Listing - suggestions for a way forward

05 Nov 2010 05:47 #513 by Andy Musgrove
(Just posted this on UK400 and Surfbirds - nearly forgot to post it on my own site!)

Like many of us, I guess, I've been following the BBC4-fuelled debates over the last few days with a probably unhealthy fascination. Be that as it may, I thought I'd have to add my twopenneth, if only to say, in the distant future, "I was there, in the great twitching debate of 2010". Anyway, the message below has developed into something a bit longer than intended, although it is substantially shorter than "that BF thread" (30 pages and counting...) I'd like to offer a few thoughts on listing "systems", and open a debate on a constructive way forwards.

As most folk on these threads will know, there are currently three main approaches to competitive bird listing in Britain/UK. Each of these have advantages and disadvantages. In no particular order, these are ......

UK400 club
Advantages
- aims to include as many people as possible (or at least those with lists over 400)
- attempts to guard against false claims (either cases of deliberate fabrication, or genuine mistakes)
- easy for participants as they don't need to do much (or anything!) to be included
Disadvantages
- many people feel aggrieved to be included without their say
- many people do not like their records to be judged by a self-appointed arbiter
- appears non-transparent to the outside at least
- pay to view
- (and for Lee at least,) very labour intensive for one person to maintain

BUBO Listing
Advantages
- people only participate if they want to
- non-judgemental
- after the system is set up, less labour intensive for the organisers
- transparent - easy to query and cross-compare lists
- free
Disadvantages
- current observer-controlled approach makes it hard to exclude false claims (again, either deliberate or due to genuine mistake)
- does not include all listers so not a definitive tally of Britain's top listers
- initially takes more time to enter details of your records

Surfbirds
Advantages
- people only participate if they want to
- non-judgemental
- after the system is set up, less labour intensive for the organisers
- free
- quick to enter your list total
Disadvantages
- current observer-controlled approach makes it hard to exclude false claims (again, either deliberate or due to genuine mistake)
- does not include all listers so not a definitive tally of Britain's top listers
- does not contain much detailed data - can't see what the make-up of a list is so not really transparent.


So, the million dollar question - is it possible to come up with a system that combines the best of all worlds? I'm not sure, but it may be worth a little thought if it reduces the polarisation and antagonism that is so evident in recent (and many earlier) communications on this subject. A few minutes scribbling produced the following questions that need to be resolved to design a better listing system:

1) Need to be able to resolve the issue of the baselist (what do you count as an acceptable taxon?)
2) Need to resolve the geographical extent involved (do you mean GB, UK, B&I?)
3) Need a system to guard against false claims (accidental or deliberate)
4) Need to balance the desire for a complete list of listers, against the desire of some of these listers not to be involved in any such organised system.
5) Need a system which is transparent, user-friendly, (fun?!) and easy to use, both for participants and organisers.
6) Need a system that allows examination of individual species claims on a list (not just the bare total)
7) Need to decide to what extent system should be free or pay-to-use.

There may be others - suggestions welcome. For now, I'd like to float thoughts about question 3. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears that most antagonism to the UK400 approach comes from the fact that Lee has taken it on himself to be the arbiter of other listers' records. At the same time, Lee's main objection to BUBO is that there are some listers claiming totals which are unjustified. We acknowledge the fact that at least one high lister on BUBO has been widely accused of being fraudulent, but have found it hard to reconcile our open/transparent approach vs just chucking him out on the hearsay of others (we've never met the guy ourselves, so it seems a bit, er, executionerish, to do so!) For the time being, we've erred on the side of leaving in the odd "bad apple", set against the feeling that he is very much the exception that proves the rule. However, we would like to decide on a reasonable way of dealing with potential fraud.

So if we need to judge records, but don't like the job falling to Lee alone (and by your admission Lee, you sometimes wish someone else was there to do it?), what can we do? It occurs to me there are two options.

A Firstly, we could have judgement by committee. The BBRC is a model which is widely accepted as a way of judging whether individual birds were of the identity being claimed. There could, in theory, be a separate committee to judge on listing. It's definitely not something I'd personally want to do, but if there were sufficient people interested in sharing Lee's "job" then that would be a possible way forward. There could be discussion on how to appoint such folk (local representatives probably?) and how they would vote on contentious claims. Personally, I'm fairly sure this wouldn't be a great idea! But that's just my opinion.

B Secondly, the power of the internet opens up new ways to democratise the system. In short, all claims could be voted on by other listers. We might consider a system where anyone's claim to recording a particular species was considered "innocent until proven guilty". However, a system could be set in place where people could either give a record their backing (i.e. vouch for someone having seen a particular bird), or vote against a record (i.e. register a concern that either a mistake had been made, or that a fraudulent claim had been made). Such a system would be likely to result in a situation where the majority of listers' list entries were assumed OK, others were given credence by peers, and others were flagged as dodgy. Rules could then be devised to decide which species contributed to a total, for the purposes of list comparisons. For example, we might say that as long as a record had garnered more "thumbs up" than "thumbs down", it would count for comparative purposes. There would clearly still be potential problems with cliques, and mass-hallucinations, but in theory this approach would seem to be worthy of further consideration.

I hope it's clear from this message that it is not an attempt at point-scoring. It's a genuine attempt to work towards some sort of common ground. It may be doomed. If so, then it's no big deal and we'll keep on doing what we're doing. Would be interested to hear any constructive thoughts though.

Cheers

Andy

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08 Nov 2010 20:29 #519 by Steve Lister
Firstly, I don't think of listing as competitive (except maybe on a friendly local basis). I post my lists, or some of them anyway, purely for info.

Secondly, those who do regard it as competitive should all be signed up to the same system and Lee's UK400 Club seems the logical choice. But it should not seek ti include those who are not signed up.

Thirdly, there should be more than one person involved in judging claims.

And finally, as regards moderation of BUBO lists, there should be some system where false claims and mistakes are challenged and corrected. Has nobody else noticed that someone is claiming that escaped Swamphen as American Purple Gallinule? Another listing site has someone claiming Great Auk for their WP list.

Cheers
Steve

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08 Nov 2010 20:52 #520 by Richard Rafe
there are 11 listers on the WP list (AERC) claiming (American) purple gallinule Porphyrio martinico - a couple may be genuine - presumably most really mean purple swamphen.

its up to all and any of us who notice "errors" to point these out to the Bubo Administrators - who in my experience have then gone back to the listers concerned to point these out. But unless we go down the route of having judge & jury arbitrators its always going to be down to the individual as to what they include on a list - and I'm happy with that.

More important to me is having a consistency of taxonomic base, and it would be good to have as many listers in one place as possible - for WP listing there's Surfbirds, Bubo, Netfugl - I'm 15th on bubo WP list but probably about 115th if you took all the listers across the various databases.

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09 Nov 2010 01:26 #521 by Mike Prince

its up to all and any of us who notice "errors" to point these out to the Bubo Administrators - who in my experience have then gone back to the listers concerned to point these out.

Thanks Richard and Steve for pointing out the various gallinule/swamphen errors - I've emailed the various listers concerned to ask them to update their lists appropriately. Mistakes like these are clearly always going to happen although happily there don't seem to be too many that get through the various checks we do have in place.

More important to me is having a consistency of taxonomic base, and it would be good to have as many listers in one place as possible - for WP listing there's Surfbirds, Bubo, Netfugl

We would of course love to see this too - please all pester your friends if you see them on another site and get them to sign-up to BUBO. If they're not keen, then find out why!

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09 Nov 2010 14:20 #522 by Mike Prince
Little feedback so far on the listing debate, so I've opened it up on Birdforum !

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09 Nov 2010 17:45 #523 by David Ludlow
It is impossible for any individual or commitee to police other peoples lists. How for example do I prove that I really did see a Lesser white fronted goose at Slimbridge in 1988 ? And why shoud anyone else care ?
If a few individuals are counting species they have not seen {or seen well enough to tick} then they must be very sad but it is likely to be difficult to prove. Personally I have not counted Pallid Harrier due to distant views and have had to make 2nd visits for better views of several species;likewise a few birds in other countries have had to be discounted to poor or brief views and I am sure this applies to most birders.

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09 Nov 2010 20:29 #524 by Steve Webb
Andy has made some excellent suggestions which deserve attention.

I feel we do need a vetting system. Perhaps we could use option B and see how it goes. However the system might need more information for some listers.

When I used to do year-lists I would publish the list giving time of each important sighting (e.g. early morning, mid-morning) and also someone who saw me at the sighting. Perhaps Bubo could add in an extra field per bird of the approximate time of sighting for birders and make it optional for birders to complete. This extra field would make it easier for other birders to check the sighting.

If a sighting is felt to be duff for whatever reason perhaps that sighting can be flagged up with the number of birders who believe it is duff. The observer can then either withdraw the record or leave it as is with the record tagged with the number of observers who feel it is duff. In time the system of vetting could be improved further but perhaps we need a simple system to start with.

cheers
steve

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09 Nov 2010 21:58 #525 by Owen Foley
Hi Steve,

The MASSIVE flaw in that, is that often you will have had obvious disagreements with people in the past, or indeed cliques of people.

What is to stop, for example, one person or a group or people simply clicking "This record is duff" simply to be vindictive.....and lets face it...that is exactly what would happen.

Then retaliation would occur and there would be duff clicking going on left, right and center! :lol:

No. I am sorry. But that is a cracked and flawed suggestion.

Owen

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10 Nov 2010 04:53 #526 by Steve Webb
Hi Owen,

Okay but we do not need a system that is better than the current system which is being abused. Perhaps the system could also log who are saying that the record is duff.

The alternative is a committee but I am not sure how many birders who would want to serve on such a committee. A one man band is not enough to solve the problem.

When I did year-lists I would get a witness to any rare bird that I saw. If I knew no one at the site I would ask a stranger to help me. At the end of year I would publish the list including who witnessed what. It also contained the time of the sighting.

Has anyone else got some brights ideas?

Cheers
Steve

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11 Nov 2010 08:23 #527 by Derek Moore
As one of the old farts nowadays I have to say I cannot understand why everyone takes all of this so seriously.

I love Bubo and unashamedly use it for my own purposes only. That is to keep my own lists.

I frankly do not give a toss about anybody else's list and I really don't care if they cheat. They would have to be very sad to do that but it is on their conscience. I also don't are where I sit in the various tables.

The day Bubo starts asking me for anything more than they do now then I will pack it up and probably start my own website for my own purposes.

C'mon you lot "Get a Life" While you are all arguing most of our birds are disappearing at a rate of knots (that is not a pun). Just enjoy birding and stop this ridiculous worrying about other people's lists.

Sorry it's late and my kids already think I am a Victor Meldrew clone.

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11 Nov 2010 13:15 #528 by Mike Prince
Derek's comments pretty much describe the majority view as far as I can tell from public posts and private emails. Those who want something more rigorous are a very small minority of listers. However they are at the extreme end and probably represent the keenest (most obsessive) listers. Although most would agree that we all should "just enjoy birding and stop this ridiculous worrying about other people's lists", it's clear this is not going to happen for everyone, and that there are a few sad cheats spoiling the game.

I'm happy to listen to all points of view, and would like to think that BUBO Listing can be suitable for all. If we are to implement any changes to better meet the requirements of the "obsessive few", then we would certainly do this in such a way that there is no impact on the, dare I say, "more rational majority" :)

Good to read some nice debate on this, and manage to keep this thread from degenerating into a Birdforum one! Keep those thoughts coming...

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11 Nov 2010 17:00 #529 by Steve Webb
Derek Moore wrote:

The day Bubo starts asking me for anything more than they do now then I will pack it up and probably start my own website for my own purposes.

C'mon you lot "Get a Life" While you are all arguing most of our birds are disappearing at a rate of knots (that is not a pun). Just enjoy birding and stop this ridiculous worrying about other people's lists.

Hi Derek,

Nice to hear from you. I fully understand your viewpoint. There is more to life than just lists. If there are any changes to Bubo I would hope that they are optional and not affect birders like yourself.

Perhaps there be a non-competitive tick box where competitive listers would have to provide more details. Then there could be an optional box for the time of day of the sighting (e.g. early morning, mid-morning). If someone is going to string a bird, to put in a time of day would deter them somewhat because there is a high chance that they will be found out.

The netfugl website (i.e.
www.netfugl.dk/ranking.php?id...ng&language=uk ) holds western Palaearctic lists on it. If you click on the observers’ total it will give a breakdown including location and date of the rare birds. Originally this site did not make dates and location compulsory for these species, and then about 2 years ago it requested that birders included this information. If someone did not supply the information then every bird on their list without this information was grubbed off their website. A very well-known UK top-lister found their WP list was hence heavily reduced.

Cheers,
Steve

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11 Nov 2010 19:49 #530 by Derek Moore
I agree with you to some extent Steve but remember there have always been cheats and liars. Even I was not around at the time of the Hastings Rarities but I do remember the exposure of Meinertzhagen as a complete crook.

There will always be someone cheating the system it happens in every walk of life. It doesnt' really matter that much. The tables on Bubo will always be inconclusive because I know several very experienced birders who will never say how many species they have seen or put any list forward for scrutiny. We all know too that some do not produce a list because they are too lazy to do it.

I know I will never top any list (except my garden list) but I know it is not how many species that you have seen that makes you a good birder more can you identify birds for yourelf.

Now that would be an interesting list!

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11 Nov 2010 19:52 #531 by Owen Foley
Derek Moore wrote:

I agree with you to some extent Steve but remember there have always been cheats and liars. Even I was not around at the time of the Hastings Rarities but I do remember the exposure of Meinertzhagen as a complete crook.

There will always be someone cheating the system it happens in every walk of life. It doesnt' really matter that much. The tables on Bubo will always be inconclusive because I know several very experienced birders who will never say how many species they have seen or put any list forward for scrutiny. We all know too that some do not produce a list because they are too lazy to do it.

I know I will never top any list (except my garden list) but I know it is not how many species that you have seen that makes you a good birder more can you identify birds for yourelf.

Now that would be an interesting list!


We have those. They are called self found lists! B)

And they come under as much dispute as any other list out there! :lol:

Owen

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13 Nov 2010 18:37 #532 by Nick Moss
I am relatively new on BUBO, I got a bit of a culture shock when i was emailed to say other people looked at my lists and had highlighted a couple of anomilities.

Birding to me is a hobby, I would much rather have the option of ticking a box to say do not put me into a league table. I have no friends who birdwatch, I do not want to cheat as i do not want to compete. However, I do not wait around for BBRC to make decisions. I do try to make a fair and honest assessment regards provenance but i am not personally overly concerned that BBRC find birds unproven. I make my own balancd decisions and put them on my list. This means I may have a few contentious birds on my list (3 I think). They are the Radipole Lake Hoody that no one knows where it came from, similarly the Prawle House Finch (ditto), and finally Red Rocks BRW that BBRC found was unproven. In this case the Cheshire recorder stated that if the recordings that had been obtained of the bird calling (that were bang on for BRW) had been submitted it would more than likely have been accepted. I am happy it was a BRW (as I think it is fair to say were good birders like Martin Garner - & around 100 other northwest birders - who submitted it along with 3 others).

Am I cheating? I do not feel i am cheating anybody but others may do (I am sure others are not being as honest as me)? How do I get around that? as I do not especially want to be in a league table, but I think BUBO offer a great way to maintain personal bird records. i do not really want to keep multiple lists. it gets too burdensome.

Perhaps an alternative would be to leave a blank space at the end of the list to add 'unproven' records that you as an individual were happy with but that BBRC found unproven?

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13 Nov 2010 19:13 - 13 Nov 2010 19:15 #533 by Mike Prince
Nick Moss wrote:

I am relatively new on BUBO, I got a bit of a culture shock when i was emailed to say other people looked at my lists and had highlighted a couple of anomilities.

Birding to me is a hobby, I would much rather have the option of ticking a box to say do not put me into a league table. I have no friends who birdwatch, I do not want to cheat as i do not want to compete. However, I do not wait around for BBRC to make decisions. I do try to make a fair and honest assessment regards provenance but i am not personally overly concerned that BBRC find birds unproven. I make my own balancd decisions and put them on my list. This means I may have a few contentious birds on my list (3 I think). They are the Radipole Lake Hoody that no one knows where it came from, similarly the Prawle House Finch (ditto), and finally Red Rocks BRW that BBRC found was unproven. In this case the Cheshire recorder stated that if the recordings that had been obtained of the bird calling (that were bang on for BRW) had been submitted it would more than likely have been accepted. I am happy it was a BRW (as I think it is fair to say were good birders like Martin Garner - & around 100 other northwest birders - who submitted it along with 3 others).

Am I cheating? I do not feel i am cheating anybody but others may do (I am sure others are not being as honest as me)? How do I get around that? as I do not especially want to be in a league table, but I think BUBO offer a great way to maintain personal bird records. i do not really want to keep multiple lists. it gets too burdensome.

Perhaps an alternative would be to leave a blank space at the end of the list to add 'unproven' records that you as an individual were happy with but that BBRC found unproven?

Hi Nick

The emails we occasionally send to point out list "anomalies" are certainly not meant to imply cheating in any way. It's quite easy to make data entry errors and that's what these nearly always turn out to be. One common scenario is copying one list to another and forgetting to remove the records that are no longer valid, e.g. copying an existing Western Palearctic list to create a Britain list and forgetting to remove species that you've only seen in Spain for example.

We try to maintain a pragmatic balance between allowing anyone to record anything on a list and tightly restricting it. We tend to stick to dealing with species level rather than the level of individual birds. For example, we have added the House Finch as a pending BOU British species, but if it is not accepted by the BOU and therefore does not find a place on the official British list we will remove all pending records of it. Hooded Merganser is on the BOU list based on certain individuals being considered acceptable. It really is too much effort for us to monitor people's lists to see whether they have claimed a BBRC accepted individual or not so we're not likely to insist on the Radipole bird being ignored. (We might occasionally point things like this out though, like we did before with Indigo Bunting .) Similarly several observers will have been disappointed when BBRC fail to accept rarities they have found because, for example, the identification is considered unproven. We still consider that lists are personal so if you want to count a rejected record because you are confident it was ok, then that's fine by us.

We're never going to find a solution that suits all listers, but we believe we have a reasonably good compromise between different viewpoints.

The league tables for by far the majority of listers are interesting but no more than that: few are going to be bothered that they could be a place higher if so-and-so was stricter with their records. We're not keen on allowing people to record lists but keep them private since this goes against our view that openness is desirable (and of course it would take considerable development effort). Allowing a species record to be marked as "unproven" or some similar status is something we may do in the future, although we still want to keep the system as simple to use as possible and not too cluttered.
Last edit: 13 Nov 2010 19:15 by Mike Prince.

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13 Nov 2010 21:03 #534 by Nick Moss
Great response. Thank you.

Please do not think for a moment I was trying to be critical of BUBO. You were only responding to emails from others, and to be fair the points made were correct.

I think you hit the nail on the head though, regards the complex anomilies and individual views of each birder. The 'unproven' records issue you may look at in future sounds interesting. Maybe I am unusual, but oart of me resents being told what I can and cannot tick, but there is a fundamental contradiction in my thinking in that I rely on their birdlists and read their views, but still like to make my own mind up ultimately. More than anything I do not want to cheat my self, I am not concerned about others, because I am not racing against them. But by the same token, I am happy to tick a bird where 'dodgy' provenance cannot be proven beyond a significant degree (of course this is always subjective) which is the direct opposite of BBRC. I am not talking about Black Swans or Gilston Pine Grosbeaks, but the Hoody and House Finch which I believe could well be wild birds. I accept BBRC are a far better authority on this, but even in putting the Radipole Hoody into Cat E they said they could never be sure of its provenance and really it was up to the individual to decide.

Anyway,I am rabbitting on, Fascinating subject. Again, thumbs up to BUBO.

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22 Nov 2010 05:10 #549 by Andy Musgrove
Spam hopefully now removed...sorry about that, we keep most of it out but some occasionally slips through the net.

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