CNC and casual observations

Yesterday I published the post below on the journal of the CNC Puebla 2022 project, in Spanish (link: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/cnc-2022-puebla/journal/63054). I now offer an English translation, hoping that it will encourage discussion.
@amyjaecker-jones @carlos2 @elizatorres @kestrel @kueda @lhiggins @loarie @song-dog

No casual observations on the CNC Puebla 2022

The City Nature Challenge Puebla 2022 is programmed in such a way that observations marked as "casual" are not included. In previous years, these observations accounted for about 20–30% of the observations made in the challenges corresponding to our city ― so there is a risk that several of your observations, for which you invested time and perhaps resources, will not be uploaded to the project. What to do about it?
In this text we will explore what casual observations are, why the decision was made to exclude them, and how we can improve the quality of our observations so that they are not marked as casual.

What is a casual observation?
The iNaturalist network is a community science network that aims to connect people with nature. Many people use the portal in different ways and for different purposes, but the most important byproduct derived from its main objective is to serve as a database of observations of flora and fauna which may contribute to the study of biodiversity. As the data generated in iNaturalist are shared with other pages and are potential material to generate knowledge, it is important that the observations have a certain degree of quality for the record to be reliable ― that is, to make sure that the organism was really observed in a given place and time. We can summarize it this way:

  1. The observation must specify the exact date on which it was made.
    Some species exhibit seasonal behaviors, such as flowering or migration. Observing species at a time that confirms this behavior adds to the existing data. If a species is observed at a time that contradicts this behavior, it becomes an observation of special relevance that could be the basis for more detailed research.

  2. The observation must specify the correct location where it was made.
    Like time, many species also have specific geographic ranges. Finding a species outside its nominal range can help us better understand this species and its interaction with the environment.

  3. The observation should be of a wild organism (i.e. not cultivated, not domestic, not in captivity).
    This is a precept we must not forget. iNaturalist accepts observations of any kind, but focuses especially on wildlife. Observations of cultivated plants or pets do not contribute to the study of biodiversity, since the living being in question is in the observation site by the decision of a human, rather than by the nature of this organism.

  4. The observation must have an audiovisual medium as evidence (photo or sound of the organism).
    To avoid generating false data, iNaturalist is not satisfied with a simple statement, but requires proof that you actually observed the species in question. It is important to emphasize that you must be the author of said media. Avoid uploading photos or sounds that you have not captured personally, unless you have the author's consent (e.g., photo taken by a family member or friend).

  5. The observation must be unique (not duplicated).
    An observation attests that a particular user detected the presence of an organism at a particular place and time. It is valid to upload observations of the same organism on different dates (e.g. to attest to seasonality), but audiovisual media of an organism recorded during a single sighting constitutes a single observation and should be grouped as such.

  6. The observation must not be of a human.
    The study of humans is anthropology (a social science), while biodiversity is a branch of biology (a natural science). Therefore, the observation of humans, perhaps with the honorable exception of fossil or archaeological remains, is not of major interest to the iNaturalist platform.

  7. There must be no other issue with the observation.
    Flags serve to warn about content that violates the site's terms of use, especially with respect to advertising, deception, racism, impersonation, piracy etc. This condition simply means that the observation in question does not violate any of these points.

If an observation does not meet all these requirements, it is no longer verifiable and becomes "casual". This means that it is a valid publication, but of purely anecdotal interest. The data in this record is discarded from the default search results, and will also not be shared with other knowledge platforms (in particular, the GBIF network).

Why exclude casual observations from the City Nature Challenge?
In its official communication, the City Nature Challenge states that its objective is to record wildlife in a friendly competition between cities to discover which one is the most biodiverse. However, most of the specific projects, as well as the umbrella project, allow for casual observations. This, in our view, is problematic; not only that, but it is irreconcilably at odds with the objective of the challenge. In past issues there have been multiple undesirable situations of users who, in an effort to boost their numbers, commit irregularities such as posting hundreds of observations without providing evidence; or of non-wild organisms, such as plants in a nursery or zoo animals; even extreme cases with falsified dates or locations, a malicious practice that constitutes a serious deception to the spirit of the challenge and of the platform. We have detected that in certain projects this practice has been so widespread that less than one in seven observations ends up being verifiable. In general, we can say that allowing casual observations blows up the numbers with trivial data, thus diluting those that are potentially relevant.
To give an example: The domestic cat may become feral and wreak havoc on local wildlife. Records of domestic cats in the wild can be important in guiding control actions; however, if for 99 observations of owned cats there is one of a feral cat, this record is lost among all the other superfluous data generated.
We must not forget that the review of observations on iNaturalist is done by users who are human, and that almost all of them do it in their free time. Identification is an arduous, manual process, and the more irrelevant observations there are, the less time is spent reviewing each one of them, considerably lowering the quality of the entire platform.
In short: We prefer quality over quantity. By excluding casual observations, we seek to discourage the massive uploading of observations that are not relevant to the purposes of the platform, thus setting an example at the national and global level so that future years' challenges will concentrate perhaps fewer observations, but of a higher level.

How do I make sure that my observations are not labeled as casual?
In theory, the answer is easy: Just stick to the 7 requirements listed above. To a large extent, this means the following:
Don't cheat.
The City Nature Challenge, though labeled as a competition, is more of a collaboration that is done in good faith and in a friendly manner. There's really nothing to win, other than a ribbon under your username on a niche web page. So, it is not worth doing it dishonestly, is it? Please:

  • Refrain from falsifying dates or locations in order to make them fit into the project.
  • Do not mark observations of cultivated or captive organisms as wild.
  • Do not post media of which you are not the copyright holder.
  • Do not upload multiple observations of the same organism ― and, above all, do not tag them as different species!

Be sure to provide your observations with evidence (photos or sounds).
Sometimes, both the page and the application need a moment for the photos to upload to the corresponding observation. If you interrupt this process, the publications are uploaded without the media. To prevent this from happening, always give the platform time to finish loading and return to the main page.

Upload only observations of wild organisms.
There are some examples of obviously non-wild organisms that you should avoid:

  • Pets, farm and zoo animals;
  • Ornamental plants in pots, gardens, nurseries or parks;
  • Fruit plants, cereals or vegetables in orchards, fields or other types of agricultural land;
  • Food, either at home or in a store (market, grocery store, fishmonger, butcher, etc.);
  • Manipulated remains or subproducts of an organism, for example: handicrafts made of vines, shells, etc.; hunting trophies; museum items; biological collections. (Note: This type of observation is valid only if the place and date of the collection of the organism is indicated, rather than where and when it was photographed).

In general, the question to ask here is: Is the organism in this place because a human put (or keeps) it there? If the answer is yes, it is almost certainly a non-wild organism.
Now, there are of course some exceptions to this rule. But that's material for another post.

I hope this little essay has helped you understand why it is important that our observations have good data quality. For more practical tips, stay tuned to our publications.

Anotado por bodofzt bodofzt, 17 de marzo de 2022 a las 05:29 PM

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