A Pondering question about general identifications

Why bother…
I’m so curious and a bit confused.
There are a number of identification options for any observation.
General observations and more specific observations like Bird, Perching bird, hummingbird, Anna’s hummingbird. All are correct,
Isn’t the idea of science to be as specific as possible?
Hypothetically if I choose Anna’s hummingbird and have agreement by, let’s say six people, but someone comes along, decides, hey, it’s a hummingbird, adds that as a choice. Technically they are not wrong.

If in the future someone is doing casual research on the Anna’s hummingbird and uses iNaturalist as one of their sources, isn’t it going to be a more difficult job if a more specific ID isn’t there?
Does the use of a more general ID skew the computer in making future identifications?
Do you as the original observer care about a more specific ID than a more general one?
The application of this can be applied to nearly every organism out there.
Do you keep adding a more specific ID as the other person keeps adding a more general one to the one observation or do you shrug your shoulders and just move on?
With some organisms, a more general identification could be considered an issue as in mushroom identifications and could result in harm.
Thanks for your input

https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help Maybe this help. In any way, I would suggest not to tell people what and how to identify an observation.


Yes, take a look at that help page to understand how IDs work more clearly. I don’t know if you use the website or the app more - things are clearer on the website.

The most important thing is for people not to identify beyond their ability and/or to follow up on any mistakes. If someone knows that it is a hummingbird but not which one, they should only put ‘hummingbird’. Unless they actively click that they are disagreeing with you this does not affect the overall ID - their ID agrees with yours. You can only see whether they have disagreed on the website though - although you can sometimes tell by whether the overall ID has changed. If they have actively disagreed, you could simply ask them why.


I have encountered cases where an identifier was, for example, going searching for every observation of a particular subspecies and identifying it as the species, changing the community taxon for almost all of them to the more general ID. I inquired why, and was told that this IDer planned to use the data in a project and it made their data analysis simpler if everything was just IDed to species, not subspecies. I explained why this approach did not make sense to me, and as far as I understand the IDer in question stopped systematically altering the communal dataset for a private project. While each IDer does have the right to ID in their own way, there are clearly ways to do it that make the overall dataset less valuable. I think that making correct specific community taxa more general is among these.


weird ignorance on their part. After downloading a csv with a column of names, it takes 2 mins to retain only the first two words of a cell (i.e. the species name only) in either excel or R


As long as there are two agreeing IDs at the subspecies level, adding a species-level ID only bumps the observation up to a more general ID if the species-level ID is marked “No, but it’s a member of…” If someone is clicking that unnecessarily, that is a different and more serious issue.

If there is only one subspecies-level ID, then adding an ID at the species level to reach research grade is technically not wrong (though, I agree, it’s annoying). This is more a problem with how iNat handles subspecies rather than with the identifier.

In any case, I’m not sure this is the situation being describe by the OP. Adding non-disagreeing coarse IDs to an observation that already has a more specific ID is kinda strange, but should not affect the overall observation ID (except with subspecies, of course). But there are many good reasons to add a coarse ID to an observation listed as “unknown” or a coarse ID to narrow down an even coarser ID. These reasons are detailed in the help section: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help#coarse-ids


I can see some reasonable uses of that behaviour ;) Sometimes I encounter an observation identified to, say, species by the observer and I don’t see anything allowing for such accurate identification. I can’t be sure that the observer knows something I don’t (eg sees some characters that I don’t know are species-specific, or knows that alternative species don’t occur in the area). But I have enough experience to take into account that maybe the observer is less experienced than me and eg doesn’t know that there are other options. When I ID to the higher level, I give them a sign that I’ not sure and if they are not sure, too, they might consider modification of their ID. It should be also less easy for someone to come and simply click “agree” to the first identification, without much thinking
And also there is a problem of “disappearing users” who take with them their identifications. In light of that, maybe better to add more IDs than too few?


I am regularly adding coarser IDs to observations and I don´t get how that is strange. There are several reasonsto do so.

As @justyna_kierat said, in many cases the suggested species ID is actually impossible to verify by pictures alone even if the suggestion is likely, so I just leave a genus ID. I regularly run into this in IDing Dolomedes spiders in Europe. The oldest observations were pending since 6 or 8 years without an additional ID besides the observer (as most spider IDers know about the issue with those species ID and it is kind of frustrating to always go in correcting or not changing the “need ID” pile.

Adding a coarse ID can also help solidify the ID at that level if someone else comes along disagreeing.

I will also ID to a coarser taxa to let people and myself know I have seen it and thought about it but that´s all I can do.

I can also see people in the learning phase of IDing looking through observations, but being cautious at first with species IDs, but once they are there they leave the ID they are able to confidently give.

Lot´s of valid reasons.

As long as all IDs are given with best of knowledge and disagreeing will only occur if you are sure it is NOT the suggested species or it is for sure not possible to tell two similar species appart, there is no harm done to anyone I think.


An example of when this can be done for me is when identifying phragmites, and somebody IDs to subspecies. There’s the native and the invasive which can be easy to tell apart if certain characteristics are captured but difficult if they aren’t captured. Somebody might say they saw such and such in person and I can’t be confident of what they saw. I would add a non-disagreeing course ID at species level. Because maybe they’re right, but I can’t say. If it looks like based on other characteristics they might be right, that especially muddies the water. I don’t use that feature often but it definitely makes sense to do in some situations.


There’s nothing wrong with that ID as you described it, but you left out a crucial detail: is it a disagreeing ID? That makes a lot of difference.

If it is a disagreeing ID, then perhaps that user thinks there isn’t enough evidence to show that it’s an Anna’s hummingbird, and they have every right to add that ID. If they’re making a disagreeing ID for retributive purposes, then that’s a separate issue and a potential violation of the Community Guidelines.


@justyna_kierat @ajott @dallon

I just said it was strange. No where did I say it was wrong, bad, or invalid. What I meant was adding coarser IDs for the sole sake of adding an ID was strange. I understand there are many specific reasons why someone might add a non-disagreeing coarser ID. I myself added one recently for reasons similar to the situation described by Justyna for this observation.

This was literally the point I was making, given the latter half of my scentence was:

So I attempted to explain the possible reasons behind this behaviour so that it may not seem strange anymore :)

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