May 29, 2024

Squelching of Taxonomic Discussion on iNaturalist Forum

So for those who ask me to post about my taxonomic views on the forum, here is why i do not. I've been told I 'talk about it too much' (which really, i barely was even using the forum any more so hard disagree on that one)

Below is the post that I had hidden. I'm going to stop using the forum because i really disagree with how it's moderated. Posts are deleted when they are 'off topic' which really seems to mean the moderators disagree with the posts or feel that the disagreement is too 'distracting'. However, other behavior that clearly is off topic or violates the rules outright is allowed. It seems to rely heavily on social norms and unwritten rules that as an autistic person i am never going to understand. So it's not a healthy place for me to be. I hope the iNat admins someday allow me to share my views again, before the crisis accelerates and just destroys inat outright. But at this point there isn't much i can do except back up my data often.

Post below:

there are a few, mostly funded grad school. unfortunately it’s mostly concerned with splitting and re splitting taxa to very fine levels of identity with little emphasis on conducting inventory or finding true undescribed species (most ‘new’ species you hear about are minute variations in existing species that it’s now considered appropriate to elevate as their own species, but there are true undescribed species out there that are getting missed in that mess). Actual field inventory and monitoring are under assault from all sides while policymakers won’t fund it, universities won’t do it because it’s flashier to describe a ‘new’ species, developers and such actively obstruct it because they don’t want anything protected found near their proposed developments, and taxonomists increasingly make field inventory harder and harder with their changes and refusal to create field-ready monitoring units. So yeah the future is pretty dark. iNat offered an alternative in that anyone could do passable field inventories, but increasingly the taxonomic push to force micro-type species, even of common vascular plants and such, has spread to iNat so this site becomes significantly less powerful and useful by the day as well. The changes shrink the field time window shorter and shorter as most of the new ‘species’ can only be identified for a few weeks a year if at all, or with dissecting scopes not everyone has access to, and name change makes database management an increasingly bloated task that keeps people out of the field. For reasons i don’t understand the taxonomists on iNat also refuse to create holding bin groups for the existing species when they split them, so basically all old data is made unusable by splits. So i don’t know where the answer lies. I used to have a lot of hope iNat would be the solution but i don’t any more… however the reason isn’t the AI algorithm but what people are doing with taxonomy and forcing onto this site. iNat has a major personality conflict where it aims to be the answer to these questions, allowing anyone to inventory taxa and understand their world. But the actual trajectory of the site, led by activist taxonomist curators, linkage to dysfunctional ‘authorities’ like Plants of the World Online, and apparent staff inability, unwillingness, or lack of resources to see the problem, seems to be setting up for a big crash in the next few years. iNat is being torn in two directions, and i see one fragment of it basically becoming a customized but rarely used Survey123 solely for academics with a very robust taxonomic database perfectly mirroring POWO and such, and the other fragment becoming Project Noah - pretty pictures with no actual value in tracking biodiversity.
Download and back up your data on your own device, i guess.

Posted on May 29, 2024 09:18 PM by charlie charlie | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 06, 2024

You do not have to accept the constant taxonomic change on iNat

Did you know you can opt out of having your observations automatically changed to the flavor-of-the-day hypersplitting and revision iNat now has adopted since it's linked to Plants of the World Online?

Under your profile under Content and Display, uncheck 'automatically update my content for taxonomic changes'.

It's clear in the text they aren't actually mandatory.

"Taxonomy Settings
Automatically update my content for taxon changes
When taxa are merged or renamed on iNaturalist, your observations, listed taxa, identifications, etc. will be automatically updated to the new taxa if the change is unambiguous. If you opt out or the change is ambiguous (e.g. a split), you will receive an update about the change linking to a tool you can use to manually update your content if you choose."

I've stopped accepting the changes as they are making the site unusable.

see also this post: https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/charlie/68030-my-take-on-taxonomy

Posted on May 06, 2024 10:46 PM by charlie charlie | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2023

Please don't harass people over 'blurry' photos or photos taken from vehicles.

Please don't harass people over 'blurry' photos or photos taken from vehicles.

Firstly, there is no rule against it, anyone is free to add photos of organisms regardless of their perceived quality. This isn't bug guide, no one is 'frassing' or deleting other people's photos, and there's a reason bugguide is tiny compared to iNat.

Secondly, and more importantly, it's very exclusionary. You may not mean it as such, but it can be very ableist and sometimes classist as well. (i know people don't like the 'ist' labels, but when they fit they fit).

Here are some reasons for blurry photos, many of which i know apply to real active users:

-an injured veteran who has limited mobility and takes lots of photos from their car

-an autistic teenager who uses inat to regulate when on unpleasant car rides that otherwise present sensory problems. There are many, many autistic iNat users and some autistic people can not drive and are reliant on others for transportation so can't just 'stop the car'.

-a user in a marginalized group who takes lots of blurry photos from mass transit and probably doesn't have the ability to buy a car. You can't stop a Greyhound bus to take photos.

-lots of people with MERS, long covid, PTSD, and various other issues that greatly reduce their energy level. People have told me being able to do iNat from vehicles has allowed them to connect with nature when they otherwise couldn't.

-some roadside areas are dangerous and/or illegal to stop and get out of the car. Data in those areas won't get collected except from vehicles.

-a damaged phone lens caused blurry photos. I had this happen myself but i am not wealthy and couldn't just run out and buy another phone. Not everyone can afford fancy cameras with big zoom lenses.

The list goes on.

It's fine to clarify features, it's fine to ask if someone got a view of something like diagnostic bark features on a tree, it's fine to disagree that an ID to species level can be verified from a photo without diagnostic features. An occasional comment is fine in the realm of 'wow that is really cool, if you pass back through the area again and it's safe to stop you might want to get more photos, this is important data'. But the harassing, which i see again and again here and on the forum, is not ok. If you keep doing it you are being exclusionist and toxic, period. It can hurt people. It's against the rules and spirit of iNat. Please stop.

Posted on January 31, 2023 03:03 PM by charlie charlie | 8 comments | Leave a comment

July 08, 2022

My Take on Taxonomy

Names are a human creation.

Scientific names are a human creation that is meant to link to species, a somewhat concrete way to classify plants which often works and sometimes doesn't work.

Classifying is useful. It's one of the things the human brain is really good at. Some of us (many autistic people as one example) are compulsively driven to classify and categorize and sort things.

Scientific names are meant to represent the evolutionary history and relationships of organisms. The hierarchical nature of scientific names is a very effective tool, though the different levels of classification, such as genus, species, and subspecies, are also somewhat arbitrary. Recently, new sorts of genetic analysis technology has allowed for us to learn even more about how species are related. Most scientists think genetic analysis can be used to track species lineages.

Scientific names - the Linnaean taxonomy system- are also the anchor for iNaturalist, necessary for iNaturalist to work at all.

New ideas about how species are related often appear in scientific literature. Some people on iNaturalist feel that the second any new possible evidence comes out, the scientific names should all be adjusted. These people have been put in charge of the species database of iNaturalist and for whatever reason also given moderator duties. Thus names are changing constantly.

The constantly changing names become less useful as tools, and much harder to use in database used to monitor biodiversity. There is some benefit to acting on new information, but there is a downside too that is always ignored. In fact some taxonomists become quite hostile when asked about it.

It's unfortunate that the people in charge of iNat have decided to go the 'constant taxonomic change' route. The site is meant to 'connect people with nature' and since that is largely done via identifying organisms, when the names don't work, inaturalist doesn't really work.

In the conservation world, there are always limited time and resources. Time and resources needs to be spent dealing with constant taxonomy change. It isn't just an irritation, it is a problem. No doubt thousands of hours of ecologist time has been wasted on excessive name changes, probably resulting in much less ecological inventory and possibly even resulting in species extinctions.

Ways to reduce these issues could consist of limiting the rate of change, limiting the frequency of change (release taxonomic changes only once every few years), limiting 'splitting' (splitting is dividing one species into two or several based on minute and obscure differences) and applying splitting to subspecies instead of species (subspecies are finer units that 'nest' within species). Some of this change could occur within iNaturalist but others are beyond the level of iNaturalist and lie within academia and other such places.

Unfortunately suggesting these things makes many taxonomists Very Angry. The names must always conform to the latest science, even if the latest science isn't settled science at all. Questioning the relative value of splitting and change, or questioning whether it should be applied to iNat, are a good way to get harassed by a lot of people on here. Some people of well established social status are able to 'bend' the iNat guidelines much more than others without consequence, the guidelines are not consistently enforced largely because the majority of people with moderator power are taxonomists or similar and will actively push non-taxonomist curators away. I find it all very frustrating, so instead of continuing to bicker with taxonomists i will make this journal post and link to it.

iNaturalist used to do a better job balancing change with stability, but unfortunately that is not the case any more. Hopefully in the future it will be again. I've changed back to displaying common names instead of scientific names because they are more consistent and useful. That says a lot doesn't it?

Note: Disagreeing and debating is fine but if you are going to come on here and tell me i don't know what i am talking about because i don't agree lock-step with taxonomists, you might as well just not do so. I'm fully aware of the issues involved, i just disagree with how taxonomy is practiced.

Here is what i would do if i were in charge (which is probably why i am never in charge):

-Revert taxonomy all back to before the madness started (maybe 2018 or so). All of it.
-Allow for reasonable creation of super-species and sub-species level taxonomic units for those who want to try to parse out new splits, but do NOT allow it to interfere with the 2018 taxonomy. Make it so that the real species still displays as well as the new proposed things. Maybe let people opt out if they want, though i wouldn't even opt out if it were clear what the 2018 name was too.
-in 2030 do a huge site wide review of taxonomy and if we still want these splits and changes, make all of them at once, up to changes made in 2025. The more recent ones need to wait for the next similar review in 5 to 10 more years. You could set up a way to create proposed draft changes, but they do NOT take effect until 2030 and at that time it will occur with lots of crosswalking and documentation. Maybe an exportable record of 2018 name.

The taxonomists can still use their splitty taxonomy via the taxonomic units, but the other 99% of us can use the site for its intended purposes of connecting people with nature and documenting biodiversity in a way that can be applied to real world conservation.

Posted on July 08, 2022 02:05 AM by charlie charlie | 21 comments | Leave a comment

October 21, 2020

"Neurodiversity and iNaturalist"

Hi all, i realized a lot of you aren't on the iNat forums so I wanted to post a link to this post i made on there on the crossover between human brain type neurodiversity (especially autism spectrum and adhd) and iNaturalist. https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/neurodiversity-and-inaturalist/17268/2 Tons of us nonstandard brain operating system people on here :)

Posted on October 21, 2020 12:06 PM by charlie charlie | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 17, 2018

Juglans nigra in California?

I just noticed there are tons of people entering Juglans nigra in California. Does this actually ever naturalize there, or are people just using the algorithm and not paying attention (and now it will come up as 'seen nearby')? @kueda @silversea_starsong ? Not sure who is a CA plant expert out there who's most active these days

Posted on February 17, 2018 06:09 PM by charlie charlie | 3 comments | Leave a comment

December 04, 2017

Adding town-level species lists in Vermont

Just a note that I am adding some data to town-level species lists in Vermont. The data originates from wetland plot data and is state collected data (not proprietary on this spatial level), but since it lacks photos, i didn't take the data, and i don't know landowner info, i'm not adding as my own observations. I will skip any species that may have collection pressure even at the town level, but i suspect this will be negligible (a few orchids or ginseng for instance - not adding herp data). I hope others will find this useful, as I very much find it useful in plant IDs to be able to see where it has been seen before on a map. it will display as orange on range maps for species. If you find any that seem in error let me know, make a comment, or just delete them. The data is of good quality, but like any data, could have mistakes.

Posted on December 04, 2017 04:57 PM by charlie charlie | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 03, 2017

Holding bin (plant) field index

This field is meant to represent the best ID complex when a plant ID spans multiple taxa. (IE: you know the plant is one of two or three species in a genus, but don't want to identify it only to genus, grouping it with many others). As with my other similar journal entries, i will gradually fill this journal entry with possible entries and links, until iNat has functionality to search and query from existing values.

Caulophyllum thalctroides/gigantea - they intergrade and aren't good species but somehow got split. Anyone surprised?
Lonicera morrowii/tatarica
Parthenocissus quinquefolia/inserta - can't really tell these two apart without tendril cups, or at least I can't.
Pinus ponderosa/jeffreyi - without cones these are difficult/impossible to tell apart in parts of California
Solidago altissima/canadensis - may want to add gigantea too, is the glaucous stem visible all of the growing season?
Polypodium virginianum/appalachianum
Carex vesicariae group - there are several Carex groups between genus and species that haven't been added to iNat, for now I am adding this one which I use often, in the future we may wish to add them more formally to the taxonomy.
Toxicodendron radicans/rydbergii

http://www.inaturalist.org/observation_fields/7184
(see also, for spiders: http://www.inaturalist.org/journal/arachnojoe/11424-about-the-field-holding-bin-spider)

Posted on September 03, 2017 03:03 PM by charlie charlie | 15 comments | Leave a comment

August 27, 2017

Vermont Natural Community Field Link Index

This Journal post is for the Natural Community field per use in Vermont. In this journal post I will slowly accumulate links to all natural communities I add in said form. These are primarily classified using Wetland Woodland Wildland/Heritage Methology. If others use the form I encourage to use these same units so the data gets sorted together. For consistency I am also using this form to track these 'unnatural' habitats: http://www.inaturalist.org/journal/charlie/11257-unnatural-community-tracking-update-and-list

Natural Community index:

Standardized Fields from W.W.W.:

Alder Swamp
Alluvial Shrub Swamp
Alpine Meadow
Beaver Wetland - includes both herb and shrub successional stages as well as open ponds.
Black Spruce Swamp
Black Spruce Woodland Bog
Boreal Outcrop
Boreal Talus Woodland
Buttonbush Basin Swamp
Buttonbush Swamp
Calcareous Red Maple-Tamarack Swamp
Cattail Marsh
Deep Broadleaf Marsh
Deep Bulrush Marsh
Dry Oak Forest
Dry Oak-Hickory-Hophornbeam Forest
Dry Red Oak-White Pine Forest
Dwarf Shrub Bog
Hemlock-Balsam Fir-Black Ash Seepage Swamp
Hemlock Forest
Hemlock-Northern Hardwood Forest
Hemlock-Red Spruce Forest - a variant of Hemlock Forest
Hemlock-Sphagnum Acidic Basin Swamp
High Elevation Seep
High Gradient Floodplain Forest
Int
Intermediate Fen
Lake Sand Beach
Lake Shale Beach
Lake Shale or Cobble Beach
Lakeside Floodplain Forest
Limestone Bluff Cedar-Pine Forest
Lowland Spruce-Fir Forest
Mesic Maple-Ash-Hickory-Oak Forest
Mesic Red Oak-Northern Hardwood Forest
Montane Spruce-Fir Forest
Montane Yellow Birch-Red Spruce Forest
Northern Conifer Floodplain Forest
Northern Hardwood Forest
Northern Hardwood Talus Woodland
Northern White Cedar Swamp
Pine-Oak-Heath Sandplain Forest
Pitch Pine-Oak-Heath Rocky Summit
Pitch Pine Woodland Bog
Poor Fen
Red Cedar Woodland
Red Maple-Black Ash Seepage Swamp
Red Maple-Northern White Cedar Swamp
Red Maple-Sphagnum Acidic Basin Swamp
Red or Silver Maple-Green Ash Swamp
Red Pine Forest or Woodland
Red Spruce-Cinnamon Fern Swamp
Red Spruce-Heath Rocky Ridge Forest
Red Spruce-Northern Hardwood Forest
Rich Fen
Rich Northern Hardwood Forest
River Cobble Shore
River Mud Shore
Sand Dune
Sedge Meadow - relationship between this and beaver wetland uncertain. may want to subclassify beaver wetlands.
Seep
Shallow Emergent Marsh
Silver Maple-Ostrich Fern Riverine Floodplain Forest
Silver Maple-Sensitive Fern Riverine Floodplain Forest
Slow Winder Stream
Spruce-Fir-Tamarack Swamp
Sugar Maple-Ostrich Fern Riverine Floodplain Forest
Sweet Gale Shoreline Swamp
Temperate Acidic Outcrop
Temperate Calcareous Cliff
Temperate Calcareous Outcrop
Temperate Hemlock Forest
Transition Hardwood Limestone Forest
Transition Hardwood Limestone Talus Woodland
Vernal Pool
Wet Sand-Over-Clay Forest
White Pine-Northern Hardwood Forest
White Pine-Red Oak-Black Oak Forest

Nonstandard Placeholders or Types Not Yet Described:
Types to be described or informal ones I made up as placeholders. Many of these are for shrub swamps that Heritage hasn't classified in detail (yet).

Black Ash Sponge Forest - was used to describe some areas of seepage forest, these will be described in new edition but probably not under this name

Lakeside Mixed Swamp - this is a placeholder... swamp on side of Lake Ninevah with open canopy of red maple, tamarack, balsam fir, black cherry, winterberry holly, alder, some yellow birch, etc. Seems kind of a mix between spruce-fir-tamarack swamp and high-gradient floodplain forest (also not defined). If limited to this lake, should eventually lump into something else. Also consider doing a plot.

Willow Shrub Swamp - shrub swamp with dense willow shrubs instead of alders. Species still TBD in some cases. Not sure if a coherent type. Almost always has bvr dams so could be a form of beaver wetland.

Winterberry Basin Swamp and Winterberry Shrub Swamp - need to standardize these. I think officially they will be merged in with the buttonbush basin swamp but i may want to retain a separate type here for tracking purposes.

Acidic Shrub Swamp - a division of what is currently Alder Swamp, these aren't dominated by alder but have acidic water/soil conditions and aren't quite bogs or fens. May be successional.

Calcareous Shrub Swamp

Floating-Leaf Marsh - being used to describe pond areas too deep for Deep Broadleaf Marsh, usually full of lily pads, eelgrass, potamogeton, etc. These natural communities aren't currently described by NHI

Rich Shrub Fen - Eshqua bog, even richer than 'Calcareous shrub Swamp' but not a typical rich fen.

Red Spruce Swamp - this is similar to Black Spruce Swamp but with red spruce instead.

Red Spruce Woodland Bog* - these are both places where red spruce replaces black spruce - mostly southern Greens.

Seral Floodplain Forest- not sure how best to deal with stuff like this.

A secondary field to categorize other things (currently being used to parse out beaver wetland types.)

Posted on August 27, 2017 08:47 PM by charlie charlie | 22 comments | Leave a comment

August 21, 2017

"Unnatural Community" tracking update and list

Hi all!

Because 'unnatural' communities intergrade with natural ones, I was thinking for now we can just use the 'Natural Community' text field to track these for now. Later we can create another field if it seems helpful.

I'm going to start compiling a list of these along with links to the queries. If you use the field to add one, please post a comment or send me a message so I can add it to this list. (I should do the same for 'natural communities' too! but in a different post). I will also edit the description of the field when I figure out how - when they changed the observation page they also seem to have removed the ability to do that? Also does anyone know how to embed a link? A Href seems disabled.

Since I am short on time now I will start with just a few, with more to come. @Jogarton has compiled another list of ones she will be using. See links below. These don't filter by place but you may choose to filter further by a state, or by a taxa (plants only?) etc.

Ditch

Lawn - includes mowed lawns in yards, playgrounds, etc

Indoors - mostly for animals that live or find their way inside like spiers, etc.

Human-Created Open Field

Human-Created Wetland Field - cleared field that is in a wetland

Landscaping/Garden

Plantation

Roadside: Paved

Roadside: Unpaved

Sand or Gravel Pit

Stormwater Pond (used for the sort that are meant to hold water, not rain garden types)

Trail - for plants obviously growing in the trail and influenced more by trail disturbance than surrounding natural communities.

More to come!

Tags: @erikamitchell @srall @jogarton @bouteloua

Posted on August 21, 2017 04:48 PM by charlie charlie | 4 comments | Leave a comment