iNaturalist Observations as Museum Photo Vouchers?

I’m currently collaborating with someone from a natural history museum on their herp atlas project. We’d like to get an iNaturalist project going to help with data collection. Our question relates to permission to do so with observer-submitted records. If we configured the project so that only user-submitted records were included, could we include some project verbiage saying by submitting to this project you are giving the museum permission to use your observation (photos, data) to create a museum record? Anyone got a link to an existing project that states such? Any guidance would be appreciated. Thank you!

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A few thoughts:

  1. I think you’d need to make sure that the user’s observations and media licenses were set to allow this. I’m not sure which licenses would be needed, but something to look into.

  2. I’m not 100% sure how the project join works, but you’d need to make sure that there was no way a user could join the project without clicking the agree box/verbiage you propose. I don’t think it would be enough to just post that language in the project. You’d need explicit consent. You could get this another way (DM, email, etc.) too.

  3. More broadly, I don’t really see what is gained from taking this approach. If an observation is research grade on iNaturalist, it’s being exported to GBIF already. If it’s made into an NHC record, that is just duplicating data - many NHCs (though not all) post their records to some kind of data clearinghouse that ends up back with GBIF or similar. While duplicates can be filtered out with some work, it’s unclear to me what the advantage is and this is a cost.

There has been some previous discussion of the interface between iNat and NHCs collections management. The general consensus has been that on a small/occasional scale this isn’t too much of a problem, but iNat shouldn’t duplicate/be used as a collections management tool. See
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/museum-herbarium-collection-digitisation-on-inaturalist-yes-or-no/5374
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/linking-inat-records-w-museum-specimens-collected/8586
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/inat-development-for-museums-or-research-centres-improve-the-value-of-research-grade-data/7743
for some thoughts

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Hi Chris! Thanks for the quick reply. Permission logistics aside, your point #3 is excellent and not something myself or the collections manager had considered. Yes, duplicative records wouldn’t have value and I don’t see a point to generating them when explained this way.

More specifically, I’m a wildlife specialist with Alabama Extension. Over the last year, I’ve become more involved with iNaturalist and have a few citizen science projects I’m trying to kickoff through the platform. Herps are my main taxa of interest, but AUMNH already had an Alabama Herp Atlas Project started before I arrived, albeit existing mostly in name only with few records generated. I wanted something to promote during my talks and figured collaborating with the museum would be a good avenue. But, as mentioned, since your explanation, it seems I either need to create a herp project independent of the museum or not use iNaturalist if I’m seeking to promote their project.

Again, I greatly appreciate your guidance.

It may be relevant to check what ALA’s doing for bees and wasps, which uses iNat obs. (site homepage url: https://www.ala.org.au/, after which you need to search for the bee/wasp section). On the other hand such “collection” uses can raise questions of whether doing so is redundant or provides no more verification/uniqueness than simply using iNat or GBIF, or whether it still has a unique benefit. ALA and those involved would support what they’re doing, although one problematic aspect is people sometimes visit ALA as a “reference” when making iNat IDs, not realizing ALA displays the same iNat IDs. In other words, using iNat/GBIF comes with the “caveat” to ideally check the records first and know that at least a small percent are inaccurate, vs. accessing records on museum-related sites may imply to site visitors that all records are accurate. Actually, some iNat users also have the misconception that that all records are accurate for iNat (for RG) and GBIF too.

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