The nature of identifying nature. :) Appreciation for those that spend time ID'ing for others...

There's a 'hidden' page that you should watch:

The folks at iNat really like statistics, I think (right? @kueda @loarie @tiwane @joelle @alexshepard @pleary )... Well, if you look at the stats page, you can see some really interesting trends and fluctuations. I set all of the time frames to max so that I can see the trends over the longest time possible... It's so beautiful to see the growth of observations and observers. I can only speak from my precedent and the folks that I talk to, but the more that we observe, the more that we actively want to observe -- exploration leads to more exploration. This is a great thing! :)

However, with the influx of observations from folks just trying out iNat and with the surge of explorers exploring, it leaves a LOT of observations that are awaiting some guidance... Guidance comes in the form of comments, ID's, encouragement, messages -- it creates a welcoming community. This is why iNat is something special, I think. It's not an app, it's not just a tool, it's a community and network. I'm obnoxiously bonkers about it. :)

However, I've also discussed citizen science and iNaturalist with my friends in academia, and I'm surprised at how many folks are opposed to the concept of the ID's by non-experts... When a 'non-expert' ID's something, it's as though science is diluted, or so they say. It's quite true that many organisms can't be identified with 100% certainty with just a photo or two. Maybe too much value is placed on getting an observation to "research grade" as well. I have a bit of a different view, and it's why I've continued to use iNat. The ID is guidance and a 'welcome to iNat,' not the final answer.

As I've worked in the herbarium with a collection of nearly 1 million plant specimens, I would see specimens packed with annotations (corrections on the ID) as well as countless specimens awaiting an ID... I think this is the nature of all collections -- many times specimens (or observations, in the case of iNat) await guidance and identifications... ID's can be wrong, and that's ok -- as they are re-examined eventually, perhaps the correct ID is placed on the observation. No natural history collection is stagnant. :)

So, my most heart-felt appreciation to those that identify observations for others. What you really do when you ID something is invite that observer to the community. Nature appreciation is amplified when you're part of a community that values that trait. That's tremendously valuable -- I'd even argue that it's life changing.

Again, big time props to the new identify tool as well -- it's easier to provide guidance now more than ever. I tend to filter observations to Texas, and remove the ones that "need ID." This loads up all of the verifiable observations, even those that have already been verified by others. Here's the link I use:

Also, it's ok to 'agree' with the already agreed ID's, I think. Not only does it appear to be more invitation to the iNat community, but it also adds more consensus to the identification. As new users come along and perhaps give a more broad ID, if there's a lot of consensus already, the taxon stays with the consensus rather than the new more broad ID.

I was going to tag the folks that have identified so many of my observations, but there are sooo many folks that have welcomed me to this community. As a matter of fact, here they are:
737 people have welcomed me to this community of iNaturalist. Thanks. :)

Publicado el noviembre 19, 2016 04:12 MAÑANA por sambiology sambiology


Nice, Sam! I love watching the stats page and I especially like seeing the massive spikes in users. I thought the NPS BioBlitz user rise in May was huge, but then that Weekend Edition story really made that look like peanuts! It has tapered off some, but that happens every northern hemisphere winter. I'm glad that the community continues to grow, thanks in large part to dedicated identifiers & evangelists like you.

I have to say that I'm surprised that only 737 people have added IDs to your observations...I would have thought more! I see that for me it's only 384. I wonder how many users you've ID'd for? This doesn't count them that way, but you can get a glimpse into your ID habits here:

Publicado por carrieseltzer hace más de 7 años

Great write-up, Sam. Don't forget the simple instructional video for Identify!

Publicado por tiwane hace más de 7 años

Great entry, Sam. From my point of view, iNaturalist is likely most valuable as a culture-shifting tool, not an academic one. Your sentiments about welcoming people are a perfect example of how I feel this platform can help get people into science, the community, interaction with extremely knowledgeable people and potentially help motivate or guide them to become the experts.

Getting people interested and engaged is the first step. iNaturalist (and you in particular) have helped rejuvenate and expand my interest beyond just books and personal study. It's still weird (and amazing) to me to actually have friends who are excited to go look for creatures and not just because they are trying to fill out lists.

Let me put it this way...before I was on iNaturalist I could count the number of friends who knew what a Blue Dasher was on one hand (brother, a few ex-gfs and mom). Now...I have met and befriended more people than I have the fingers or toes to count on.

Community is a reinforcing and immeasurably valuable function for learning...and probably just makes life all-around better too.

Publicado por briangooding hace más de 7 años

"No natural history collection is stagnant."

This resonated for me. Keep the firehose of new observations blasting into iNaturalist. Someday they'll get identified and help tell a story!

Publicado por mikaelb hace más de 7 años

Hey, Sam, just curious....why "verified" only and not "needs ID"?

Publicado por sherylsr hace más de 7 años

"When a 'non-expert' ID's something, it's as though science is diluted, or so they say." Firstly, I would say that it wouldn't "dilute science" if the experts themselves understand that this is an opportunity to get more material and actually gave expert identifications. Also, for those experts that insist that organisms have to be IDed using specimens only, I have this to say: IDing organisms when they are living offers an opportunity to expand your expertise in a way that is unique and useful. It often leads to some interesting understanding that can not be obtained when the organism is dead. Although seeing a photo is not the same as seeing the organism in real life, it is the closest approximation that can be shared (aside from perhaps video, but there are many organisms don't actually move that much). For me, seeing photos is often more useful than seeing specimens (if they are good photos) as the plants I study often look unique in a way that I could have never predicted from looking at a pressed, dried plant.

Anyway, that's my rant. Good write-up! I concur with the natural history collections part and think of these observations similarly to the way I think of specimens (though not exactly for the reason that iNat observations aren't exactly citable in the way actual specimens are). I'll have to remember to keep an eye on the statistics as they are quite interesting.

Publicado por nathantaylor hace más de 7 años

Great post, Sam!
I'm also "obnoxiously bonkers" about iNat!

Publicado por connlindajo hace más de 7 años

Very nice post, Sam, and thanks for revealing the "hidden" page. I agree with you on the new identify tool - been plugging away at vascular plants/Arizona from the front end and the back end and hope to finish in ten years or so - only 154 more pages to go! (Thanks, Tony, for the video link - didn't know about the keyboard shortcuts.)

Nathan, great points all. Fresh material tops dried material, and photos - as you note, good ones - are generally more helpful than dried plants. Better yet, the photos are online and don't have to be loaned out or checked at the cost of a visit to an herbarium, though experts can and should do those things when necessary. Some non-experts have a lot of field experience that can be applied to iNaturalist. In addition, using iNaturalist - especially the practice of rummaging through my online and dead tree sources for help on IDs - has made me a better field botanist.

"No natural history collection is stagnant." Ain't it the truth. New tools for interpreting and re-interpreting natural history collections occur from time to time. A book that had quite an impression on me in that regard is Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life. Fossils from the Burgess Shale that had been nominated as complete organisms were reinterpreted as the mouth parts of larger organisms. And the story of the wonderfully named Hallucigenia is worth the price of the book. (I was fortunate enough to visit the Smithsonian shortly after reading the book when these fossils were on display.)

I feel very lucky to be a life form with the tools and ability to study life itself. iNat is a good tool for sharing that ability with others.

Publicado por stevejones hace más de 7 años

Thanks for the reminder about the stats. . .love it and the community that appreciates and values the natural world, which is growing thanks to the spirit of discovery that iNat fosters.

Publicado por calloftheloon hace más de 7 años

P.S. Just yesterday I posted a similar albeit less scientific reflection. "Addicted to iNaturalist,"

Publicado por sherylsr hace más de 7 años

@sherylsr I have joined your blogspot.. Kinda wish my kids still lived in Burnet... Would probably be able to get to know you better...
Anyway, following you on iNat , etc.

I appreciate your input into iNat that I have noticed since the 2016 TMN Conference at Conroe.

Thank you for promoting iNat.

Publicado por connlindajo hace más de 7 años

Just a note on the "Platform" statistics. I don't care for the app (iPhone & iPad) so I don't use it unless I am posting an observation I made using the iPhone or iPad camera. Most of my photos are taken with a camera, transferred to the iPad, and uploaded using the website. For ID'ing, I prefer the website to the app as well.

One thing I have noticed is that it seems that some of these school groups go out and ID together. If the group or instructor's ID is wrong, they all post it, then all "Agree" with each other giving it a "Research Grade". I've seen it a few times, and it is hard to get the students to reconsider it.

Publicado por txlorax hace más de 7 años

@txlorax I agree with your comments...
Me, too, regarding the app.

As far as school groups, I have noticed this more than a few times.

Publicado por connlindajo hace más de 7 años

Thank you for all of the great comments on here -- I've learned such a tremendous amount from so many people here. I'm eternally grateful. :)

Hopefully I'll be able to reciprocate what others have done for me here on iNat! :)

Publicado por sambiology hace más de 7 años

HI Sam et al.,

Thanks everyone for the thought-provoking discussion. I'm a glass half-full person and I'm super optimistic (bonkers) about iNaturliast and it's potential. And like Sam, I was trained as a field and herbarium botanist. But.... when I started over 25 years ago, it got cold in the winter and stayed that way for several months, invasive species were mostly just a nuisance and many plant families had specialists who were describing new species and building taxonomies.

It's a different world today.

On December 16, 201 5 it was 70 degrees F in New York's Central Park-- at 7:00 am! That day we discovered Gamochaeta pensylvanica growing wild in the Park. Despite it's name, the species is South American and ours was the first report from New York State. See here: We relied on the work of Guy Nesom who has provided us all with valuable insight on this group of plants.

My point is that the biodiversity of the planet is threatened on many fronts and to save as much as we can, we have to build on the past and find new, more efficient and more inclusive methods.

That's why I'm so enthusiastic about iNaturalist. I think it's the best tool ever devised for documenting, organizing and analyzing natural history observations. Linnaeus and Humboldt would love it. I think they would also understand and appreciate iNaturalist's power to engage the "average" person, without who's support we can not succeed.

We will use iNaturliast to document the flora of Central Park in 2027, but we will still need Guy Nesom and the herbarium specimens he relied on to distinguish the invasive Gamochaeta pensylvanica from its close relative, the native Gamochaeta purpurea.

Physical specimens could be another grade of observation available in iNaturliast and taxonomists will quickly figure out how the program can be used in their research. That's why as a taxonomists and an advocate for citizen science, I'm super excited and optimistic about iNaturalist.

Publicado por danielatha hace más de 7 años

@danielatha I love your comments! "Linnaeus and Humboldt would love it." is high praise—the kind of testimonial they should put on the homepage. I'm glad that you are so enthusiastic about iNaturalist and hope it's infectious among other botanists. :-)

Publicado por carrieseltzer hace más de 7 años

I second that @carrieseltzer and @danielatha I like the idea about the physical specimen grade.

Publicado por calloftheloon hace más de 7 años

Thanks for the support. Linnaeus and Humboldt were not accidental choices.

Linnaeus would love iNaturalist because it uses a hierarchical framework for classification and is not shy about scientific names. There is no reason why anyone can't learn the basics of what defines the Diptera or the family Magnoliaceae. Using the names reinforces the structure and aids recall and access. The revolutionary thing about iNaturalist is that it leads anyone into the hierarchy with a single observation, allowing them to move up and down the tree of life and learn how things are related. One doesn't have to be an expert to participate, learn and contribute. Linnaeus was an educator and I think his Species Plantarum was intended for "everyman" and "everywoman".

And Humboldt would love it because it's so geographic. The programming is so brilliant that we can select a taxon and zoom in and out effortlessly from the hyper local to the global.

And both men were obsessed with building systems others could use to understand the natural world. I think iNaturalist is a perfect synthesis and I'm confident its virtues will become more widely appreciated.

Publicado por danielatha hace más de 7 años

Great post as usual, Sam! I suppose that I'm a non-expert that has become welcomed into academia and have the perspective of both sides. I'm currently working with a faculty member at Sam Houston State on a plant species that hasn't been previously documented in Texas. He used Inaturalist to see if any observations of it had been uploaded. He called me and said we need to ask a few people where they saw this species in Tyler County. My reply was, "No need, I was with them on the Big Thicket Bioblitz." Without you organizing the gathering, no one (including me) would have known the species was there, at least in the foreseeable future. I also continue to use Inat to confirm and/or tweek conclusions for other research that I'm conducting.

As for some people in academic being opposed to the identifications of "non-experts", I have seen a plant folder at a large Texas University with at least 100 specimens in it, and of the 100+ specimens, NOT ONE is actually the species that the folder is labelled as. (It's the one we discussed before). I would argue that the percentage of mis-identifications in herbaria isn't much different than on Inat and may actually be worse because of the fewer number of people actually seeing the plants. Thanks to everyone else for the insightful comments and all the knowledge that I gain from this community.

Publicado por eric_keith hace más de 7 años

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