Why not empower recognised experts?

GBIF isn’t a recording platform, it is an aggregator of data from other places, which can and do use conflicting taxonomies. Yes you can search using any name you want, but they still use a single integrated taxonomic backbone.

Yes I can search on records submitted from their datasets as Larus argentatus smithsonianus. But if I look up that name it will tell me it is a synonym.

Searching based on multiple attributes is well built into most systems, but I’m asking about the initial recording of the data.

I’m sorry if my question which I tried to emphasize was a legitimate inquiry somehow exposes my naivety.


Every time I see those dark youngs of smithsonianus I think about why we have that old version of gull taxonomy, but then I remember about pain while iding barabensis and heuglini from distant shots that now can stay at Larus fuscus level, well, it’s not that bad.


Yes, GBIF has its own taxonomic database and we can’t change that. Although I do think allowing different taxonomic databases would be a good idea, I think this would get much more complicated and be much more work. For that reason, it is not part of the suggested changes to iNaturalist I have made on this thread.

I do go into quite a bit of detail above, if you’re interested. I don’t think anyone has proposed alternate, user-specified taxonomic databases in this thread, so I interpreted “pick your own taxonomy” in @cmcheatle’s post to be a shorthand reference to the kinds of modifications we have been discussing, and used it in this sense.

Ah, I had not thought ‘recording’ specifically was an important aspect to your question. SEINet, for what it’s worth, acts as both an aggregator and a platform into which new observations / specimens can be directly entered, so appears to fulfill this criterion.

My apologies for being a bit irritable. This topic has come up multiple times in this forum, and it seems as though it is suggested every time that the kinds of modifications I’ve advocated are highly unusual, unprecedented, or impractical to implement, and I’ve gotten a bit touchy about it. I am certain that what I am advocating here can be implemented, and is not unusual or novel within the broader world of bioinformatics. iNaturalist can change.


I agree – it really is addictive!


Interesting example of the debated issue.

European specialist in fly family, has an already RG ID trumped by an autosuggest from new user.

Judging by the other 25 IDs of new user…this appears totally inadvertent (seems strange they even happened across this observation).

Regardless of how much energy this might or might not take folks to over-turn, what concerns me is just that these kind of events might cause frustration / be off-putting for the specialist in question.

As @joe_fish suggested here, perhaps there could be consideration at least to the power an autosuggested ID has?


I’d agree as someone who’s used iNat data in papers! It’s soooooo close to being the tool I need but not quite…

Chasing of the RG designation makes some of the GBIF datasets a huge mess. My last paper- I created a project and picked specific records, then exported the dataset. I think that’s a cleaner way of looking at the data, but a lot more work on my end than just pulling location by species in GBIF.


I think the wonderful thing about iNaturalist is that it provides a huge database of verifiable (or rejectable, if I can coin that word) records.

I’ve used different kinds of data, mostly herbarium specimens and various lists. The specimens are great because I can check to see if odd records are correct. (A student worker picked up a specimen to measure and laughed, “Any more, my first question is ‘Is it correctly identified?’”) With lists and other sight records, I can’t check so I just have to throw out out-of-range and other questionable records. With iNaturalist data, I can, potentially, evaluate them.

I think scientists would do best to think of iNaturalist data as a mine full of treasures, not a factory ready to ship finished product.


Looks like nobody else responded to this part and I don’t know if you’ve since come across it yourself, but at the bottom of each observation page is a Data Qualify Assessment section with a field that asks:

Based on the evidence, can the Community Taxon still be confirmed or improved?
[…] Yes […] No, it’s as good as it can be

If you select ‘Yes’ on a Research Grade observation that should (will) change the status to Needs ID.

Selecting ‘Yes’ for that category (and ‘No’ for some of the others) won’t notify anyone who has interacted with the observation though so it’s usually considered polite to leave a comment indicating why one of the DQA fields has been marked to bring the observation out of Research Grade (or placed into Casual, depending on the category).


It would be possible to use AI (or data mining) to create an index of reliability for identifiers that would be based solely on their participation and performance on iNat. The algorithm would gauge the members skill based on metrics including their performance (esp. accuracy) in identifying the particular taxon and include the geographical scope of their expertise area.

I’m a rank amateur with no training in biology, but my use of iNat is serious enough. I manage a rather bio-diverse preserve and am committed to doing so as intelligently as possible. As such, I’m deeply indebted to the experts who share their knowledge here, and I feel my photographs are real data – a date, a time, a location and a quality image that would otherwise not be recorded. The diligence level of an observer could also be measured using the same kind of metrics I mentioned for identifiers. I probably wouldn’t score too high as an identifier, but I’d like to think my observations would score better. A good observer rating would be likely to attract skilled identifiers.

One more thing - I do pay in a little annual contribution of iNat. I’d be willing to pay a modest subscriber fee, and perhaps that could help provide financial support to quality identifiers. Doing quality IDs is highly skilled work, and it’s valuable.


I can only see this causing problems. The first time the site has to explain why user X is getting paid to do ID’s and user Y is not, or a user learns that others get paid for the same service they are doing, there will be fireworks.

It will drive more people away than it will attract.


conversely, would this possibly attract taxonomists to contribute their expertise? in such a financially impoverished field, I suspect it might. though I largely agree that it would be difficult to put into practice without causing drama.


Yeah I’ve also wondered about this.
But not raised it, figuring it would be pretty contentious :)
Personally I would love to be able to buy a coffee or subscribe to a Patreon for the people who offer me daily support. I get that this raises allllll sorts of thorny issues though.


One clear issue is that the people doing ID’s on the site are not the only ones providing support and services to the site. Paying identifiers but not folks who do translations, or who update range information or curators etc. Where do you draw the line and decide who is worthy of paying ?


If the expert who adds IDs, is a biologist employed at a university or museum, paid with public funds - then time spent visibly on iNat reminds taxpayers - Why are we paying the salaries of biologists? Citizen science from the scientists to the citizens.


There are reasons for experts to participate and some already get them. The observations accumulating on this site are a golden resource for researchers who take the time to invest in curation of their taxa of interest.

This site is a new phenomenon and it will take time for it’s real strengths and weakness to become apparent and equilibrate. Some experts will never figure out that with a bit of effort on their part they can use the observations of a growing army of volunteers to further their research. Impoverished as they are it makes no sense at all to pass up such a resource. I think most will get it and when they do they will make sure that high quality photographs and descriptions are available for their taxa and they will spend time IDing not just for altruistic reasons but because it serves their interest.

The iNat project is a work in progress that has grown explosively because the model has great appeal and, for the most part, it works. It could be better and I think it will be. Growing pains are not a surprise. At this point I think what’s needed most is outreach and a sales job about the benefits of engaging from expert users who are already seeing those benefits. They are real and for many it will be persuasive.


You’re right about that. It would be up to iNat’s administration team to divvy up the subscription funds. I didn’t intend to suggest that all the subscription funds would go to highly rated identifiers – funding needs to go to the infrastructure, the (excellent) IT team and administration, etc. But it seems there’s a shortage of quality identifiers. I’m willing to pay into a fund that helps support them and keep them interested in participating, and I think the fund would get more money coming in if there was an official subscription system, with perhaps a few perks associated.


Donations to the site (click the button at the bottom of any page on the site if you wish to do so) already help to cover all of these except paying users.

Any change towards some kind of a tiered system, be it paying users to contribute, giving perks to those who contribute financially etc would be a massive change in the ethos of the site, and needs very careful consideration in my mind.


Have you spent time around many taxonomists? It doesn’t take long to hear stories about manuscripts and books waiting to be published just as soon as the old entrenched expert dies. Then we can finally fix the taxonomy.

Do you know an expert with a list of experts?

Sorry for the snark. This is a bit of a dead horse topic.

It usually has only 1 name on it. A couple if they have coauthored something.