Rampant abuse of iNaturalist for school projects

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Chuck Sexton

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Nov 29, 2018, 11:16:47 AM11/29/18
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The uploads of cultivated plants, cut flowers, duplicates of commercial images, etc., is spiraling out of control on iNaturalist.  I hate to single out anyone in particular but some of the student contributors to the "TWU Biodiversity Project" offer a particularly egregious example over the past few days.  I have contacted the project administrator directly.

I'll jump to the crux of the matter:  On the iNat Help page, under "What is considered appropriate content?",
I recommend in the strongest possible terms that the following phrase be deleted and replaced with an explicit prohibition of observations of cultivated plants and captive animals: "Observations of pets, captive animals, humans, and other organisms most naturalists may not find interesting are ok (they're alive, after all)."
IMHO, such observations only offer a useful contribution if they document the origin of a potential invasive species, source of an adventive occurrence, etc.

Charlie Hohn

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Nov 29, 2018, 12:15:41 PM11/29/18
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I seriously doubt any of these students ever see thatpage. I think the most important things are getting teachers to moderate their students' content if they want to use the site, and then eventually, student accounts. 

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Charlie Hohn
Montpelier, Vermont

dav...@umich.edu

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Nov 29, 2018, 12:16:18 PM11/29/18
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I don't think explicit prohibitions of these things is useful. After all, they are part of the biodiversity of urban and suburban environments; there is potential for useful information to be drawn from them. A better approach might be to draft a policy for school biodiversity projects, like there is for the BioBlitz guide.

Something like:
Welcome to iNaturalist! We would like to partner with you as you and your students undertake your survey of biodiversity. With that in mind, we would like to make some policy clear.

1) Consider structuring/registering your class project as a bioblitz: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/bioblitz+guide

2) Observations of pets, captive animals, humans, and other organisms most naturalists may not find interesting are ok (they're alive, after all). We understand that these organisms are part of urban and suburban ecosystems, and so they are allowed. However, they must be properly tagged as captive/cultivated. [Provide example of how to do that].

3) While we will accept captive/cultivated organisms, we will not accept observations of food or arrangements. For example, pictures of rice or bananas or cut flowers from the store are not useful information and are not appropriate contributions to the iNaturalist project.

3) Pre-screen your students' observations before they post them to iNaturalist. This will benefit both you and us as it will reduce the number of observations that are flagged as inappropriate and/or other community members contacting you about what your students are uploading.


~William

Charlie Hohn

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Nov 29, 2018, 12:32:34 PM11/29/18
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ooh, formal pre screening capability (for teachers to students and also to ones own observations) sounds awesome, toss that on my already large wish list for the poor devs :)

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Chris Vynbos

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Nov 29, 2018, 12:52:41 PM11/29/18
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From the twu-biodiversity-project: "The goal of this project is to observe and document biodiversity on our campus " The parameters of the project make it unlikely that observations will be of wildlife. 

Tony Iwane

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Nov 29, 2018, 1:18:47 PM11/29/18
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I sent a message to the creator of the project and ask them to communicate to students that non-wild organisms should be marked captive/cultivated. I imagine the issue is that the teacher(s) in charge of this project are not aware of iNat's wild organism focus and thus did not tell the students about it. We do add a link to the Teacher's Guide in the confirmation email for new accounts, but I'm not sure how many people actually click on it.

Tony Iwane

Charlie Hohn

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Nov 29, 2018, 1:57:08 PM11/29/18
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I know teachers as a group are incredibly busy and low on resources, but it seems absurd how little of them on iNat do their 'homework'. Or probably more likely, there are lots who do and don't cause problems so we don't notice they are here. But seriously, ther needs to be some way t o put a freeze on the accounts until the teachers sign a waver ir something, i dunno. It's absurd

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Patrick Alexander

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Nov 29, 2018, 3:56:31 PM11/29/18
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I'll take this opportunity to argue again for the ability to block users / projects. Is the problem with something like the TWU Biodiversity Project that erroneous observations exist or is the problem that we feel like we're getting swamped by them? Those aren't mutually exclusive options, of course, but from my point of view the latter is more pressing and might be more easily solved. So far as I can tell, most of the parts are already there... for instance, on Identify we already have "person" and "project" filters... we just need "not person" and "not project" and the option to make those selections sticky...

Chris Cheatle

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Nov 29, 2018, 4:04:04 PM11/29/18
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To me this is not about if users read the help page and/or the terms of service, the vast majority will not.

It is about setting the goalposts for moderating content.

If as is proposed in the initial post, captive/cultivated observations are explictly banned, then that is the guideline curaotrs must use when they encounter such an observation or flag related to one.

If it remains as is currently written, and they are explictly permitted, than this is the the guideline that curators must use.

If the content is determined to be acceptable by the policymakers on the site, then are there additional steps that can be taken such as further filters etc.

As a curator, I will moderate content to whatever policy is laid out, that's my role and what should be expected of me as a curator, not to apply my personal assessment of what is allowed. But it falls apart if some curators apply one standard and others a different one.

Anne Ellis

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Nov 29, 2018, 4:46:53 PM11/29/18
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I'm a new project manager here, but our project will want "cultivated" plants, because the wild bees we want to study will almost definitely be using garden flowers -- we're interested in habitat, so photos of garden flowers where someone has seen a native bee (a project requirement) have merit and relevance to us.  Thanks for the stimulating discussion!
Anne

Scott Loarie

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Nov 29, 2018, 4:51:20 PM11/29/18
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Hi Anne,

Captive cultivated stuff is fine as long as they're properly marked as such. unmarked obs can overwhelm and turnoff the IDer community who tend not to be too interested in IDing captive stuff. 

As a project admin please:
1) train/include in your outreach materials info on how to mark obs as captive
2) monitor obs in your project and mark obs as captive yourself that the observers didn't mark

Thanks!

Scott
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California Academy of Sciences
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mary

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Nov 29, 2018, 4:59:21 PM11/29/18
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I have been following these various discussions for awhile and I have mixed feelings. And I am nervous about stepping into this discussion!

 

My background is as a marine biologist and data manager and I feel very strongly about using controlled vocabularies and creating the best dataset possible that can be made accessible and easily reused.

I promote uploading of ‘well described and quality contolled’ datasets to GBIF or OBIS.

 

I am also a fan of iNaturalist – it does have a few flaws but so do GBIF and OBIS.

 

In my opinion iNaturalist is a great tool to help people learn more about nature and learn what kind of observations can be identified and can be flagged as suitable for reuse.  The more records that they contribute the better they will get. And maybe they will become experts in certain areas. As an example I hope that one day I will feel confident enough about my bird observations that I can contribute to eBird. I couldn’t have done this without having started with inat.

 

Recently I uploaded a number of photos of trees found along a local urban trail. How am I to know if these are cultivated or not native?  They are old trees. This should not be the responsibility of the person sharing their observations. If the tree was in a planter then yes I might feel confident and assign the correct flag.

 

What would be a great addition to iNat is linkage to sets of regional species registers that contain authoritative info re conservation status, invasiveness, native, marine/freshwater, etc etc. These registers likely exist. What is needed then is a tool (or script) that can link these registers to iNat species/locations.  I expect that scripts exist in R.

 

If this linkage to ‘flags’ is available then could we identify observations that we know are inappropriate observations (photos of cut flowers, house plants and/or pets inside a house).

 

The flagging of cultivated plants gets complicated very quickly (neighbours garden plants have invaded my yard, etc). Could we draft a document with all kinds of examples as to why inclusion of these observations annoys ‘users’. This googlegroup discussion contains lots of valid points.

 

If there was a list of native plants then wouldn’t it be possible to identify ‘cultivated’ taxa?

If I have a potted flowering plant in my yard then it is likely that insects, birds, etc will be attracted. When trying to understand why these insects/birds are present in this area isn’t it also important to know what flowers they were attracted to? Is it important to know that birds are around my house as we have bird feeders?  (this might also explain presence of rodents...)

 

What if I go out into the woods and dig up a fern and bring it back home to my garden – is this wild or cultivated? (and is this important?)

 

Is the role of iNaturalist to get people outdoors exploring, observing nature and sharing observations? Keep it simple. Do not add too many restrictions. Create better tools/scripts to help those that wish to reuse the data.

 

If/when people load garbage then address the issue – if they don’t care then that is a problem. But maybe they simply didn’t know any better – this is where we must come up with friendly means to help them refresh their contributions – the aim after all is to reach out beyond traditional sources of ‘data’. It is working!

 

Integrating citizen science into larger traditional databases is new. For now most observations need close scrutiny but they are a useful layer. Before analysing any dataset the user must get to know the data. Perhaps if we do indeed compile a list of issues related to wild/cultivated then this info could be taken into consideration by users. Let the users decide what filters to apply.

 

Wild/cultivated is simply one issue. There are many more.

Working with aggregated data from many sources will always provide challenges.

 

 

Congrats to iNaturalist for getting people around the globe to share their observations. Now that we have data lets improve guidelines on how to use the data – what to watch for and what QC steps should be included plus hints re how to select or exclude certain projects, people or species.

 

I am a bit nervous about pressing the ‘send’ button...

 

Mary

Chris Cheatle

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Nov 29, 2018, 5:26:33 PM11/29/18
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Mary, I don't think many users will hold it against you for not marking an observation if you are legitimately unsure as to its origin. It's cases where there is no doubt that they are planted or captive and folks not doing it that sets off people.

I think the consenus in your fern example is that if you report the observation from your garden, that is a cultivated plant. It got there through intentional human intervention. Less clear to me are how escapes should be treated. Like this observation of mine : https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/13098767

There is almost zero chance that tree was planted, yet there is a decent, but unprovable chance the source of the individual is planted material. Is that a cultivated plant ?

Most of the information, at least native / introduced status is covered via checklists. One issue is you have to get very fine though in terms of georgraphy. For example here in Ontario, an Eastern Prickly Pear seen at Pelee is a native plant, seen elsewhere in the province it is likely cultivated. If you mark it as introduced in Ontario, it would invalidate all the legitimate sightings at Pelee were it automatically pushed down. Conversely leaving it as native on the Ontario checklist incorrectly assumes the planted ones are native.


On Thursday, November 29, 2018 at 11:16:47 AM UTC-5, Chuck Sexton wrote:

Mark Tutty

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Nov 29, 2018, 5:42:58 PM11/29/18
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I’m glad you clicked “send”!

 

iNaturalist observations are raw data points, and if the users of the data are not happy that it is exactly what they want, then they are free to “post-process” the results to fit their needs.

 

To me, iNaturalist started out as a bunch of passionate people that were around long enough learn the ropes, and to “fix” what they uploaded based on dialog that might occur. Heck, I have seen conversations lately around observations from 5 years ago, and the original poster is involved in that convo. Many of those passionate participants are teachers and project coordinators that have taken the tool and are encouraging it’s use by a wider audience, and that is a good thing. But many of those new participants are not as passionate, and their participation is fleeting. They are not around to learn from their mistakes, and they are often not around long enough to fix or adjust what they have done. Many times I have asked the observer if they have placed the pin on the map to where they saw the thing, and never get a reply.

 

I think a possible solution to this is to help the passionate advocates of the site that want to bring in input from perhaps less passionate or motivated participants (such as students) to be able to moderate their input. Perhaps have two user account models, a main membership that is as present, and a second type that operates as an extension of the main account. In the same way as you have umbrella projects for collection projects, you could have main (teacher) accounts that have authority over the secondary (student) accounts. The students would post observations as normal under their student account, but the teacher would get notifications and alerts for the student accounts that they have under theirs, as well as have the ability to make changes in the student  observations as if it were their own observation. In this way, they could moderate and guide the students, and cleanup any issues that occur.

 

I know teachers are busy people, and if it helped them, they could choose to have a passionate amateur like myself run as the main or “mentor” account, and have even their own account as teacher be part of the class. I could then help them by fielding their requests to fix this , or delete the duplicates etc.

 

cheers
Mark Tutty
kiwif...@gmail.com

Chuck Sexton

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Nov 29, 2018, 6:01:22 PM11/29/18
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Mary,

I had an interesting moment a few days ago when some friends and I visited the Austin Main Library in downtown Austin.  This recently opened facility has been completely and beautifully landscaped with native plants, including many butterfly, pollinator, and hummingbird-friendly species.  It's a glorious sight/site to behold; the diversity is stunning.  But I restrained myself from documenting *almost* all of it for iNaturalist since I knew that this was a landscaping effort.  (Had I noted any butterflies or pollinators on the native species, I certainly would have documented them and uploaded them to iNaturalist, but It was late evening and there was no activity on the flowers.)  However, the one species I did document and upload was a patch of Straggler Daisy (<i>Calyptocarpus vialis</i>) which I judged to be adventive in the otherwise beautiful native-species landscaping.
While it within the realm of possibilities that the designers of the landscaping had indeed planted some Straggler Daisy as groundcover, that would be an uncommon and unusual choice.  The particular garden where this Straggler Daisy had arrisen is on the *rooftop* of the library!

Anne Ellis

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Nov 29, 2018, 6:02:48 PM11/29/18
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Hi Scott, 

Thanks!  I should have mentioned that we do plan to do extensive outreach and training and will only allow members who have been trained to post to our project. We also plan to educate on the various garden plants vs. wild plants that might be observed, and how to differentiate that in iNaturalist -- hopefully these steps will make our observations useful and not offensive to the iNat community. 

That said, I post a lot of photos of plants growing, for example, right in my yard; however, I live in native desert, with minimal to no landscaping whatsoever. The plants that are here now, were here long before I came along. I consider them "wild." They do not get (nor do they need) anything from me!

Best,
Anne
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mary

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Nov 29, 2018, 6:16:01 PM11/29/18
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I like your example of the prickly pear - Are you aware that I posted a picture from Point Pelee this fall? https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/17059440

 

It will be interesting monitoring the observations posted in April during the city nature challenge.  As an organizer I am trying to come up with a few guidelines re what info needs to be shared with local participants.

As a data manager I will try to come up with a few guidelines to help analyse our local results.

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Charlie Hohn

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Nov 29, 2018, 6:18:17 PM11/29/18
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The rule of thumb is to mark as not wild if a human planted it. Even if it’s centuries old. One of the most important aspects of the data is a spatial aspect - where are plants and animals growing or living on their own? If you can’t tell planted from not, it really obscures that story. For instance if you want to see the native range of red maple you do not want to include planted ones in Seattle or whatever within the current range. You might want to know about them for different reasons but that’s why we ask that they are marked instead of banning them outright. 
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mary

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Nov 29, 2018, 6:20:11 PM11/29/18
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I haven’t tried to perform detailed analysis of iNat data.  Perhaps it is possible to create a script that flags any observations associated with a member who has contributed fewer than 20 observations.  The end user could then decide if they wish to include or to filter out.  Or maybe the script could flag members that only participated within a short window (probably associated with a class project).

 

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Scott Loarie

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Nov 29, 2018, 6:20:26 PM11/29/18
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Anne,

Yes - the gray area between what is wild and what is captive is a separate issue and one I totally acknowledge

All we're trying to do is avoid identifiers having to wade through this
in the observation feed if they would rather focus on IDing 'traditional' natural history observations

If the majority of clearly captive obs are labeled as such than IDers can opt in or out of wading through these obs by using the search filters

but it can be very frustrating when you're trying to find 'traditional' natural history observations and you can't find them in a sea of potted plants. I usually then spend alot of my own time labeling these as captive and get frustrated and stop identifying for the day.

The tricky bit here is that we all want to bring 'normal' non-naturalists into the fold and meeting them where they are (observing potted plants) is necessary to do that. But we also need to recognize that the number of observers on iNat is growing faster than the number of identifiers and 'identifier fatigue' is a real risk to the effort!

Scott

Patrick Alexander

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Nov 29, 2018, 6:23:43 PM11/29/18
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Hello Mary,

I agree that there is a grey area when it comes to figuring out if
plants are wild or cultivated. However, at least in the part of
iNaturalist I hang out in (mostly observations in New Mexico or adjacent
states) this grey area is not where I'm seeing problems with folks not
marking plants accurately. What I'm seeing are plants that are very
obviously cultivated not being marked as such--things like your
hypothetical tree in a planter.

The general idea is: Is the plant there because someone put it there?
Or, put the other way around, would it be there if no one had planted it?

If you dig up a fern and put it in your back yard, well, clearly it's
there because you put it there. If your neighbor's garden plants pop
over to your side of the fence, OK, maybe it wasn't intentionally
planted in that particular square foot of ground, but there's a pretty
clear and immediate link between "this plant is here" and "someone
planted it there". If trees in an urban park are surrounded by a lawn,
have little mounds of mulch around their bases, are in nice neat lines
along roads or trails, etc., etc., it's probably pretty safe to assume
someone planted those trees. If someone planted some trees in an area
that is otherwise being managed as a natural landscape (i.e., not
obviously mowed, raked, pruned, etc.), of course you might not know that
and I don't think anyone would expect you to know that.

Regards,
Patrick

Anne Ellis

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Nov 29, 2018, 6:34:54 PM11/29/18
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Scott, I understand and agree -- and someone posted a little ways back about not including plants that were clearly cultivated, such as garden bed plants, potted plants, etc.  But -- and I do this too, working at an arboretum -- when I see a bug or a butterfly on a cultivated plant, or a bird on a tree limb, those creatures are wild even if they are feeding or nesting on cultivated plants.  I'd include those (and in fact, I have). A few of my posts have potted plants clearly visible, but the subject is actually the butterfly.  

Also, even the arboretum has areas where wild plants flourish, were not transplanted to their locations, and are not watered or given any care.  I'd consider those wild, as well.  We do have some native plants that were brought to their locations, and those have tags and should no longer be considered wild, best I can figure.

Thanks,
Anne

Anne Ellis

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Nov 29, 2018, 6:38:10 PM11/29/18
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Patrick, 
Interesting! I've been thinking about that too, since Arizona has a pretty serious problem with invasive and exotic plants. Many things were planted by someone years ago, but now they have "escaped" to the wild and are spreading into wild areas. Are these plants wild or cultivated?  In the garden I'd say "cultivated," but once they take off into the desert and grow on their own, I'd call them "wild."  Not "desired," but they are now wild.  Again, just my opinion!

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Patrick Alexander

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Nov 29, 2018, 7:25:51 PM11/29/18
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Hello Anne,

Agreed. Some formerly cultivated plants escape and spread on their own; those are no longer cultivated and have gotten to wherever they are without us intentionally putting them there. So, one of the grey areas--which, again, I don't think usually causes problems!--is how far the plant has to move post-planting or post-seeding to cross the threshold from cultivated to wild. I think it's pretty clear that if I plant something at one spot and it spreads a couple feet over to one side--it's still cultivated. If I plant something and a few of its seeds get blown five miles into the desert and germinate out there--those seedlings are not cultivated. And there's some intermediate distance where we might reasonably come to different conclusions.

Regards,
Patrick
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Yann Kemper

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Nov 29, 2018, 7:27:35 PM11/29/18
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Loosely related to this, I’d like for teachers and 
schools to pay more attention to their students on iNaturalist, I’ve been seeing more and more students taking pictures of themselves and labeling themselves as animals, I had to correct 5 of these yesterday in Australia and Japan. These students don’t appear to be uploading their observations as part of any project, so there’s no administrator to contact regarding them.

Mark Tutty

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Nov 29, 2018, 8:12:33 PM11/29/18
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Remember too, that interactions between organisms can be complicated. You might have a planted tree, but it brings in birds that poops seeds of other plants that weren’t there normally by cultivated/wild standards... they wouldn’t be there unless that tree was planted. Knowing where all the elms are, both cultivated and wild, could help model the spread of some new pathogen that is threatening them... and so on. I think we need to document the bidiverisity in such places as arboretums, because the diversity there can provide a foot hold for other invasive species to establish. Better understanding the interactions of organisms helps everyone!

 

cheers
Mark Tutty
kiwif...@gmail.com

 

From: Anne Ellis
Sent: Friday, 30 November 2018 12:34 PM
To: inatu...@googlegroups.com
Subject: Re: [inaturalist] Rampant abuse of iNaturalist for school projects

 

Scott, I understand and agree -- and someone posted a little ways back about not including plants that were clearly cultivated, such as garden bed plants, potted plants, etc.  But -- and I do this too, working at an arboretum -- when I see a bug or a butterfly on a cultivated plant, or a bird on a tree limb, those creatures are wild even if they are feeding or nesting on cultivated plants.  I'd include those (and in fact, I have). A few of my posts have potted plants clearly visible, but the subject is actually the butterfly.  

Anne Ellis

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Nov 29, 2018, 8:45:22 PM11/29/18
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I agree completely!  

Patrick Alexander

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Nov 29, 2018, 9:38:24 PM11/29/18
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We've had some long discussions on this topic here... I think the gist is, yes, cultivated observations can be useful for some kinds of research, but the distinction between wild and cultivated observations is still important and needs to be marked accurately. I think the "do we even want cultivated observations on here?" discussion is worth having, and we have had it... the other question, though, is "do we want big piles of crappy data on here?" For it to be potentially useful to anyone, that data is going to need a lot of curatorial attention. Who's going to do it? Do we want to do it? Does that make sense as a priority in relation to iNaturalist's goals? How much are our other goals going to suffer because attention is diverted to curating this data?

I agree in theory with the idea that all data is potentially useful and more data is better, but in practice there are real costs to managing that data and the time and patience of iNaturalist curators is not unlimited.
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Colin Meurk

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Nov 30, 2018, 12:52:50 AM11/30/18
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Just to add my voice to those who have disagreed with 'banning' cultivated plants - for all the reasons given on this general topic over the past few weeks.  I will return, when I have a little more time, to reiterate my reasons also for separating this issue (of wild/non-wild) from 'research grade' designation.  again there have been good reasons given in recent discussion for this more rational and scientifically valid approach.
As various people have said in this particular thread, the critical thing here is to as accurately as possible, mark cultivated/domesticated organisms as such, and to be able to filter out whatever subsets of data one wants (just wild, or 'all').
I sympathise with Chuck's concern only as far as food items, selfies, and other 'non-observations' are involved. But I recommend 'in the strongest possible terms' that his proposal to exclude non-wild organisms not be adopted. :-)
cheers
colin

tony rebelo

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Nov 30, 2018, 6:05:17 AM11/30/18
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Since this thread seems to have been hijacked by the captive/cultivated debate, just something I have noted.

Dogs and cats are pets and are therefore supposed to be marked 'captive".  However their presence hunting in nature reserves, or even urban parkland,  is not a "casual" observation, even if these same animals are people's pets 99% of the time.  These are useful 'wild' data and I would argue that marking these as "not wild" is not helpful.

Another case is the illegal planting of plants in natural areas (and nature reserves).  This happens occasionally and needs to be documented, but marking it as "not wild'  hides this data from those who want it most.  I almost labelled this as "Another very exceptional case", but then I remembered a fashion about 5 years ago of "seed bombing" where people could buy balls of seed mixes to "throw into areas that need to be beautified" - a form of ecoterrorism in my mind.  (http://www.guerrillagardening.org/ggseedbombs.html)   :: clearly this is a weird case of "captive" plants that are not captive and likely to be identified as invasive with all sorts of implications.

We need to bear in mind that with so many users, there will be conflicts and exceptions no matter what we decide.  But whatever is decided must be transparent, understandable, very easy to implement, obvious to everyone, incorporated in the filters, and flexible enough for those with unusual requirements  (and above all should not interfere with unrelated features, such as identification). 

Colin Meurk

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Nov 30, 2018, 6:38:08 AM11/30/18
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Agree



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Patrick Alexander

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Nov 30, 2018, 10:39:03 AM11/30/18
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On 11/30/18, 4:05 AM, tony rebelo wrote:
 marking it as "not wild'  hides this data from those who want it most.

I agree that there are cases in which captive / cultivated observations are important, but I don't see how marking them as captive / cultivated observations "hides" them. If I wanted to find those captive / cultivated observations, surely it would be easier for me to find them if they were correctly marked (and came up in my search for captive / cultivated observations!) than if they were incorrectly marked.

I also think uploading intentionally inaccurate data is a very bad idea. We've been talking here about folks who just don't know better and don't care to put in a little effort, which is annoying enough. Deliberately misleading data are another few steps up the ladder of unacceptable behavior and I think banning would be an appropriate response.

Charlie Hohn

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Nov 30, 2018, 11:03:47 AM11/30/18
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I have noticed people on the site starting to abuse these fields because of this disagreement. I realize the issue is complex and unfortunately dev time to create a better system is very limited. PLEASE do not mark something wild when it isn't, just because you want it on the map. If you want to see the captive and wild observations both on the map, or just the captive, that is very easy to run a search for! And... if you want to get fancy and show both captive=true and captive=false you CAN do that too, you just have to fill out a very easy form. here it is for Canary Island Pine: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/compare?s=eyJxdWVyaWVzIjpbeyJuYW1lIjoiQXR0ZXZhIiwicGFyYW1zIjoidGF4b25faWQ9NDc1NjAmY2FwdGl2ZT10cnVlIn0seyJuYW1lIjoiQWlsYW50aHVzIiwicGFyYW1zIjoidGF4b25faWQ9NDc1NjAmY2FwdGl2ZT1mYWxzZSJ9XSwidGFiIjoibWFwIiwidGF4b25GaWx0ZXIiOiJub25lIiwidGF4b25GcmVxdWVuY2llc1NvcnRJbmRleCI6MCwidGF4b25GcmVxdWVuY2llc1NvcnRPcmRlciI6ImFzYyIsIm1hcExheW91dCI6ImNvbWJpbmVkIiwiaGlzdG9yeUxheW91dCI6ImNvbWJpbmVkIiwiaGlzdG9yeUludGVydmFsIjoid2VlayJ9
Please do that instead of marking things wild when they are not.

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David Jenkins

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Nov 30, 2018, 11:21:01 AM11/30/18
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There are benefits to recording “cultivated” species: if they are correctly identified they add to photos of that organism and can improve identification algorithms, and they can show the potential range of an organism beyond its “natural” range. For instance, bald cypress is planted much farther north than its natural range and eastern hemlock is planted in warmer regions (the Piedmont of the Carolinas) than its natural range.

iNaturalist is hitting a critical mass of users, many, if not most, are novices at identification. I am optimistic incorrect ids will wash out between the numerous volunteers identifying and the algorithm, which, though not perfect, performs well for common organisms.

I think it is needlessly authoritarian to shut down a bioblitz like TWUs. The issue is that they should label the organism as “cultivated” and that is not prominently explained to new users, especially if using a smartphone.

I do not recommend banning cultivated or trapped organisms but recommend making the “cultivated” button more prominent to new users.

I absolutely love this platform and see some amazing data!

Thanks.

David

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Jennifer Hartley

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Nov 30, 2018, 11:47:48 AM11/30/18
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I get that the captive/wild situation is clumsy in iNaturalist, but some of the comments I'm reading here here seem to have missed the whole point of a 'citizen science' effort. iNaturalist is MEANT to engage folks who aren't already keen on nature or well-educated on how it works, but have taken enough of an interest to try and learn.  Bad observations like you're describing here are evidence that we're not just preaching to the choir here; we're engaging people that probably wouldn't have given these captive plants a second thought otherwise, and we have an opportunity to fulfill one of the most valuable service iNaturalist stands to provide: educating folks and cultivating an appreciation of the pedestrian nature around them. 

That you have a teacher encouraging a class to submit observations at all - even if they're mismarked - should be a cause for celebration. The fact that students' observations need work shouldn't come as even remotely a surprise, much less be a cause for frustration, and instead of talking about what the teacher should be doing differently, shouldn't we be talking about how best to help him or her make their project successful?

If IDing captives, navigating spotty/incomplete observations, and kindly educating folks frustrates you, you are just plain using the wrong platform.

Chuck Sexton

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Nov 30, 2018, 11:51:55 AM11/30/18
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David,

FYI, the TWU biodiversity project was not "shut down".  The teacher handled the situation: After the abuse of the project by some students was pointed out to her (about which she was rightfully mortified), she removed the inappropriate observations and reinvented/renamed the project as "Pioneer Biodiversity Project":
An action that I think was appropriate and responsive to my original concerns.

I concur with your suggestion to make a "cultivated" button more prominent, but I still urge the minimization of overtly cultivated/captive plants and animals which have little ecological contribution or relevance to surrounding natural habitats.

Chuck

On Friday, November 30, 2018 at 10:21:01 AM UTC-6, David Jenkins wrote:
... I think it is needlessly authoritarian to shut down a bioblitz like TWUs. The issue is that they should label the organism as “cultivated” and that is not prominently explained to new users, especially if using a smartphone.

I do not recommend banning cultivated or trapped organisms but recommend making the “cultivated” button more prominent to new users.
David

Patrick Alexander

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Nov 30, 2018, 12:25:25 PM11/30/18
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Hello Jennifer,

I think there's a mix of people with different goals on iNaturalist and not all of us are here solely to serve as educators. If that is what you are here for, I appreciate that and hope the platform is serving you well. However, that is not what all of us are here for. Some of us, like me, are here because we care about biodiversity and digital biodiversity data. Hopefully, iNaturalist can be productive for both of us.

I think what you're seeing is not people "missing the point", but just that your viewpoint is not the only one here.

Regards,
Patrick
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Charlie Hohn

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Nov 30, 2018, 1:30:02 PM11/30/18
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Yes, iNat has always walked the balance between a serious and important tool for rapid and efficient and accurate sharing of biodiversity data, and free-for all nature based social media. You seem to be more biased towards the latter which is fine.  But from what i can tell the vast majority of people doing IDs are more interested in the former. They want to help people learn, yes, but also care about the data.   The bottom line is if iNat goes too far towards the latter, msot of the identifiers will probably lose interest and go somewhere else. I don't think we are at that point yet, but i think we need to be wary of it. The devs are aware of this balance too, but in my opinion at least, the proliferation of these sorts of posts lately is indication that the big massive iNat ship is drifting or being driven a bit towards the 'second user type' and going too far that way will be a bad thing. So i think more focus on the actual data and science would be more helpful than a headlong rush to recruit literally everyone onto the site. There is some effort in that direction (like redoing how taxonomy works) but imho more needs to be done. It is great that students are using the site, yes. But, if the experts (as defined by experience and knowledge not whether they have a degree or whatever) are buried or leave, the site becomes nothing more than a place to post p retty pictures with a depreciated database. This has absolutely happened to other sites, I think it's a big part of what happened to Project Noah, and if it happens here it harms everyone. And to the idea that it is the 'wrong platform', i can tell you in 2011 when I got here the site was a LOT more oriented towards 'user type 1' than it is now. So, telling people interested in doing science that they are in the wrong place is in poor taste imho.

This is a community, and it has etiquette. So do Facebook, instagram, twitter, etc. This site is a little more complex because it is goal oriented but the bottom line is, if people are joining a community, online or otherwise, they need to at least laern teh basics of how that community works, or else people aren't going to want them there. That's been the case since the first animal evolved social lifestyles and is going to remain the case. 

Colin Meurk

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Nov 30, 2018, 1:48:51 PM11/30/18
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Well said Jennifer c



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Colin Meurk

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Nov 30, 2018, 2:02:15 PM11/30/18
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Also well said Charlie - i am scientist too yet see the scientific merit in cultivated plants for all the interactions discussed and indeed the very scientific value of distinguishing actual/potential and realized niche envelopes. Also cultivated may accurately refelect the most common form of nature in many anthropogenic envts. To not record or downgrade plantings would give a distorted picture of that local nature. And of course ecological restoration - a huge activity in modified parts of the world starts off planted. And finally (for now :-) ) AI is becoming better trained if it gets more pics of a species wherever it is it whereever it was planted. And it will distnguish cultivars too. And this will gradually reduce the burden for human identifiers when most pansies or agapanthus are automatically ID. Cheers c



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From: Charlie Hohn <naturalis...@gmail.com>
Date: 01/12/2018 7:30 am (GMT+12:00)
To: inatu...@googlegroups.com
Subject: Re: [inaturalist] Re: Rampant abuse of iNaturalist for school projects

Anne Ellis

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Nov 30, 2018, 3:33:38 PM11/30/18
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Hi, 
I have to say, this community and the discussions held in this forum, are useful, goal-oriented and polite. While there are a number of possible reasons to use iNat, and different ways to use the platform to reach those goals and reasons, the site seems to function pretty well on the whole. 

I agree with the point of view that really obvious abuse could and should be weeded out: selfies (really?) are a good example of something that serves no purpose (as far as I can see).  For our project, once we get it really up and running, the plan is to invite people to post once they have been "trained" as to how to correctly do that. We are definitely in the camp of getting newbies, kids, and others who may not be skilled at identifying plants and animals in the field to participate in this community and learn from those of you who are experts at this.  Maybe some of those kids will go on to serious study!

iNaturalist is a terrific platform for those of us who are here to learn.  People will make mistakes, and as long as they are eventually corrected (and the people who post mistakes or incorrectly ID something are tolerated and helped), the platform should maintain its integrity. It reminds me a little of Wikipedia in that occasionally something is posted that is just plain wrong, within a short time someone will notice and offer a correction. That's where the robustness of the site really lies: a worldwide gathering of experts and newcomers all communicating about what is most important to us - understanding and documenting the natural world around us.

Sorry for the lengthy post here -- my way of saying thanks for all your efforts to keep iNaturalist a powerful and useful platform. Many thanks,
Anne
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Tony Iwane

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Nov 30, 2018, 4:10:20 PM11/30/18
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Hey Anne,

Yes, iNaturalist has been fortunate to attract a pretty great community, as reflected here and on the site. Thank you to everyone who spends their time and energy making iNat what it is.

One thing I did want to note is that, due to privacy laws, no one under 13 can have their own iNaturalist account without parent/guardian permission, so do be aware of that when working with kids.

We also have a Teacher's Guide that goes over best practices and the many pitfalls one can encounter when using iNat with students. A link to the Teacher's Guide is provided in the email confirmation one gets when starting a new account, but either many teachers miss it or don't read/follow it. I've talked with our designer about making it more prominent. In the case of this TWU project, the professor who created it told me she had read the guide and had given instructions to her students about captive/cultivated, and that she is an iNat user herself. Which makes me tend to agree with the guide that "coerced" use of iNat not generally a successful endeavor.

I think a lot of this is a messaging issue, both on our part (eg we need better design/onboarding) and on media write-ups about iNat which don't get aspects of it correct. If anyone has ideas about how to better get some of these messages across, let me know. I'll see if we can add the Teacher's Guide, Getting Started, and Video tutorials in the "More" menu on the site, for starters.

I don't think iNat will ever ban non-wild organisms - they do have research use and are sometimes a good way for a new user to get some photos and test the waters, but perhaps the emphasis on wild organisms can be more visible. But I totally sympathize with many identifiers because come across a swath of landscaped plants can be very frustrating, as Scott mentioned, and we have to strike that tough balance between keeping the identifiers satisfied while also being open to new naturalists who might be making honest mistakes.

I finally want to push back on the word "abuse" as its been used a few times in this thread. I don't think either the original TWU project or uploads like selfies from students constitute abuse but rather misuse/misunderstanding of iNaturalist. To me, "abuse" would be actions like adding false/joke IDs, using iNat as a mapping tool for non-organisms, trolling, lording your knowledge over others, intentionally gaming the system, etc.

Anyhoo, thanks for the robust discussion, all.

Tony Iwane
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Tait Sougstad

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Nov 30, 2018, 4:32:59 PM11/30/18
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That this group of related issues (student projects, wild/cultivated, new user orientation) is one of the most frequently repeated and active discussions on the forum, I would like to know if the iNat team has any plans on how to address these concerns. There is a lot of talk without any action items visible to the community. Computer vision and taxonomic updates are all important, but nothing stirs up the hive like these topics.

Scott (et al) can you guys tip your hand a little and let us know if any of this stuff is being addressed, or where it falls on the development priorities?

Tait

Colin Meurk

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Nov 30, 2018, 5:22:46 PM11/30/18
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Thx Tony, Anne, Charlie etc.

I feel we are getting close to some consensus on some of what may seem contentious positions regarding what is legit/unwanted/sciency/wild, etc. Partly it seems to be about definitions and what different people gain from the data, and the relationship between observers, identifiers, scientists, AI and HI!

PROBLEM:  words have important sometimes subtle and symbolic meanings. I feel personally affronted when my deliberative, purposeful records of planted or even caged organisms are ‘downgraded’ to being (merely) casual and unworthy of being ‘science’ or ‘research’. They are NOT casual in any sense of the word. Only the user can determine value – it is not for someone else to do this. Research Grade should only be a statement of correct identification.  The words ‘cultivated’ and ‘captive’ are ambiguous or imprecise (as someone pointed out, a cat wandering the streets/parks may be an owned pet, but is still acting/interacting as a ‘wild’ animal). ‘Cultivated’ might mean to some merely that the ground around a plant is being hoed/weeded etc.

SOLUTION: Designate plants that have been planted as … ‘Planted’ 😊; and animals might be designated ‘Domestic’ (when free range) or ‘Captive/Caged’ (only when they are actually constrained).  Research Grade (RG) is applied to organisms where the species ID has been confirmed in the usual 2/3 way (notwithstanding some new protocols to deal with the advent of AI and people uncritically/unknowingly accepting AI or changing and downgrading IDs). Perhaps RG should also be allowed for higher taxonomic levels where there is consensus about genus, family etc.  Afterall this may be the most accurate level of ID possible for many organisms – especially inverts, algae, fungi etc.

 

In the LIST view (and in filters) provide symbols for RG (as per the meaning above), P (for planted), D (for domestic) and C (for captive/caged).  This will reduce the confusion, be accurate (without second-guessing other people’s intention or values), and allow potential identifiers to easily choose what they want to spend their time on. It is important for cultivated plants to be RG and used to train AI especially since so many questions about IDs relate to planted or escaped introduced species.  There are 30 000 in NZ and I want to know that AI is well-trained internationally to ‘capture’ these and give me a good ID.

 

TEACHER GUIDES – agree that this should be made more visible and upgraded.  Again, for all the reasons canvassed in this discussion, may we certainly encourage people to go out and find wild things, BUT don’t say iNat is for wild things (only) or use words like ‘traditional’ views of natural history because this is just not accurate, is merely a personal preference, and indeed is distorting especially if say the starting point for a school is the plants and animals in the school grounds or neighbourhood. The whole world is a recombinant ecosystem – especially urban ecosystems, and much of what we see is planted including restoration sites. The important thing is promoting ‘good’, responsible behaviour and self-discipline, teacher guidance (vetting of selfies and sandwiches, etc), protocols for observing and recording when the plant is ‘planted’ or not. This latter is the most important distinction to make and should be made easier to tick (someone suggested putting the cultivated (now planted?) box up higher on the app screen).

 

Cheers c

 

From: inatu...@googlegroups.com [mailto:inatu...@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Tony Iwane
Sent: Saturday, 1 December 2018 10:10 AM
To: iNaturalist <inatu...@googlegroups.com>
Subject: Re: [inaturalist] Re: Rampant abuse of iNaturalist for school projects

 

Hey Anne,

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Jennifer Hartley

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Nov 30, 2018, 5:40:08 PM11/30/18
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Patrick, I run a regional inventory in iNaturalist. I'm as invested in biodiversity and as desirous of/reliant on quality data as anyone here.  But  this is not about what you are here to do or what I'm here to do; it's about what iNaturalist is here to do.  On nearly every page describing the effort, iNaturalist is described as a way to 'learn about nature' and 'become a citizen scientist'.  Users need not be scientists to use it, and are encouraged to use it as the means to learn.  

As a result, those of us reviewing observation data should EXPECT the incoming data to be flawed, not snark over the fact that it is.  The fact that this exchange embarrassed a teacher really bothers me.

Patrick Alexander

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Nov 30, 2018, 7:45:39 PM11/30/18
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Hello Jennifer,

I think Charlie's post expressed things well. If we're talking about citizen science, we're talking about a balance between the "science" part and the "citizen" part. There's no doubt that biodiversity education and outreach is a key part of iNaturalist and I don't think anyone here is expecting data to be perfect. But your previous post gave me the strong impression you think that is the only part of it. It isn't. If we are invested in good data, we can't just dismiss concerns about data quality and tell people, "Well, go somewhere else, you don't belong here."

Regards,
Patrick

Riviera S

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Nov 30, 2018, 8:14:17 PM11/30/18
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I wouldn't mind having the option to make a "student" account, which would have some way to counter this -- for instance, keeping all observations casual until "wild" is checked yes manually, or something.

Mark Tutty

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Nov 30, 2018, 8:31:49 PM11/30/18
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Hi Colin,

 

I don’t think making it more complex (with different crtieria added eg domestic etc) will solve the problem. It is a subjective distinction, and there will always be those that have different viewpoints and creating more lines to divide will only create more reasons to disagree.

 

To me it is a simple thing. iNaturalist is a community moderated forum, and the marking of captive/cultivated vs wild is a concensus thing. If we all “vote” how we see fit, then it should average out at what the majority of opinion states. There is no right or wrong answer in many cases, so it is best to just let the votes decide. If someone disagrees strongly, they can make their vote and tag in those that see things the same way, and vice versa. It has taken me a while to get from “Too scared to make an ID in case I am wrong”, to understanding that I can always “change my position when others supply a different perspective”.

 

I think if we all cast our vote, and state in a comment why we vote that way (when it is grey area of course), then if someone thinks they have a perspective that might change your opinion they can tag you in a comment with the extra info.

 

What we don’t need to do, is try to make others see things as we do. Everyone will have a unique view as to what captive/cultivated means, and a few questions and discussions helps us see the perspectives of others, but we are not wrong! This is not a problem that needs fixing, It is one that needs accepting for what it is. It is like a distinction between hot and cold... when does something become hot, and would an additional state of “warm” really help matters? When does something stop being hot and become warm? And what about “Very hot”!

 

Captive/cultivated vs wild is a simple distinction that does have a large grey area in the middle, but even that can help anyone using the data to filter out or otherwise work with it. And it certainly does create some interesting dialogue on how much we have changed the natural world to suit ourselves! Perhaps it should be a spectrum...?

 

To me, the only real problem with the captive/cultivated flag is that it stops things being in the “Needs ID” pages. Many observers that are wanting an ID on an unknown plant, for instance, will not set the cultivated flag because they know it will likely mean they don’t get an ID.

 

cheers
Mark Tutty
kiwif...@gmail.com


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