A bit of a conundrum

I’ve received a couple of tags to look at moths in areas that I’m not familiar with. One was from the S. US, but one was from Israel. I’m always up for a challenge, and at least for the NA one I could use MPG filtered for that area. I wasn’t absolutely sure what it was, so left a comment saying my best guess was x. I didn’t add an id, and they did not either. For the latter observation I at least had genus to go on, and after digging around managed to find one photo of a species that seemed to fit. Again, I left a comment that my best guess was y, with the understanding that I basically knew nothing about the moths in the area. I also provided a link to the paper I had found. The person then entered that species as an ID. I feel extremely uneasy about that.
So, how do other people deal with these types of requests? Is it best to just not respond, or, like I did, take the risk that comments may be mis-understood as identifications? The same person also tagged me for an id on a group of moths I know absolutely nothing about, and made that comment to him/her.
Any advice would be helpful.

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:relaxed: I think you made good, judicious choices in each case. The info and link to the paper may have given the user enough additional confirmation and confidence to ID the month in Israel. We really cannot control others behaviors, only hope to manage our own. You are not responsible for other people’s actions.

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I usually write that I have no expertise in their geographical area. In case their ID is very wrong even at the higher taxonomical level, I either add and ID of the lowest level I can and put some notes. But yes, there were cases when I suggested a possible species without IDing it and the user subsequently identified it. In such cases I usually leave a comment so that even if the user does not heed it, at least it won’t reach RG grade.

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I think this conundrum is built into the iNat model and not easily resolved. Using the “assume others mean no harm” standard that is the explicit iNaturalist default, and taking it as given that helping folks is a good thing I think your approach is reasonable. An explicit statement that your suggestion is just a suggestion for further consideration, not an actual ID, leaves it in the observer’s hands.

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For what it’s worth, if someone Israeli is involved you can always call on me ;)

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This happens to me also and seems wrong, but it also seems consistent with the iNaturalist model of giving ultimate judgement to the individual user about when an ID is warranted. Really any identification here should be understood to be tentative and based on the necessarily incomplete information provided in the photographs, notes, and advice of others. Unfortunately we all have different standards of evidence (up to needing the actual specimen under the scope), and there will be a lot of “noise” in the observation IDs that can’t be corrected/verified from the existing observation data.

What worries me more is the casual, almost random assignment of very specific taxa using the automated ID feature on very poor photos. I’d much rather an actual human being make a halfway close call.

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No solutions, just commiseration. I’ve often commented something like “If I had to guess, I think this is A. speciesus, but I really can’t be sure/I’m not an expert in this group” and then the OP will ID as A. speciesus.

Frustrating for sure, but as others have noted, it’s hard to know what an appropriate response is. I’ve sometimes responding by tagging others who I think may be more expert to ID to correct the potentially incorrect ID.

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I don’t see much harm from an unconfirmed guess. And, actually, not terribly much harm from a incorrectly confirmed guess – out-of-range observations can easily be combed by experts to clean things up, and a single expert educator’s knowledge is quickly diffused.

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I personally hate when people bring up id, but don’t add it, like why? You can be wrong, but can be right, comment doesn’t change anything at all and a specialist in a group will never see the observation if current taxon is high. Imo better to add an id and write that comment about how it’s what you personally think it is, if the guess doesn’t fit there’s no need to mention it in a comment after all, so I believe what you found it should be looking like an observation. And yes, as said, tag others if you know anyone who could help!

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Welcome to the Forum! Thanks for that - It kind of confirms what I thought. I also agree with the auto ID part. It’s getting better, but for a while it seemed like the default ‘generic’ ID for Noctuid moths was Peridroma saucia. Most of those were wrong.

One problem for me is that often there isn’t enough information in a poorly recorded observation to make a concrete species determination. There’s only so much cleaning up a specialist can do given that limitation beyond suggesting an ID to genus or family or whatever level is discernible. Sometimes the expert opinion should be “that picture doesn’t contain the necessary characters needed to ID to the level you are ascribing.”

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ALL IDs are suggestions, some more suggestive than others, of course!

You absolutely should put what you think it is. If your level of certainty is quite low, then a comment is appropriate. In fact, any comment that indicates a level of certainty is adding value. As is encouraging others to do so, and on that basis I would ask the observer why they confirmed the ID, just to get a picture of where THEIR certainty level is at.

And then let CID do the actual identification :)

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Well, what about what’s been happening lately on my gull observations? I ID as ‘genus Larus’ because I can’t (yet) identify gulls. Then @sedgequeen comes along and leaves a comment like “The one on the right is an adult Glaucous-winged”. I add an ID of Glaucous-winged Gull and a comment like “Okay, that’s the one the observation was for,” because I don’t really care which individual gets identified. Someone else (not sedgequeen) agrees and it becomes Research Grade. This seems fine because sedgequeen does not subsequently agree with my ID based on her ID, but I don’t really know why she adds a comment instead of an identification in the first place.

Better to leave your ID at genus and confirm in a comment with sedgequeen that the focus of the observation can be that individual. Once you learn the identifying characteristics then you can add a species ID. I can’t speak on her behalf but sounds like there were multiple species and she didn’t want to initially add an ID of the wrong individual.

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When I have low confidence about an ID, my decision to add the ID or only a comment depends on what I know about the observer.

If it is someone who I know makes independent decisions about IDs based on their own knowledge and research, I feel more comfortable adding a low-confidence “suggested” ID, because I know they will not just automatically “Agree” to my suggestion.

Otherwise, I am more comfortable leaving a comment (plus often a higher-level ID) to help provide a direction for further research. If they choose to add the ID suggested in my comment anyway, then at least it will still take one more person concurring before it can become the community ID.

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Adding higher-level id is preferable to not adding any! I’d say it’s the best way if you’re not sure! But there’re many people who just come and say “yeah, it’s species X” and that’s all they do.

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Yes, I can see how that might be annoying. If someone left a comment like that on one of my observations, I might just comment back and ask them if they would be willing to add that ID to the observation. It’s possible they are new and haven’t yet figured out the ID system or something.

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Some of our top spider experts will do that. Seeming to be very reluctant to put an ID themselves, even when it is obvious. I think part of it can be not wanting to be seen to be providing IDs or being overly helpful, in so far as it’s not their current focus in life to be doing that sort of thing… why create or foster an expectation on yourself, if it will distract you from your research into spiders and consequently adding to our collective knowledge through more formal channels! I’m happy to take their comments and convert them into ID’s. I do tag them and hassle them over the more complex stuff, so I’m happy that it’s a system that is working…

It reminds me of an ad on TV here in NZ for a dementia researcher, where the scientists are all out washing cars… and the tag line “wouldn’t you prefer us to be working hard on a cure, rather than working hard to raise the money for the research?” or something along those lines (I can’t remember the exact wording…) kinda what I am getting at here :)

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I think perhaps the issue here is not whether to ID or not, but the expectation of the ‘Research Grade’ tag. It might in the end be better that Research Grade is change to ‘Research Candidate’ where ‘Research Grade’ can only be granted by a subject expert (i.e qualified) with whatever process goes with attaining that.

That probably opens a can of worms, but it’s really the only way I think that can avoid a) hesitation to identify and b) clarify what is still an educated guess vs certified ID.

If ‘Research Grade’ is really only a label and not actually precise enough data for scientific record, perhaps some clarification is in order to ease trepidation…

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This might go back to the different standard of evidence that taxonomists must hold themselves to when identifying specimens in a professional capacity. In that context species determination requires a very high level of certainty based on diagnostic characters, generally only available when looking at the actual specimen. I know from experience that some may see it as professional malpractice to “identify” a specimen without actually seeing it. Many studies even require preserving voucher specimens to allow verification of species ID.

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