable to anyone came to be viewed by many as irrelevant or old fashioned. “Scientist” became an identity that suggested advanced levels of formal education and professional achievement marked by degrees, certifications, and other institutional markers, while “naturalist” became more associated with professional and volunteer educators who worked in parks and helped people understand the non-human world. My use of “naturalist” on iNaturalist intentionally attempts to dissolve those distinctions and assert a more wholistic identity defined as “someone with a conscious interest in non-human life” and includes university professors studying fly behavior, nature center employees teaching visitors about sea stars, and just anyone who’s ever stopped on the trail to wonder what a flower was, a bit more akin to the 19th century concept without the implication that the only people with the time and resources to pursue such interests are those unfairly benefitting from entrenched, systematic inequality (still true, alas, but perhaps less universal than it once was).

Which is a long way of saying that this one might be tough to translate.


Agree :) The current Finnish translation has been made a long time ago, and used throughout the system when referring to “naturalists”. In my ears, it (“luonnontieteilijä”) does not strictly refer to scientists, but suggestions for improvement are welcome.

Term “luontoharrastaja” (“nature hobbyist”) is occasionally used, but it sounds clumsy, and excludes the scientists, which it should not.

The term is used e.g. in these cases:

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