Respecting ownership of observations


In that particular case I would add a comment with the ID saying that I had chosen to identify the dominant plant and include the ID of the other too if I new it. That makes it easy for the observer to see the ambiguity of their observation and correct our assumptions.


It’s tricky, isn’t it. I believe wholeheartedly that as things currently stand, the onus on the observer should be to declare what the subject is, and the onus on the identifier should be to respect the observer’s intent—and to ask for clarification if necessary.

It is difficult when an observer makes observations in which the subject is uncertain. The best an identifier can do in the current set up is to ask for clarification, but it relies on the observer taking action in response. If the observer isn’t on iNaturalist very often, or is new, or is not particularly diligent, these requests for clarification may go unfulfilled.

Now all that is rightly frustrating, and is particularly so when the observer is a repeat offender, so to speak. But it is how the system is set up. A solution, of course, would be to say that an observer does not have a right to declare the subject of their own observation—but I think that would cause more problems than it solves. Another solution would be to allow curators to split up or duplicate observations with more than one potential subject—this could be a gentle helping hand for new or inexperienced observers, and would prevent irritated non-curators from making rash modifications.

At what point does an anthropogenic introduction become wild?

Since iNat frames itself as a social network, it always seemed clear to me that my observations, photos, IDs, comments, journal posts, etc. are “mine”. The community ID is not “mine”, but I can choose to opt out of it I want to.

No, I don’t want other users creating observations on my account without my permission. I’m welcome to suggestions though—for me to do the duplication of my own observations. I do suggest this to others occasionally. “On the website, you could duplicate this and use the same photo for the host plant by clicking Edit>Duplicate…”

Yeah, I’d be likely to opt out of community ID in a “contested” situation…

I have IDed a different subject in the photo when it was a duplicate observation, such as two observations using the same photo of a butterfly on a flower, where each was IDed as the butterfly, and I interjected with an ID of the flower. I only would do this if the user was unresponsive to removing/fixing their duplicates and/or as a suggestion, which I’d be happy to remove if requested by the observer.

Example: This account not maintained by the user who took the photos, to which many hundreds of duplicate observations have been uploaded and went unfixed for years: (though you can see that another user was not happy with my decision(s)…!)

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I agree that that is a reasonable course of action where one would otherwise just be a duplicate observation, but really that is just out of my sense of ‘tidyness’ and not wanting to ‘waste’ an observation as simply being a ‘useless’ duplicate. But as in other cases, including when someone has deliberately used ‘copy’ to duplicate an observation, you have the side effect that you have an observation in an inappropriate project - ’ eButterfly North America’, which also needs to be cleaned up.


Not an issue with collection projects, and traditional project curators do have tools to find unsuitable observations (option1 / option 2).

But yeah, if there were some butterfly related tags / description / observation fields / annotations I would probably be less likely to “re-ID” and more likely to flag to mark as casual if the observer continues to be unresponsive.


This discussion did remind me of a observation i did dublicate lately … a branch with flowers and plant galls on the leaves.
I now updated the plant galls observation with a cropped image, to make clear what this observation is about.
flowering branch

Hope this this simple photo editing tool helps other users too, to make clear what they want to observe.


Here is a similar example, where it is clear to me that the user has created an observation of a bird, then duplicated it and tried to identify the plant

But three successive people have seemed to want to make it into an exact duplicate of the original, instead of honouring the observer’s explicit intentions.

The mis-understanding appears to simply be that the duplication process replicated the fields and projects from the original, creating confusion in some people minds, whereas the intention appears very plain to me. And if the simple rule of thumb is ‘honour the observer’s subject choice’ there would be no confusion.


As I started reading this topic, I had a feeling it was this observation!

I totally agree with the whole ownership thing, and if it were just the description, I would put the grass.

Jon’s class was undertaking bird counts, and I did find it confusing in that the class (or maybe it was a different one?) was also doing pollinators… When I review Jon’s students observations I tag him with any issues I see, as I imagine that he is acting in a mentor capacity and can guide the student into correcting or amending the observation.

For the pollinators project, there is often two observations, the plant and the pollinator. In this last incarnation of the project, it got confusing, because the students would upload a photo of the plant, we all IDd as such, and then they deleted that photo and put in microscope photos of the insect pollinators… ouch! The ol’ switcheroo… but that is why we review stuff, to catch problems and discuss them and, as in this case, find a way through it!

For the birdcounts it seldom is about anything other than the birds, so I determined in this case that the bird count fields would override the description.

To be honest, in this case I think the subject could be determined to be either, and perhaps it is a good example of CID in action in that it won’t settle on either until the owner of the observation provides more clarity on the intended subject!

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This is kind of a “duress observer” situation which is mitigated somewhat with a mentor (the lecturer). It is also further complicated with a language barrier in that many of the students (and @jon_sullivan should correct me if my assumption is wrong) are not English as a first language.


and one last point, there is no dishonouring of the observers intent here. I am not an absentee identifier, and if the observer clarifies the subject I can change my ID position accordingly!


I think it would be a reasonable addition to the Identification Etiquette wiki.


@mreith I’m glad you noted the point about cropping the images. While I know it would be (prohibitively?) time-consuming for some, I think that a quite a bit of confusion/discussion/etc could be avoided if observers would include a cropped version of the subject of the obs along with the original “context” shot.

This would have the added benefit of providing better “training materials” for the computer vision/AI algorithms, as cropped images will teach it more quickly and accurately. It does a remarkable job a lot of the time, but it does miss occasionally :-)

With respect to the ownership of the records, as I’ve posted elsewhere (with a slightly different focus), I think observers should own and have control over their observations until such time as they go awol, either voluntarily or as a consequence of the march of time (“awol” needing definition), at which point some aspects of control could be assigned to curators, staff, and/or other august individuals.

I agree with the many thoughtful posts above suggest - using comments to suggest splits or to confirm obs target is a great approach. It’s also a good way to bring overlooked observations to the observers’ attention. Some of the most prolific observers have blocks of unidentified or otherwise unclear observations, and I suspect that when uploaded there was a glitch, or they thought they’d IDed the whole page before hitting Submit but hadn’t, or intended to return but forgot, etc.


I think you are over thinking this!

The observer couldn’t be clearer - the description and identification are 100% consistent.

To insist on identifying it as a bird is simply to turn it into an exact duplicate of the orignal observation and is pointless.


Another common case is where the observer doesn’t add an initial ID or description (maybe they had a placeholder?), but now realises things are going the wrong way: … its their observation so the action needed is clear …


To override someone’s ID of intended organism with something else is definitely uncalled for and against both the spirit and rules of inat. Though in the case of the duplicate observation from a user who is no longer active I could kinda see it.


I think it is almost always unintended, but as someone used to say “it’s the putting right that counts”. I suppose the exception is joke observations (eg human as crocodille). I can go either way with duplicate observations, but there is another thread about what should be done with them (

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ive thought about things like this before, i wish there was a way for the community to down-vote an observation for reasons like this. this observation was completely thrown off of what it was meant to be and theres no good way to direct it back. even if the fruit is clearer than the bugs, the observer clearly IDed it as an observation of insects, which another identifier (me) agreed with and narrowed down, so its clear its not about the fruit. to override the observers intended observation target definitely feels like disrespecting the observer, especially when you can just comment instead adding whatever ID or other addition feels necessary, therefore not throwing off the intended ID. in this case i assume the person might not have noticed, but this isnt the first time ive come across situations like this.

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If the wayward identifiers are stil active I usually @ ping them in case they were just IDing from the thumbnail and hadn’t seen the full observation. But if I know it is someone who seldom responds to @ pings, I usually call upon another iNat colleague to help out.


I suspect most cases like this are accidental, but it does highlight the iNaturalist advice to crop one’s photo(s) as much as possible to the organism of interest, maybe putting an uncropped version at the end for context. This would likely reduce inadvertent IDs of the wrong organism. If I see a whole rotting fruit with a few small insects on it in a stream of ID work, my first impression will be that the fruit is the subject. Hopefully I remember to slow down and inspect the rest of the photos / IDs / description / comments before adding an ID.

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Yes. If it’s clear that the observer means for the observation to be of a certain subject in the photo, then you should ID that subject (if you can). If it’s not clear, then ask them. I don’t think they effectively “lose control” of the subject if they don’t immediately make it clear upon upload.

I’m not sure there’s a significant downside to letting an obs go unidentified here or there, aside from it being tough for the fastidious among us (meaning most IDers, including me) to accept. To me, the person uploaded a photo of something they wanted to share and get IDs/comments on, and we shouldn’t decide what the subject is (in ambiguous situations).

Suggestion on how to include habitat images