Research credibility

can inaturalist data used for citation in research just like ebird


welcome to iNat

yes absolutely, there are now (literally) thousands of papers that utilise iNat data in a huge diversity of ways.

You may find this thread, and its earlier iterations linked to at the top of the page, useful:


iNaturalist is a terrific source of data for research. As with all science though, the researcher (not iNaturalist) is responsible for the quality of the data. The more familiar you are with iNaturalist, as an observer and identifier, the better you can filter it for reliable data for the questions you want to answer. So being a power user is a good first step!


Yes! It annoys me when I find papers that were clearly written by someone who doesn’t understand the data because they never contribute to it with ID’s, they just swoop in and take the data that we have been curating.

An example of this recently was a bee paper that used iNat data and the authors described Research Grade as: “observations ID’d by two experts” which is not only extremely wrong, but clearly demonstrates that the authors do not understand the data they are using and therefore will miss pitfalls in the data. In my opinion, that makes the entire article worthless.

Another issue is that descriptions like that are a big reason why iNat data is sometimes criticized: researchers read that, see mis-ID’s, and get walk away with the conclusion that iNat data can’t be trusted. If an author who is not an iNat user is planning on using iNat data, then they need to either start actively using the site, or partner up with a regular user. This would help avoid data issues, and prevent blatantly wrong statements.


it’s also a big help when reviewers of iNat papers have used iNat, good safety net to pick up mistakes


And, an amusing way to pick up scientists who - casually scoop up data, without evaluating it.

:rofl: It might be. But you need to evaluate your ‘experts’ first.


Well… they were identified as experts by at least two primate specialists.


The second identifier accepted the first as ‘expert’, and the second was by the academic author of the research article?

I dislike this form of data mining where the user has contributed little or nothing to the data or the data quality itself but uses the information (and may also criticize it) in order to publish something. I’ve seen similar projects using museum specimen data where the user has not done their due diligence to check and correct IDs nor given credit where it’s appropriate to the original sources. The product is often sloppy and tarnished with inaccurate information. Every data source has errors, and if you’re not part of the quality control to find and fix them, you use those data at your own risk.


Yes those authors seem to have an abject ignorance when it comes to understanding pitfalls regarding collections and citizen science. Unfortunately, misinforming people who are trying to read these.

I know of an iNat project that appears to be in this category. The owner has two or three observations, two or three ID’s, but he’s actively collecting observations for his study. I view this as stealing the work of the identifiers.

If this data is to be used, working with the major identifiers of the dataset being studied should be a must. It would help the authors understand which regions/taxon are in a state fit for publishing. This would also help authors understand potential problems with certain data; like which species are frequently mis-ID’d, or which species are difficult to ID and are therefore mostly at higher taxon levels. Working with several identifiers would also allow for 100% review of the dataset. Imagine if more papers prioritized being able to say: “all observations used were reviewed by a combination of these six (or whatever number of reviewers were judged reliable by the authors) identifiers with a percentage breakdown from each identifier below”. That would lend significantly more credibility to the data then just thanking a few people in small print at the end of the paper.


I published a few papers where I used iNat observations, but I verified all the identifications or added identifications myself. And mentioned the observers in the acknowledgements.


Is there any iNat guideline (or rules, or t&c, or code of conduct, or…) stating what is acceptable or not when it comes to profiting (professionally or academically) from other users’ (observers’, identifiers’) unpaid work? I couldn’t locate it.

(Ultimately, I suppose it should be the reviewers’ or supervisors’ duty to deal with flaws or misconduct in data acquisition and processing.)

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There have been extensive discussions about copyright law and such on the forum in the past. My personal non-professional understanding is that an ID doesn’t qualify as intellectual property and thus does not fall under legal protection. Etiquette may be another matter.

At the end of the day, any identifier can remove their ID at any time – or just… not give the ID in the first place. If you want to get paid, don’t volunteer your work for free?

I understand some people do sell their time to make IDs but there’s no way they can claim ownership of the ID itself after the fact, I think.


Unfortunately no. And it’s not just confined to iNat or other citizen science sites. There are a lot of papers using data from collections that don’t understand which records should be considered questionable because the authors don’t consult with collection specialists or credit the main identifiers of those collections. Downloading a dataset off of GBIF doesn’t tell you what percentage of that collection hasn’t been reviewed: there’s a large collection that I visit occasionally that has about 7% of their Bombus unreviewed, and because the other reviews are older, several recent taxonomic changes are not shown on GBIF.


OK, I really suck at getting understood it seems :sweat_smile:
It is neither a matter of copyright, nor one of money. Just of ethics, hence my using the words “code of conduct” (rather than “international copyright law”, or “taxonomist job contract”). Like a checkbox upon registration “if I use iNat to perform school/work duties I get academic credit/money for, I will be upfront about it prior to asking others to help me with it”, or something like that, IDK.

I personally find it a bit weird that iNat considers a non-subject when students, pupils, interns, or workers come here to have thirdparties do their professional/school/academic duties in their stead. How could you check for proper credit/acknowledgements, if people conceal their use, and are not even slightly encouraged to give due credit where appropriate? Maybe that’s some cultural bias on my side :)

edit: it could even take the form of a simple sentence, as cautiously vague as “Please keep in mind that iNaturalist’s primary function is not to help pupils, students and science workers get their assignments or duties done by others; if you intend to use it to this avail, which is perfectly fine with us, please consider letting other users know beforehand, for some users may have ethical issues with it and, even though not legally required, may appreciate being given proper credit”.
Something not binding, no legal threat, no harsh wording like “exam fraud”, no copyright or money topic, just a call to good feelings, being upfront, a nice fellow, an honest member of a benevolent community, that sort of thing


Yeah, I’d say it’s mostly an ethical problem in conjunction with some degree of ignorance on the part of the writers.
I would imagine most of us ID stuff because it is fun and not as much with the mentality of volunteering our time. To me, the fact that it is helpful is merely justification for sitting in front of a computer for hours and not actually the prime motive for doing so.


One of the two main purposes of iNaturalist is to make data available to researchers. Therefore, researchers freely using that data seems perfectly OK to me.

I consider acknowledgement for observers and identifiers entirely optional in most cases, and easily accomplished by posting one’s dataset on-line. The exception? Any individual observation that presents a new species or a large disjunction in range deserves recognition in the paper, in my opinion.


iNaturalist is designed as a forum for sharing data. I don’t think you can steal something that is freely given. And there are many ways to contribute to the community. I don’t know which study you are referring to, but I don’t object to someone including my observations in a project of their own, regardless of their own level of involvement in iNaturalist. Such collations might have value to the community, or they might not. But they don’t take anything away from me when they incorporate my work in theirs.

Indeed, for people that aren’t yet confident in making their own identifications, and don’t have time/access/etc to make their own observations, curating collections of observations may be the best way they can contribute to the community.

There are etiquette issues of course. Having published papers that use iNaturalist data, it is important to properly acknowledge the source. Formally this is done via a DOI issued by GBIF.

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Acknowledgement of observers would be required for many of the observations posted on iNat based on the CC license terms. Now, someone might make the case that some parts of observations are not copyrightable (which is likely true) so the CC license requirement to acknowledge might be legally unenforceable. Posting a link to the dataset, assuming it contains the observers’ names, observation licenses, and links to the licenses should generally fulfill the CC requirements, but I think this type of acknowledgement should be required, and not considered optional. When I’ve reviewed papers that don’t include this minimum, I require it in my reviews.


Yes, I agree. Posting the dataset is, I think, the best way to deal with the issues of ethics and licensing.

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