Identifiers as Volunteer Curators, and Obs with Probs

Observers provide data to iNat. Identifiers provide both metadata and peer review for the data. We identifiers are “volunteer curators” at iNat. Shall we develop consensus best practices for handling certain types of data that we curate? I invite discussion here. @tiwane perhaps you could move a few Mission posts into this thread to get started?

Edit: @cthawley for reference/context or any other moves still needed:

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On an overall level, I think that researchers using this data should put a higher priority on having consistent names across the dataset they are hoping to use. Instead of just thanking a few people at the end, what if papers started saying things like: “all observations were reviewed by at least one of these (number) of people with a breakdown from one below.” I think practices like that would do a lot to increase outside trust in the data we are creating. This is something that I try to highlight to anyone who asks me to help with projects they are doing.


Can you give some examples of what types of things you are thinking of? I’m not clear on what the topic is supposed to be. I also don’t know what a Mission post is as well - something to do with the Missions feature on the Android app?


When “Mission” is used in this context, I think lotteryd is talking about the Mission Impossible: identifying plants in Africa project that concludes today.


I thoroughly agree with this. Citizen science platforms like iNat are often seen as inferior by some researchers because they have so many errors and misidentifications, which I think is very unjustified. It’s true that we do have a great many misidentifications, but so do virtually all other data sources. I would not trust any iNat observation that I haven’t reviewed myself, but equally I would not trust any museum specimen that I haven’t inspected myself. Most casual naturalists never get to see museum collections but the number of misidentifications is almost on par with those of citizen science platforms. Citizen science platforms are just more visible and so it’s easier to see the mistakes. In both cases it’s just caused by lack of time and lack of expertise when you have such an enormous set of observations/specimens.

Anyway, a bit off topic maybe but I still think it’s important to say!



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Ok, got it, though I think anyone can link those thread in the post?

i think the request was to move the side conversation starting around the post i noted above to this thread.

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I find this title confusing as “curator” means a specific role on iNaturalist and those curators are of course also volunteers.


It’s true that there are other (cough) “real” volunteer curators that are literally labeled as Curators at this site. These folks also curate metadata for observations (and are often identifiers themselves), but they just have a few more higher-level buttons available for them to press. Identifier-level folks do some of the same things, just without the C word in play.

So, what’s the best way to acknowledge the literal curation efforts of identifiers without overlappingly calling them volunteer curators? I can change the thread title if there’s a sensible alternative, thanks!

Edit: Just below this post is a series of moved posts that prompted the making of this thread. They provide important context. (Thanks Carrie!)

I am the person who recently deleted my account. I am as surprised as anyone that I did it. As you can see from my comments in this closed topic, I was among those concerned about accounts being deleted. I just need a day or two in order to figure out how to word my explanation as carefully as I can, and also figure out which is the best topic it would fit in. I may get a lot of hate for being one of the few (if any) users who are willing to explain why they deleted their accounts, and I don’t expect anyone to agree with my reasons, but I feel that I owe an explanation. I don’t think that it belongs in this topic, however.


You do not owe anyone an explanation. Only put an explanation if you want to. You may get some hate for deleting your account, but just remember: You are doing something with your account, not theirs. It is none of their business in what you decide to do with your accounts of the Internet.


It is your choice. But you don’t owe anyone an explanation. @tiwane said he will not say WHY people chose to delete their profile.


I am just going ahead right here with my explanation of why I deleted my account because previous topics about deleted accounts are closed and I can’t figure out which one would be the appropriate one to ask to have reopened. I expect that if this explanation should be moved somewhere else it will be. Actually, I’m so disillusioned with iNaturalist right now that I have no expectation that this post will be allowed to remain anywhere on iNaturalist.

The bottom line is that I deleted my account because of what I consider very unfair treatment of many observers in Africa compared to the consideration that observers in other parts of the world enjoy.

One general rule as I understand it has always been that observations that are flawed in some way, such as having different organisms in the photos, should be identified to the most specific taxon that applies to all of them. Instead, when I would add an identification of “Flowering Plants” (or “Dicots” or “Monocots”) an appointed or self-appointed person would instantly add an identification of “Life,” causing the appearance of a statement such as “disagrees that this is flowering plants,” which was an obviously untrue statement. If I added the more specific identification again, it would have no effect.

Meanwhile, in another unrelated forum topic a staff member had specifically reminded users that intentionally adding incorrect identifications to observations could be cause for suspension. I asked in that same topic shortly afterward whether that would apply in the situation I’m describing. I also tagged the same staff member in a specific observation with the situation I am describing. In neither instance did I receive a response.

Finally, I flagged an observation in this challenge where my correct identifiication of something like “Flowering Plants” was immediately identified as “Life,” and the response to the flag was basically that curators can’t do anything about this situation, but that I could start an open discussion about it while keeping in mind that a lot of people in Africa are happy with this situation. This I interpreted as a statement that the discussion would be futile.

So I was left with a decision about what I personally was going to do about this situation, and the obvious answer to me was to protest. So I did, by deleting my account, because that seemed the only possibly effective way to protest what I perceive as unfair treatment of others. I recognize that others may disagree with my choice.


If you’re referring to me, mentions are often lost because I get so many of them, unfortunately. Direct messages, and emails to help@inat are the the most sure ways to get a staff member’s attention.


Yes, I was referring to you. I’m sorry I didn’t think to do that.


Well @sgene you continue to be an immense help to fellow identifiers here. You broached the most important topic that I had intended to cover in a “mission debrief”.

On some random obs in conversation with other identifiers, I mentioned how this particular topic would need its own thread, since it’s a global iNat identifier problem of not having enough consensus among all of ourselves, globally. There are many types of “obs with probs.” Many of us have strong opinions about how to deal, and sometimes we cancel each other out and make each other very unhappy over it, even though all of us actually mean well.

May I ask a moderator about spawning such a new thread, if you would like that new conversation to start with your post above? If you would rather not, I can start one myself. Thanks for advice!


I knew you had intended to do that, and I hope that it is successful.


Like something to discuss the best practices when it comes to adding broad identifications? It’d be OK to have one, but keep in in mind that nothing decided here is “official” and that it’s not realistic to expect iNat users to to abide by an “only identify plants in Africa to the family level or finer” norm.


Yes, that! It would be a conversation toward consensus for best practices among iNat identifiers for “obs with probs”. There is one recent guidance statement from one of y’all in some forum thread about DQA that I can quote if I can dig it back up. I agree that the rest should be up to the citizen scientists doing this “labor of love” stuff. Maybe staff can advise if we get stuck on something?

Also, to frame part of the issue, is it possible for staff to provide the following number?

What percent of all observations have started with an initial ID provided by a person who is not the observer? Thanks if so!

One other that could help: What percent of all observations have started with an observer-original ID at Kingdom? Could do with examples plant and/or fungi for that.