Is There Any Value In Old Records?

I recently acquired a nice slide scanner (Nikon CoolScan V) and have gotten busy organizing my thousands of old 35 mm slides to begin the arduous task of digitizing them. But to what end? For purposes of iNaturalist, is there any value in confirming that, in fact, a Northern Cardinal occurred in west Texas in May 1970,
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/15338619
or that a Stellar’s Jay visited my campsite in the Sierra Nevada in the summer of 1971,
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/14483654
or that a common species like Long-billed Curlew was present at a well-known migratory stopover site like Upper Newport Bay that Fall,
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/15377821
???

Frankly, with the equipment I had at the time (Minolta SRT-101 with 135mm telephoto) and my inexperience at photography, these are pretty crappy images of unsurprising subjects. Unless I get voted down, I will continue to scan and upload more natural history images from the past 40+ years of my outdoor life. Trust me, the images do get better in subsequent years, but I have to ask: Are these isolated old records of any value to any type of biological/ecological question?

Perhaps a few flowering dates or flight dates of butterflies will be of interest from an historical standpoint. I will have some uncommon and rare stuff to upload—for example, watch soon for some images of Blackpoll and Blackburnian Warbler that showed up in my yard in Southern California in the early 1970s. Those records, particularly the bird records, will have some value for documentation even though they have already been accepted and published in journals like American Birds, etc.

I don’t expect there will ever be masses of film and slide images uploaded from the pre-digital era. There certainly has been some accumulation of such efforts (e.g. from my pals @greglasley and @upupamartin, among others) but I have to wonder out loud if this is nothing more than a vanity exercise to put up earlier and earlier observations for the iNat database.

I face a long task ahead to do all this slide scanning (not to mention getting all my family photos digitized!) so I’ll work on this chore now and then as I’m inspired to do so and can find time inbetween real-time, present-day observations. Don’t be surprised to see me jumping around with observations from 2018 interspersed with blurry images from decades past.

And rest assured, my equipment and my skill level does improve (slightly) over time.

Enjoy!

Posted by gcwarbler gcwarbler, August 13, 2018 19:51

Comments

Chuck, I am sure there is some value to be found in some of the records, especially when they provide interesting information regarding range extension, early or late dates, rare observations, etc. I would say go for it if you only had a couple of hundred images to scan and post. However, I am sensing that you literally have a lifetime of photos. My two cents would advocate for posting observations of particular interest while using the newly found spare time to enjoy other aspects of life. ; ) Blake

Posted by centratex over 4 years ago (Flag)

I for one, find the effort very valuable. I too have been scanning in family photos and have been including pictures I have taken of wildlife I have seen for the last 40 years. Here is why I think scanning them in and adding them to iNaturalist is valuable:

The obvious one is that it is data. If you have a date and a location then that data is valuable even if you can't foresee how it will be used down the road. Given the recent changes in temperature and rain patterns then any kind of temporal data is valuable to monitor those changes. Personally, I feel like this is one of the valuable potentials of iNat data in general. I think you just don't know how that data may be useful to someone else.

The second argument I would have is why wouldn't you add it? This is a little bit of the same argument as my first point but instead I would look at that data and ask how it might detract from what is in iNat now. Honestly I cannot think of any good reason not to add data even if it is old (in fact I am of the opinion that it is especially valuable because it is old). The only thing I can come up with off the cuff is that someone may want to add their old pictures as well but fudge the dates and locations because they don't know them exactly. In that case, I would definitely say don't add them. That is probably a valid concern and one that is related to things like insect collections but in my opinion, if you know where the organism was seen/encountered and the day it was seen then it should be considered as a valid data entry into iNat.

Finally, I would argue that if you are like me you have 1000s of pictures that are on a hard drive or in a shoe box somewhere that no one sees and you are not sure how to deal with them. I have data for most of the organisms I have taken pictures of and so I use iNat as a portfolio for myself and for others as to what I have encountered in nature. Maybe that is a glorified way of saying that it is my animal and plant checklist but not only can anyone look at those pictures but they are serving a higher purpose as well.

My own example with this is that I have journals for the field ecology class that I taught while in Iowa. The places we went were off the beaten path and as I add those journal entry photos with the data I am also expanding the wildlife lists for those areas where not many people use iNat. In the end I will then create a checklist of the organisms we saw and then send it to the various parks we used to visit.

My two cents.
Curtis Eckerman

Posted by cmeckerman over 4 years ago (Flag)

Thank you both for your thoughtful replies.

Posted by gcwarbler over 4 years ago (Flag)

Chuck, I didn't even realize people were doing this until I read your post. I think the data is very valuable. Just out of curiosity, I queried to see how many observations from before 8/14/1978 (40 years ago) had actually been uploaded. There are 1,848 documenting 1,158 species from 199 observers. Even if you inspire others to upload their data for vanity purposes, who cares? The data is getting there and with species being wiped out at a rapid pace, the data has to be valuable. That's my opinion.

Posted by lauramorganclark over 4 years ago (Flag)

UPDATE: By a strange and untimely coincidence, I sort of answered my own question with my recent Upper Trabuco Canyon observations. See:
https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/18305-tragic-heart-breaking-coincidence

Posted by gcwarbler over 4 years ago (Flag)

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