How to respond to comments by experts?

I am wondering how other users deal with the “when worlds collide” event of True Scientists vs Citizens.

An example of this is when a member tries to id something for another member, only to be given a lecture, or curt remark, a disempowering comment or given reference to a scientific paper that just came out.

What flusters me is that I never know how to respond. Does anyone have helpful hints on how to professionally respond?


I only had a situation like that once, where a scientist asked me to remove my (correct) high level ID because it was a newly described species not yet in the iNat databse. That person clearly didn’t understand how the iNat curation process works. Not that I know much about it, but at least I know that an observation sitting in the unknown pile will not make the new species miraculously appear in the database. :-) So I was a bit stubborn, which eventually led to a curator getting involved and everyone being happy in the end.

But I guess you aer asking about encounters of a slightly different kind.


I think it can help to assume that the writer is simply being efficient in the way they express themselves, and either doesn’t know how to be more diplomatic, or just doesn’t feel like taking the time. Being diplomatic doesn’t come naturally to everyone… that doesn’t reflect on you at all, so it’s not actually disempowering. It’s just about them and the way they express themselves. And actually, even if they’re horrible $!)&!^(@s, that doesn’t reflect on you either. ;-) What I do in these situations (anywhere, not just on iNat) is strip any emotional content from the words, and proceed on the facts of the comment. Are they mistaken? Do they have a point?

And I remind myself that this person and I have something very important in common, something more important than diplomacy… we care about these plants/animals/fungi, whatever. And that’s a rare and cool thing. ;-)

Anyway, hope that helps. :-)


Diplomacy is not taught in science classrooms, so yeah some researchers can be rather blunt and impolite. That’s their failing, not yours. If they don’t like an ID that you provided and they provide a good reason for why it’s wrong or not helpful, I’d simply withdraw the ID. No follow-up response to them is needed.


Some can at first. But I have found some nice, kind researchers on iNat who explain/give reasons for their IDs. I love that. Not only they support the argument they have, it helps the person learn more about the species and become a better naturalist :)


I, sometimes, am guilty for not explaining my IDs due to a lack of time. But I try the most and the best I can through.


And I’m sometimes guilty of not doing an ID with explanation, especially for new users, because I’m too tired or grumpy to be nice. :grin:


We need an emoji that clearly indicates: “Sorry, I’m too tired and/or grumpy to explain my action here.”


I guess I need some clarification on what you mean by “curt remark” and “lecture”. If you mean simply laying out the ID characteristics with nothing else, I think this is good and helpful. It’s efficient and corrective. Keep in mind that identifiers often have limited amounts of time. Under the circumstances where only a short comment on the key distinguishing characteristics or no comment is added, it’s likely that they’re going through hundreds of the same species or genus to correct misidentifications. If they give you a “lecture” it could mean it’s an important find. I typically just say thank you and remove my identification. Now, if you’re talking about rude or aggressive behavior, that’s a little different and I don’t think I’ve encountered that much.

I know it’s not ideal but, consider the perspective that there are over 85 million observations at the moment and some identifiers contribute thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of identifications (I’m at about 160,000). Often, all you can do and have time for (remember, we’re all volunteers) at this scale is not be rude and express you’re excitement when someone posts something unusual.


I think giving a reference to a scientific paper is a very good practice in and of itself. If the message that goes along with that is demeaning, that’s a different story, but citing sources for IDs is good practice.


I’ve never had this kind of experience, although I’ve had professional scientists sending me links to new papers whenever I was using old taxonomy. But they were always polite and answered my questions. I wonder whether it also depends on which kind of organisms you observe. I’m a herper and it seems that the herp community on iNat is generally very friendly and helpful. On the other hand, I have a friend who’s more into insects and spiders and she gave up on iNat after getting a few rude comments (I don’t think those were from professionals though).


yes, but the iNat taxonomy is not necessarily tied to scientific papers, so it shouldn’t be used to override the existing established taxonomy.

I have unfortunately seen scientists being pretty rude on iNat. They are very much a minority of scientists on here but they have a really harmful impact. It makes me sad. yes i also see non scientists acting rude but as a member of the ‘professional ecologists’ community i am somehow more hurt when fellow scientists and policymakers do it


We are all humans with our weaknesses. Certain behaviours shown by some users that, evidently, take iNat with much levity almost as a game could embitter or bother.
Moreover, in certain cases a skilled knower of a given subject could be misinterpreted as being a person full of himself.
To be honest, I think that there are some other examples that are far more illustrative of a true conflict between “scientists” vs people where the “scientists” are the watchdogs of certain policies and their credibility is compromised by colossal conflicts of interests.


I get comments to stop adding broad ids 3 times a week, all tell you how obvious further id is, how my id doesn’t help and only “dilutes” other ids, most can’t even see a first, wrong id, and really think there’s always be enough iders to id every observation to species level from the start.
I like receiving science papers, it is helpful, can people be rude? Sure, but they have no idea what others feel. Many common users are not less ruder, so I wouldn’t call citizen side a white sheep.


In your last example, follow the link, read the paper. Then do a bit more research and decide if you agree or don’t. It’s a great way to learn. I’ve dealt with some folks who are curt - that’s just them - but no one on iNat who was rude. Well, perhaps one, who put me off identifying Tabanidae. A lot of professionals (or retired) are busy, so factor in that aspect.
@jnstuart mentioned diplomacy. It is a hard skill to master. Although I am not from the US, I read Samantha Power’s memoirs from the UN. She talked about the rows she had with the Russian ambassador in that forum, but how, outside of that forum they had a friendly relationship, and accomplished a lot behind the scenes.
I guess what I’m trying to say within the iNat context, is that It may be possible to develop a relationship with a brusque person if you have the will. As well, one person is not the absolute authority on anything. Consult others, find out what they have to say, gauge your own expertise, and act accordingly. There is no point in making an enemy over an identification. Be willing to concede, or back up your choice with data.


Also keep in mind that language/culture could play a part in a comment from someone who is in a place different than yours.


I’d quibble with the framing being used here, as I’m not sure what “true scientists” and “citizens” means - I’d probably use the terms “expert” and “novice” but even then there are plenty of experts on iNat who are cordial and encouraging, so I think it’s best to focus on behavior rather than expertise level, even if the two can be co-occuring.

I also altered the subject of the topic to try and make it less conflict focused.

I think curtness can be OK. As others have said, many identiifers don’t have a lot of time so sometimes their comments can be brief and that could come off as condescending. I’m personally not a fan of it, but I think we need to remember that iNat is a worldwide community that includes people of varying backgrounds, languages, cultures, experiences, and neurodifferences, all of which influence how people communicate and respond to others. That’s why I think assuming others mean well is so important here. I would try to take curtness in stride if possible, although you’re always free to, in a civil manner, explain how it makes you feel - perhaps the other person doesn’t realize how their communication style affects others. Learning how to communicate better is pretty much a lifelong endeavor, IMO.

I do think “disempowering” comments are another matter. iNat really should be about teaching, learning, and encouraging everyone to improve their knowledge and curiosity about nature. In cases where comments are disempowering and condescending, especially if it’s a pattern, you can flag a comment or email Sometimes all it takes is someone (or someones) letting that person know how they’re coming off that encourages them to change it. If they’re willfully insulting, then that would be a violation of the Community Guidelines.


Matt, I don’t know how often the remarks you felt were, as you said, “curt” were indeed remarks that would be widely considered “curt”, and how often you felt they were curt, but they might not be so widely considered curt. Along those lines, I think people should remember that this medium of typed messages lacks the intonation of our voices, and you might read a comment as if it came with a down-putting tone, when it could alternately be read with a neutral tone. So after reading a message that might seem curt or down-putting, you might see if you could then read it again with a more neutral tone. On occasion, after writing a comment explaining my ID, and seen that it might be read with a negative tone, I have added in parentheses “(take this with a neutral tone.)”

I would also add that in order to be one of the leaders in knowledge in a given subject, someone needs to be among those that spend the highest percentage of their time studying that subject. This often comes with spending less time socially than most. I can speak from the experience of someone who has spent an unusually high percentage of my time studying my subject, and I believe less time socially than most. I sometimes think to myself, thanks to not having a family, and more friends, and not having a “day job” as I call most jobs, I have a great amount of knowledge of my natural community, that few others have. It might be that due to spending so much time focused on our subject we have failed to develop better social skills, or that because we were uncomfortable socially we have found a refuge from social life in our studies in the subject we do have a forte in. Then in science, more than most subjects, there is more of a correlation of being a leader in knowledge of our subject, with engaging less socially. If my forte was acting, I’d be engaging with people a high percentage of the time I was practicing my strong subject. So if you think someone, who you might call a “True Scientist”, is being rude, curt, or down-putting, consider that it might be they don’t have the best social skills, and the greatest diplomacy.

I see multiple people on iNaturalist with tag names like “bird-nerd”, proudly advertising that they are so focused on their bird studies that they could be called “nerds” (applied to people who might have an exceptional focus on their study area, but correlated with that, might be more internally focused and not fit in as well socially). If you could imagine that these people are indeed “nerds” whose expertise correlates with them not fitting in so well socially, you might just laugh to yourself, and move on, without doing anything further to push the buttons of this person who might not have the greatest social skills


Just glance at it from the other side:
Profi giving his precious time to voluntarily ID a lot of observations every day, for years and years, and therefore stumbling upon the same identification issues all the time. There is the point where a profi gets tired of explaining everything over and over again. So he gives you an ID and a link, assuming you will be able to handle it from there.

I think it is very nice of a scientist to step in and give you an ID and a link. No additional words needed.


Just say thank you that the person has given you added intel you did not plan on. That is how we all learn.