Frustrations of an Identifier

More than 2.6 million people have put up observations on iNaturalist. Some 311,424 have done identifications. Our community-consensus identification system really needs more identifiers.

Doing the work of identification makes my own observations better. Hence my sometimes-cranky tips for being a better iNaturalist user:

Prep: read the instructions and the FAQs. There is even something specific for teachers poised to unleash a deluge of junk observations from reluctant students.

Scale: what size is the life-form? It may well be obvious; it may not be. It will be obvious with some sense of scale in the image. I’ve used coins, my 2cm wide thumb, my 12” long boots, one of the rulers I usually have in my kit. Sometimes I just eyeball it and make a note of the approximation. Which brings me to:

Words: just use your words! Add a short explanation, description, some context. Especially for dark, unfocused, incoherent (a landscape of multiple species) photos. What are we supposed to be looking at? What did you see that can’t be represented by the photographic technology at hand?

Taxonomy: don’t submit observations as Unknown. Make your way down from the top: No idea what it is: mark it as Life. On the scales most of us are observing, we all probably know the difference between Plants and Animals. Mark it so. Keep working your way down the taxonomic ladder, if you can. Is there anything more cringe-inducing than someone in an advanced college bio class actually broadcasting their inability to call a bird a bird, a mammal a mammal? (It may, in fact, just be their inability to understand this tool, but is this any less cringe-inducing?) The appalling tendency of City Nature Challenge-racers to pile up hundreds of Unknowns when they clearly know the difference between Plants and Animals, for instance, is a dereliction-of-duty and an insult to identifiers. iNaturalist promotes you as a naturalist; get into taxonomy and prove ‘em right.

Plants: sorry, app-magic, many plants can’t be readily identified with a single picture. The idea that you point and shoot and app your way to botanical knowledge is ridiculous. (Botanists must often be enraged.) Check out this new monograph on Violaceae: that’s botany, a life’s work connecting to others’ life works. Respect it. Meanwhile, there are hundreds if not thousands of shitty pictures of distant tree trunks on this site—no canopy, no leaves, no flowers/fruit, just bole. On the one hand, ok, in the vast energy-draining nexus of this database, another life form! On the other hand, come on!

Annotations: the problem with the app version is that it’s so limited. You do it all on your phone, and you’re missing out on the richness of Annotations, Projects, Tags, and Observation Fields to which you have access to on the web. (Basically, the system creates two classes of users, once again piling more work on the minority of users who do identification).

Identification: to reiterate, doing the work of identification has made me a better observer. I assume it works this way for everyone. But as it stands, lots of observers do very little identification. (Once again, using the app alone cuts you out of this part of iNat.) Check out profile pages to see the disparity: here’s one with over 5400 observations but only 100 identifications. This is a problem. There are simply not enough identifiers. New to the game, ok, but you know some things pretty well, or you soon will, right? Spotted Lantern Flies, say. Start with what you know. Don’t know anything? That’s a beginning you’ll soon outdistance.

Wild: iNaturalist is intended for wild organisms, not pets, zoo/aquaria inmates, farm animals, houseplants, garden plants, botanical garden specimens, or any plant intentionally planted by humans. All captive/cultivated organisms should be marked as casual observations.

Humility: community science databases are full of biases and errors. Plenty of things make Research Grade when they shouldn’t. (One big problem: RGs can lead to more false IDs because of the AI algorithm). Many species cannot be identified by photographs alone. Lots of insects, for example are identified to species by the shape of their genitalia, requiring specimens, higher-powered optics, specialized keys, and hard-earned knowledge. I have, for example, 729 observations of Hymenoptera that need ID, and I suspect a good portion of them will never be identified to species level. A bummer, but then how amazing is biodiversity?!

Give Back: consider contributing to iNat.

הועלה ב-יוני 12, 2023 01:38 אחה"צ על ידי matthew_wills matthew_wills


I appreciate your comments and will attempt to take them to heart when making observations.

Thank you

פורסם על-ידי kimcwren לפני 8 חודשים

Thank you, @kimcwren

פורסם על-ידי matthew_wills לפני 8 חודשים

הוספת תגובה

כניסה או הרשמה להוספת הערות