Pseudonyms vs real names

Hello all. I’ve been identifying dragonfly and damselfly observations in Latin America for some time now, and I submitted observations of about 50 Odonata species that weren’t on iNaturalist yet as a gesture to the program. But I have one persistent problem with iNaturalist. It is said to be a citizen science program, yet as far as I know, science involves truth, and I don’t understand why more of the people (I would hope all) posting on iNaturalist don’t use their real names. Real names are used on all the other citizen science programs that I have participated in: eBird, Odonata Central, and Even Facebook, which is not a citizen-science program, insists on real names. By using real names, people take responsibility for their observations. When I find an interesting dragonfly post, I have no idea who “forestboy” or “naturelover” is (made-up names, but someone might be using them). Can’t people please switch to using their own names to take responsibility for the “science” part of citizen science? Thanks.


This website is made up of people all over the world. Even if I had my full name on my account, less than 1% of the people in my city know who I am. Naturelover and forestboy are just as unique as John Smith. Many screen names are more unique than a real name. I am curious about local people with screen names when I see them, but if they don’t want their name public, that isn’t reducing the quality of their observations. There is plenty of garbage posted on here and everywhere else on the internet with real or legitimate sounding names. I know plenty of Facebook users who don’t use their real name or have several accounts.


Well, as far as I know, that section says:

Display Name
This is the name that will be displayed on your profile as well as for copyright attribution

Instead of

Full Name

So no, I guess we won’t anytime soon. Plus, I guess some people, like me, don’t really want to give out our real names, and so we just use the Display Name instead.


There’re tons of reasons to not use real names, having locations on observations means you can see where person is, so anonymity is understandable, why not use their logins as their names as Internet does throughout its history? Social platforms have totally different reasons why they ask for real name (but they can’t check it).


I can think of a few reasons.

First of all, the main purpose of the website is to increase people’s engagement with nature. GBIF and other places chose of their own volition to use iNat data since it has proven to be reliable.

Second, there are many people here who hide their names for security or comfort. There’s a lot of kids on here from 13 and up, or people who just don’t want to be harassed. I know of one professor who uses a pseudonym just so her students don’t find and bug her.


I think one good reason that some people don’t use their real or full names is that they are posting from locations that are associated with them (like homes, workplaces, etc.) where they’d like/need some degree of privacy. They could also choose to obscure those locations to maintain privacy, but this would decrease the usefulness of any observations they upload as scientific data.

As a researcher, I personally don’t think that not having full names of observers is a serious flaw in any data created by iNat (there are many other more serious ones if I want to use the data!). For observations I wanted more info on, I’ve contacted individual users and often ended up knowing their names. Also, some folks post their names in their profiles (maybe just not as a part of their user name).

As far as reliability goes, ideally the observation should be verifiable in and of itself (ie evidence in photo/sound, location, etc.). I don’t think that having the observer’s full legal name enhances that accuracy. If someone wanted to be a bad actor and intentionally post erroneous observations, they could do so whether their real name were listed or not.

Lastly, how would iNat ever go about enforcing a full name requirement? Some apps/sites do this (usually those dealing with lots of money), but it’s a ton of work! Not worth it here imo.


I personally have no issue with the use of pseudonyms but I would love to have something more than the “insert name here” “is a naturalist!” in most profiles if they are offering Ids, esp on obscure things.which is not at all helpful when trying to establish an identifiers credentials.


I personally find this helpful too (also in figuring out who to ask for advice for future observations). Though I would be worried about pushing people to include credentials as it could a) encourage people to drop credentials more which I often think shuts down conversation and can come off as elitist and b) might discourage newer users from making IDs if they don’t have some kind of background. There might be a way to tactfully encourage this without coming across as overbearing in onboarding or something when people are creating their profile.


Yes, because most people don’t even bother filling out their About, so you have no idea who they even are.


Our national broadcaster has a real names requirement policy to use their comments section.

Amazing how many John Smith’s and Robert Loblaw’s we have in Canada…


A lot of vulnerable people would never use iNaturalist if they knew their abuser or harasser would be able to find out where they like to spend time in nature.

Hell, I wondered about using my own name in the beginning, as a professional in a non-science area. I don’t need my clients and adversaries checking up on my weekend locations, I thought to myself. I got over that concern, but it could still come back to bite me, I suppose.


Absolutely! And in general, folks (especially women) need to guard their safety. There are a lot of human predators out there. I frequently know where friends are by their observation locations; I’m fine with friends knowing where I am, but not with people in general. This is especially true when it’s fairly easy to figure out where people live through their observations.


@dennispaulson —I agree with you but we are certainly in the minority regarding pseudonyms. It’s rather frustrating at times to not know who is IDing or submitting something and the anonymity makes it impossible to assess the validity. Sure, I understand the desire for many to be anonymous on websites but it does run counter to the openness of science where your name is associated with your works. However I realize it’s something that won’t be changing.

@jnstuart - I guess you are right about it not changing. All with real concerns about their safety should of course protect themselves, but I would guess that there are many more on iNat who use pseudonyms just for the fun of it. It’s frustrating when people don’t even indicate what country they live in or anything about their qualifications as a naturalist. Right now that seems to be the majority of people whose observations I check. Even with these failings, I consider much of what iNaturalist gives the scientific community to be worthwhile.

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Even though I use my real name on here, I see no issue with people using pseudonyms. Facebook only requires real names because their entire business model is stealing and selling people’s personal information so that marketers can sell them stuff they don’t need, so that’s not a good argument for requiring it here. If people want to have that extra layer of privacy here, why not let them?


I would never use my real name in a setting like this. It’s not just about safety, as many already pointed out (a reason why I still upload travel observations only after I’m back for example) . It’s also about privacy. I am pretty active as uploader and identifier and using my real name would allow everyone (e.g. nosy employers) to know exactly what I did on a certain date and time. That is nobody’s buissnes!

Using iNat is my daily activity to relax, even when the day was stressful… Being too concerned about who might know and maybe think “oh, she has time for this but not for that!” would most certainly drop my activity.

I have abandoned online places before that required usage of real names in public, despite them sometimes being EXACTLY in my sweetspot. I and for sure some others would do it again.

BTW - I have no issue sharing my identity and background in private and did so many times in background conversations. So if you are really interested in the identity of certain identifiers you might give it a shot and just ask. But actually, witnessing some amazing identifier without any formal education here, I don’t think knowing whether someone has a degree or not will always guide you in the right direction… Some of the most active and amazing identifiers are just enthusiasts (says someone who has a formal degree but knows, where she is coming from)


It seems to me that you either have to be grateful to see exact localities or give that up if you want real names. Because a significant % of users will not employ any app that shows the entire world the times, dates, and places they happen to be at any particular moment. Even many scientists I know are far more private people than that.


I know from experience in botany that many people involved in it praise the high principle of “objectivity” while at the same time they single out experts to either praise them or condemn them. But you can´t have both subjectivity and objectivity (in my opinion views, even scientifc views are never quite “objective” as they always come from the minds of individuals looking at objects) and that´s why I use an alias and would never condemn anyone doing the same. Credentials (voluntarily given or researched via a real name) are all well and nice but in the region where I live there is a saying (roughly translated into English): “Even a clever cat sometimes does let go of a mouse.” No expert I know of never makes mistakes. But what do you do in that case? Condemn him or her? Or still believe everything the expert says? In the end you have to decide for yourself.


is profoundly unhelpful!
Where are you, who are you, what biodiversity are you interested in ???
I click to their obs … where - OK, what - also useful.


Dear Dennis Paulson,
I use my real name and face, since I was tricked into it by the great Google (remember Google Plus, must have a clear headshot

But. Step back. Anybody could pick a random name - like Dennis Paulson? Then find a random photo, of a man in this case - easy to scrape up a random photo on Google. Tick. Bonus points for the large camera.

We … have no way of knowing who D P is, if he even exists IRL. I can google your name, and see if there is a virtual footprint which fits dragonflies (google says you are a golfer?) I can use Google’s Search By Image to track down the source of ‘your’ photo.

Or. I can simply accept that - This Person, seems to know about IDing dragonflies, will leave comments explaining why it is, or isn’t. That is all we need.