Life list uses erroneous community IDs - adding taxa that weren’t actually observed

I know there’s been discussion on the fact that life lists are broken here.

One more issue for the discussion: this student has gone around a park and photographed every plant he could. He has sometimes photographed the same plant or clump multiple times and given it a bunch of different IDs in order to inflate the number of taxa he has supposedly observed.

This way of gaming the system is enabled by the fact that his life list shows his original IDs for the obs, rather than the corrected ones that sink all the multiple taxon IDs for the same thing. I wonder if teachers are using this without the knowledge that a user can cheat the system because of this bug.

This is a well known problem, but I don’t think we strike it very much. And it is not a bug, rather it is symptomatic of a badly designed class project more than anything else! Even worse than gaming lifelists, photos can be substituted for others so that IDs made by experts are seemingly incorrect. For a determined and malicious person, no end of havoc can be inflicted.

[edit] I think that before putting students up for competing with each other, they should be well grounded in ethics and consideration for others. If a student is not considerate of others or of rules, then I don’t think they should be inflicted upon an unsuspecting new community. Maybe informing them of the rules, warning them of the consequences, and following through with a suspension of account and notifying the teacher/school if the anti-social behaviour continues?


I took a look at the observations from that student, and they look fine! There are a couple dubious ones, I’m not sure what the tuna was about as I can’t see the image anymore, and I will say I was a little worried when I saw there was no image metadata, which is often a sign that images might have been ripped from the internet. BUT, in this case it could also have been the student going around with the Seek app, having it come up with a suggested ID and then uploading the photo to iNat. If anyone knows if Seek puts meta data on an iPhone pic, they might confirm that scenario. Also, can the iPhone take photos and be made to NOT apply metadata?Maybe it’s how the phone is setup… Many of the observations came in with no location or date, another possible sign of copyright infringment, but could also be a product of the lack of metadata. Hard to say. He doesn’t seem to be responsive to questions, so probably not likely to continue being a problem…

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yeah i couldn’t find anything troubling when i looked at his account either. He didn’t know some of the species, and had some cultivated ones, but that’s all normal for iNat and people aren’t obligated to know what things are to add them, of course. Otherwise it’s all just back to the duress user issue which no one has come up with a good solution for yet

Back before the internet, teachers would check the IDs of the pressed leaves in the project folders. Teachers still need to do that, but in iNat the checking is already done. Does his ID agree with the community’s?

They do indeed, after a few people went over them and downgraded them! I think originally there were petunias identified as 20 different taxa!

Anyway, my point was not about the obs (now mostly corrected), but the life list, where you can still see the marvelous cross-dressing petunias.

Does someone’s life list affect anyone other than the person whose list it is? Just teachers who try to use it for grades? I’m not sure I understand.

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I did see a lot of (different) petunia-like photos… from your recollection, were the errant IDs mostly AI/CV selections (with the symbol showing to the right of the ID) or were they more “deliberate” IDs (without the symbol)?

I think I see where you determine this to be a bug. It’s not a problem of the Life List ignoring the community ID, rather it is a problem of it USING the commuintiy ID. An initial wrong ID has that taxa added to the life list, and then a dissenting ID pushes CID to genus and that gets put to life list, and then the weighted “correct” CID gets added as well. It probably accounts for the reason lifelists are so buggy!

My thoughts are that in “contest” situations, such as for CNC and so on, there are other ways to determine “scores” than using lifelists. For individual users, lifelists are a personal thing, and they might be including taxa they have seen outside of iNaturalist, so we don’t want to be messing with their lists if that is the case! there is a set of tools on the list page that allow the list to be re-built, and that may drop those “seen but unobserved” taxa, I’m not sure…

Leaderboards are hugely problematic, in my opinion. I know that in my case, my species count includes a lot of cultivated species from collections that I have been photographing for a number of projects. I certainly wouldn’t hold my 1500 species against the 500 of someone that only observes in the wild. I would make more spider IDs in one month than Cor Vink has total, but that means nothing more than I am more active in iNat, I am certainly not more capable of identifying spiders!

Back to the topic… it might be an idea to change the title to “Life list uses erroneous community IDs - adding taxa that weren’t actually observed”. Note I take out the reference to gaming the system, as I don’t think that is the intent in this case, or others like it. And if it were the case, it is their list to do with as they please!


I have no problem with that, thanks! It’s changed now.

I hadn’t thought of that, and it’s possible that they were all AI selected, though the end result would be similar.

Is there a point even having a life list available at all, when it is so buggy, and it is possible to get a list of observed taxa for a user in different (non-buggy) ways. My concern is that a user may not necessarily know that:

  • it doesn’t work as one would think; and
  • there are better ways of getting a result that does provide a list of taxa (as per current Community ID).

I think it’s an old part of the site that will one day get a major overhaul or be completely superceded by functionality elsewhere on the site.

I see it as that tool in the toolbox that once upon a time did a useful job, but has been made redundant by other better tools that have come along. You keep it in the toolbox partly because “it’s there, not hurting anyone”, and if it’s a toolbox used by lots of people, then just because I don’t (and can’t see why anyone would want to) doesn’t mean somebody doesn’t use it. If the toolbox got too full, it would be the one you ditch first! Maybe not the best of analogies…


Pretty sure the life list is designed to work this way, since it can be a combination of species you added to the list manually (i.e. no iNat observations of that species) and those from your observations. It don’t think it’s smart enough to know and remove the taxa that were added to the list based on observations that had the community taxon change later.

There are tools to update your own life list to resync it to your observations, though it’s known to be a big buggy. If you have some recommendations for improvements to the life list I recommend creating a feature request(s).

More about how iNaturalist counts species / taxa here: