Misidentification, accountability, and bullying

I agree, except that I feel it is better to have an accurate record of the species occurring in a particular place, even if they cannot be identified by others to species level. It personally makes no sense to me to remove accurate records because they can’t (or won’t) be verified by others at that taxonomic rank. I suppose I feel this way as so many native plants in my region never are confirmed (regardless of observation quality, it would seem) yet clearly cultivated (but well known) plants somehow become research grade. iNaturalist is not perfect, and I don’t think it can (or should) be made perfect.


That’s sad to read, I guess it’s because there’s a lack of local experts and cultivated plants are known in bigger area (though they should be marked as cultivated, other than OP case). I know many areas somehow don’t have enough botanists even though there’re a lot of iNatters, we focus so much on invertebrates and fungi while it’s clear we need more people studying plants! Not even mentioning mosses, they’re not getting ided no matter how accurate record you have.

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I had my first encounter with bullying on inat today. I agreed with a spider identification in my backyard and because it was an over ID and I am a scientist somebody felt entitled to lay into me about it.

I would have been pleased to roll back the ID and learn something, but instead this person decided to question my integrity over this with comments like:

“Do you think the observations and IDs in iNaturalist are essentially worthless? Then why participate?”
"That seems like a very strange attitude for a scientist and biologist. "
“I don’t understand your nihilism.”
"I’m just puzzled. I am not surprised when the general public doesn’t understand the difficulty in accurately identifying organisms from photos, but I am confused when a professor of biology doesn’t seem to… "

I told the person to leave me alone and they didn’t. And then they even said that if they were called out for harassment that they would never help anyone again. A passive aggressive bully.

I flagged it but the curators dismissed it in 30 seconds saying that it was “clearly not inappropriate” to go at people like this. - I was shocked. I tried to reason with them, but they would not do anything, In the end I deleted the observation and blocked the user.

Sure, I am a scientists, but when it comes to using inat to identify bugs in my backyard I am an amateur. Such gatekeeping and shaming people publicly just kills enthusiasm and IMO any kind of activity like that should be handled swiftly, not whitewashed.


Some of the comments that you have quoted (and I appreciate it’s likely from memory and not in context) do seem very dismissive, but I wouldn’t view them as bullying. The “attitude” that you are describing is far more concerning to me than the actual words they used.

You state that it was raised with a curator. You have to remember that curators are volunteers in iNat, and although there is a review of the policy, any curator can make another user a curator, so it is possible that you have struck a mediator that is biased. If the response in such situations seems unusual compared with what you would expect, then you should take the matter to iNat staff via the help@inaturalist.org email. My experience has been that they are quite level headed and fair.

I have to say, that many of these type of issues start, and escalate, via misunderstandings from the nature of the communication medium. That said… there are a lot of inatters that have no clue about what iNat is about… but they still mean well and think they are doing the right thing…

And then there are those stresses, like covid, that affect how we all interface with the world :)


No, those are direct quotes form the person, not from memory. The mediators said that the person was being “genuinely curious” and then doubled down and said “It does come across as unexpected behavior for a scientist or biologist, e.g. for myself, I wouldn’t go to a natural history museum and annotate specimens unless I was familiar with identification of those specimens.” I am doing the best I can, trying to have fun and learn, I should have to be subjected to people questioning my scientific integrity in a pubic forum. This was not curiosity, this was an attempt at shaming.

I understand that people do science on these observations, in fact I have a project that I have cited in a paper. I have personally corrected thousands of identifications. I never once got on a high horse with people about mistakes they made or asked them why they even bother participating etc.

I have never seen such ugliness on inat before.

All I did was agree with an ID from someone else about a spider in my backyard.


Don’t listen to them, really, some people can be bullies even when they don’t intend to, and some just had their reasons to become one, you have all rigts to feel attacked, but please don’t let those people affect on how you participate in iNat, your observations is what matters and you matter, not what they say. I had one user writing some very agressive comments, checking some years old photos and complaining how bad they are and how they’re tired of them, like if I forced them to see those. But I learned the lesson and decided it is a bad way of things to agree with other ids, in the end we want the truth, not the first added id, which can be totally wrong even if we think it is right.

By the way it was changed and listed in @tiwane post about recent changes, so no more random curators (if there were any).


Yeah, I just reverse the situation and think that if some spider biologist Over IDed a turtle what would I do? I wouldn’t ask them why they did it, or question their approach, ask then why they even bother participating, etc. I’d just give a new ID and move on. (EDIT: I might explain why I gave a new ID)

In this case the person’s ID removed it from being research grade so the bad data problem was already solved.

Comments like that should be deleted if flagged as they have absolutely zero value and I’d argue that they are deleterious.


Bearing in mind that I’m only getting one channel on your exchanges wit this person, I’m actually wishing that you hadn’t deleted the comments so I could see who made them. It’s always nice to know who to avoid. Anybody who made those sorts of comments on my observation could count on me sharing them widely with attribution (and maybe a smiley face).

People act like jerks for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes they’re having a bad day. Sometimes they think they’re being funny. Sometimes they’re just clueless. Regardless, the only sensible reaction to that sort of garbage is to be grateful that you didn’t wake up in that person’s head and move on. As an old friend of mine used to say, time wounds all heels.


I feel like this thread has the potential to turn quite sour. This is understandable given the issues being discussed, but I would hate to see someone write something in the heat of the moment that they will later regret. I’m going to temporarily close this thread for a little while just to let everyone cool off, re-evaluate, and approach things with a level head. I’m not saying that anyone has done anything wrong thus far, I just don’t want things to get to that point :)


I guess one thing we can all agree with is there is no need for arguments and nasty tones. Oh, and @jamesparham, welcome to the Forum!


I agree.

I also wanted to share a very recent story of identification. Several months ago, I helped to identify what was believed to be a White-spotted Canker Moth from @amacnaughton; however, it turned out to be a White-fringed Pyrausta Moth. Yesterday, @amacnaughton kindly sent me a gracious email urging me to review my ID.

About a month ago, another observer provided a different ID for this observation. That ID seems to be correct, so I withdrew my original ID. Could you have a look at this observation and see what you think?



I had no idea that there was a White-fringed Pyrausta Moth; to top it off, it is so similar to some White-spotted Canker Moths. Although, in hindsight, it really does not have the white spot indicative of White-spotted Canker Moths. I definitely need to be more careful for future identifications of White-spotted Canker Moths. This is assuming I get some the time to identify them, of course.


(Hey all, please remember you can reply to multiple people in the same post by quoting them)

I’m sorry this happened. If this happens again, please notify help@inaturalist.org so we can investigate and see if there’s a pattern. If you want to delete the observation, please send us screenshots of the content before doing so.

Working on some drafts this week, actually, which is exciting! But it will take time to work through it and then implement, unfortunately. Keep in mind that onboarding needs to be drafted, then refined, then designs must be finished, then it also needs to be coded correctly, etc, etc. And all of us are working on multiple projects at the same time.

More broadly, I think it’s important for us to step back and remember a few things:

  • Very few of us know each other outside of iNat. We’re a global community of people with incredibly diverse histories, cultures, languages, and ways of experiencing the world. We don’t know each others’ backgrounds or what anyone might be going through at the moment. We don’t know how someone communicates in person, and we can easily misinterpret tone, intention, etc. That’s why the iNat Community Guidelines ask that we assume others mean well. So if something rubs you the wrong way, try to start off by assuming the best unless there is a lot of evidence to the contrary.

  • Conversely, we don’t know how our words might be construed (or misconstrued) by others, so the burden is also on us to use diplomatic language - especially with strangers. What we intend and what is heard by others can be quite different. For example, I’m a pretty sarcastic person among those who know me well, but I do my best to not bring that to discussions here and on iNat. We all slip up sometimes, though, and don’t realize it. I’d say in those situations, it’s best to provide calm, constructive feedback to the person, let them know how their words were interpreted, and try to reach an understanding. If not, then disengagement might be necessary.


There are many species that are quite similar in appearance. To be able to correctly ID those species to species level requires that the observer provide all of the requisite information to do so.

Too often, the observers provide either incomplete information, or are not aware of some of the characteristics necessary to correctly ID to the species level. I have had multiple experiences with requesting additional necessary information for a species ID, only to have the observer respond in a negative fashion. Perhaps the most commonly encountered ones for me are Couch’s/Tropical Kingbird observations in South Texas. These two species are nearly impossible to reliably separate in the field based exclusively on physical appearance. But their vocalizations are quite different. We identifiers regularly request vocalization information before making a species level ID, unless the information is provided up front. It’s unfortunate that some observers take offense to that.


Very true, but also too often taking place is the opposite, where the user does provide or state that information and they still get told, ‘nope, not acceptable, get a recording or a microscope photo of what you observed in the hand lens next time’ etc.

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Odd. I was thinking about Diplomacy while out on a walk with the dog this morning (saw Nuthatches, crows, Black capped Chickadees, and Blue Jays). Diplomacy can be a hard thing to learn - it involves the ability to talk around an issue without causing offense, but also conveying meaning. It also involves understanding when to press an issue, and when to back off. I think many people pick up these basics intuitively, but some do not. If the commenter on an issue does not have those skills, it also behooves the recipient to exercise diplomacy. I’m also sarcastic, and like to make jokes, but I’m learning that my humour is not always appropriate (I learned a long time ago that sarcasm is rarely appreciated). I like the rule “assume people mean no harm”, and would also add ‘learn not to take offense’. I still struggle a bit with the latter, but I’m learning.


Heh! I pretty much only do birds now. Tough to view them in a hand lense:-)


I’m going to close this thread - the OP has had solutions offered, and it’s strayed to other issues.

Please keep in mind that the forum is not a place to post complaints but a place to ask questions about and/or suggest solutions to issues.