The value of iNaturalist data for scientists

I'm often asked, as a scientist, why use data from participatory science? Or more specifically, why do I love iNaturalist? I'm a big fan, for example, see this New York Times article: https:/www.nytimes.com/2022/12/09/us/inaturalist-nature-app.html__;!!DZ3fjg!8HXKZ7vYWJu-fDcSRPQ6Ky2m1_giDKC4ojN0GInaemTZDg78Qc-wmD3iYi0xZnKNphnk9mj6Y_cM6J0$

iNaturalist's mission is to “build a global community of 100 million naturalists by 2030 in order to connect people to nature and advance biodiversity science and conservation.” A lot of people focus on the first two aspects of building community and connecting people to nature. Some people focus more on advancing science and conservation (usually these people tend to be professional scientists). Some people see this as a reason to argue; others recognize that everyone getting along makes iNaturalist a more enjoyable place to spend time.

But really, why do I participate in iNaturalist when I could be out catching mountain lions?

We seem to live in an age of growing disconnection between people and nature, where environmental and societal crises give rise to apathy and feelings of hopelessness. Participatory science platforms (like iNaturalist) play a pivotal role in bridging this disconnection between people and nature by actively engaging individuals in ecological monitoring and data collection that directly contributes to scientific research and conservation efforts (Dickinson et al. 2010 is a great paper on this).

This direct involvement of people with the natural sciences fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural world, empowering individuals to learn about and become stewards of their local environments, while having meaningful interactions with nature that transcend traditional academic or professional boundaries. More broadly, democratizing scientific inquiry and inviting individuals of all backgrounds to actively participate in ecological research helps cultivate a sense of ownership and responsibility for the health and well-being of Earth’s ecosystems. These benefits make participatory science inherently valuable to human culture, but there is also value for science and conservation in the large amount of community-generated data from such projects. But it comes with drawbacks.

Specifically, concerns regarding the reliability of observations and identifications in participatory science are frequently raised by scientists. On iNaturalist concerns focus on observations that are often made by non-experts and verified by a community of volunteer identifiers who may lack specialized taxonomic knowledge. Essentially, how do you know you can trust the data from iNaturalist to make important conservation decisions?

@loarie and the iNaturalist team have been doing great with examining the accuracy of identifications on iNaturalist and finding very positive results. For more details, see:
https://www.inaturalist.org/blog/89255-we-estimate-the-accuracy-of-research-grade-observations-to-be-95-correct
and
https://www.inaturalist.org/blog/90263-a-second-experiment-to-learn-about-the-accuracy-of-inaturalist-observations

I find this really encouraging. But as a professional scientist, I feel there is more work to be done. Most scientists are skeptics at heart, and in other participatory science projects scientists often want at least a dozen confirming identifications before accepting it (Snapshot Serengeti is probably the gold standard). On iNaturalist, it just takes one original identification and one confirming identification to research grade. But to increase the standards would likely encourage the gamification of iNaturalist.

Other considerations include the uncertainty measurements on observations (if the uncertainty circle is larger than the range of the species, how valuable can the observation really be?), and if drawings should be allowed as evidence of an organism (they currently are, and naturalist have a long history of using drawings to record nature observations, but they can be harder to confirm). This isn't to detract from or criticize iNaturalist. I bring these points up to help make the data more usable, so more scientists are willing and excited to use data to help wildlife conservation.

Publicado el marzo 20, 2024 01:37 MAÑANA por maxallen maxallen

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nice post maxallen, I agree with all the points you raised

Publicado por loarie hace 3 meses

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