Unknowledgeable commentators


I just read this and recognized the observation that kestrelhaven is talking about. I am the “unknowledgeable commentator.” Since the observation would be obvious to anyone who looked through his recent observations, I’ll address it here.

No, I did not “reduce known IDs to genus level for no apparent reason and without comment.” The original ID was wrong at both the species level and the genus level. I provided the correct ID at the genus level. And I provided an explanation within a few hours of his request for one, before I saw this post.

I don’t know if the rest of his commentary was directed at me, but I suspect it is because of the large number of IDs I have provided. I feel I need to clarify that I make butterfly IDs from the “Needs ID” queue; I’m not running up the total by verifying observations already at research grade. Any of the regular butterfly identifiers can verify that the current incoming volume is huge. It’s like drinking from a fire hose. All of us who regularly identify butterflies from “Needs ID” have large numbers of IDs.


No offense, but then why are you speed identifying seemingly everything that is already RG?

I don’t really get what you are trying to say here about maverick IDs?

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This thread bothers me more than most. I guess because I feel that I make ID’s mostly because I hope I’m helping improve the data (and partly because it’s a more interesting time-waster to me than playing solitaire on-line) – but how would you know? I’ve gotten to the top of the leaderboard for some plants (at least once tied for first with 1 ID!) and that’s pleasant, but not a goal. Are the people you detect doing this actually just trying to dominate without learning how to ID? How could you actually know?

If I put in the genus or family name for something that has been ID’d to species, there are two possibilities. First, I’m sure the ID is wrong and I click the orange button that shows up. I should provide an explanation and often do, but not if I’m tired. Second, I don’t know but want to mark that I’ve seen the record, and I use the green button. If I didn’t explain and you want an explanation, please ask!

Sometimes I pick a plant of some interest to me and I go through and identify as many records as possible. Sometimes, especially if it’s prone to misidentification, I check “Research Grade” observations as well as “needs ID.” For some recent Phleum pratense from Russia (from a class, I think), mine was the fifth or sixth confirming ID. Given how often this species is misidentified, I don’t think that’s bad.

I don’t worry that yet another identification “takes up valuable space.” If iNaturalist is running out of computer space I hope someone will announce that and there are several things we can do to deal with it, including make monetary donations to California Academy of Science, marked to go to iNaturalist.

Do some people provide confirming identifications from ignorance? Certainly! Even I do it occasionally, though I try to learn. The worst examples I’ve seen involve students confirming each others’ badly identified observations. Do people try to race up the leaderboard? Some do. Does this reflect ego unsupported by skill? In some cases. It’s sad to see this, but I’ve learned I can’t make other humans better so I try to ignore it, or mutter a few choice comments and move on. If they do it with easily identified or mostly correct observations, it’s not even particularly harmful.

Are leader boards valuable? They help us consult people who know the plants well. So they’re often valuable but not always. Which is about as good as it gets with citizen science, volunteer projects, in my opinion. I just can’t see value in worrying that they may promote competition in some people and sometimes that competition may be unhealthy.

Grouchy person here who should get back to identifying – maybe even running up leaderboards! Woo-hoo!


I read a comment by a person a year or two ago - even if an account is not active, it serves as a ‘trace’ for anyone who comes afterwards. Personally, if I make a change, I make a comment. It takes a bit more time, but I see it as a courtesy.


(Slight digression- I’ve been doing larva/adult annotations on the back side and I’ve been astonished lately at how those Lep page counts grow. Thanks to you and the regulars for even giving it a try!)


I know what you mean about assuming motives for the leaderboards. I’ve accidentally ended up in the #1 on leaderboards before. And when I say accidentally, I mean I wasn’t even trying to get on the leaderboard:

(Example 1) by submitting several observations to a taxon without many total observations. At the time, there were only around 20 observations of genus Podagrion, and I had submitted 4 of those, with IDs on those 4 and others, which made me suddenly the top Identifier.

(Example 2) By agreeing to the ID as a way of favoriting an observation which was, at the time, the only observation for that taxon. I’m not surprised that put me on the leaderboard, but I was the third person to ID that observation; the first or second Identifier should have been above me on the leaderboard.


I really appreciate your contribution to this discussion and agree with alot of what you said. In fact, I created an account on the forum just to reply to this thread.

I was under the understanding when I joined inaturalist that, if I studied enough and learned to ID well, I would be contributing to the quality of data and helping others. So, I do look up favorite plants that I have studied and verify the IDs on them. I do not make it a goal to be on a leaderboard. Because I use the mobile app on my ipad most of the time, I wasnt even aware of the leaderboards…maybe I just got too focused. Because, I like helping others and felt this was some sort of helpful endeavor, I do spent alot of time verifying others IDs. So…I have ended up the leaderboards.

No, I am not a scientist. No, I do not have a degree. But, this site has added an immense amount of joy to my life and helped me to grow in many ways. Everyday I feel thankful for finding inaturalist. I am a full time caregiver for my very sick mother…so all this really helps me.

I don’t want any prizes. I just want to do what I can so others find the same joy in nature, I have and keep being motivated to learn.


I liked iNaturalist before, but now that I’m mostly stuck home, I spend most of my time on it, posting whatever I managed to photo lately and identifying things. Enjoyable and way to help (I hope), while sitting here at my desk.

By the way, being a professional just means you’re paid for the work. Some professional are very good at identification, some not. I worked and got expert at certain things before I was ever paid. Some of the experts in certain groups are retired people or those pursuing an interest as an engrossing hobby. Some famous botanists and others were never professionals.


I agree with you there. I identify Noctuidae from the “Needs ID” queue, mostly just to get the identifications into the system. I’ve also got large numbers of ID’s - it goes with the territory. Some only take a few seconds to confirm, but I’ve also spent hours on one confirmation. Like you, I’m not adding third or fourth confirmations for numbers (although I have had a few occasions where I invested a lot of effort only to find out someone has already confirmed it. I’ll add a third id then, because it’s the only reward I get!). Like @sedgequeen, these conversations bother me. We all have our reasons for doing what we do, and how we do it. I don’t really think incorrect identifications are a huge problem, not compared to the numbers of correct identifications. I’m in this because I like doing it, it helps catalogue species diversity, because I get a chance to help others…etc.
I’m sorry that you were singled out, by the way.


Well! After that noble-sounding statement about my desire to help improve the iNaturalist database, I went and speed-identified North American Verbascum identifications into a bit of a mess. I get to spend today fixing it. Drat!


Heartily agree regarding “professional” vs “amateur”. It’s a very blurry line between the two. Inevitably the most knowledgeable people out there are the ones motivated by love and dedication to documenting and understanding the natural world; something other than money. The root/essence of “amateur” is to do something “for the love of it”. Such a pure and noble calling. As a “professional”, I remind myself how lucky I am to get paid for some of what I love to do, and I strive to be worthy of being an “amateur” in that purest sense as well.


I have argued that ‘Citizen Scientist’ should be replaced by ‘amateur scientist’, mainly for the reasons you have given. Apparently now it is seen as a pejorative term, but I think us amateurs need to reclaim it!


A system for establishing reputation, that allowed knowledgable people to confer reputation to others they recognized as knowledgable, would benefit everyone. I suppose there would be ways to game that, too, but I think it’d still be a marked improvement over the current system.

That has been frequently discussed, and rejected by iNat.


I’m not nearly that dedicated, passionate, or noble.

Well, shoot, now I feel like I have to change my iNat profile text from “rankest of amateurs”. Maybe “filthy casual”, to borrow a gaming term? :laughing:


Just to clarify, the site has clearly and repeatedly said they will not implement any kind of reputation system based on external factors (education, profession etc) or one where users can designate others as experts to grant them more ‘power’.

While I understand there are no current plans to implement it, they have not outright rejected a system where your contributions to the site are built up into some kind of reputation system. The site has stated should they ever decide to initiate some kind of reputation system, it will solely be based on contributions to the site.


“on your terms, independent of a built in” … This is exactly the type of observer bias I’d rather avoid though. This sort of determination should be data driven in order to improve the UX of new and casual users. I have no business vetting someone outside the biota I’m familiar with. That’s why I should be able to depend on the built in mechanism.
If we say it’s a problem, but don’t substantiate it with data; when you say ‘look it up yourself’ you’re asking each user to repeat the same set of speed bump tasks and that’s antithetical to the value of community ID.
These don’t seem like good solutions to the problem being posed.

But. We do, each want to learn to ID that for ourselves. What I am unfamiliar with I may fave or follow, but I won’t ID.


I do not think there is any specificneed for that. Well, maybe beginners might benefit from that. It is very easy to check the reputation of the leaderboard or whoever. Just to tag them when in problem or ask for a comment/explanation or any specific question onthe species/species group the person is on the leaderboard for. The real ones will answer. Even in the cases when the answer is negative - when the person in question does not work with the species in the region you are interested in.

I hear that, but I rely on agreeing IDs to help me learn. An overabundance of agreeing IDs may just reflect someone’s “game” that they play with iNaturalist. If you are looking at, for instance, plants that need ID for IDs you can confirm, as I have lately, you are helping the observation reach research grade.

I have a hard time believing that there are users motivated by increasing their numbers, but if that’s helping me learn by confirming or disputing my IDs, I’m still grateful

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