Agreeing with experts and "research grade"

If I can’t independently verify an ID with 80 percent certainty then I leave it alone. If an expert in a field I’m unfamiliar with disagrees I will almost always withdraw my initial ID (if theirs seems plausible) to bring the community ID closer to theirs so it can go to the attention of others who are familiar with it for them to agree or disagree.

I don’t like the idea of others simply agreeing to bring my observations to research grade if they are only doing so because an expert posted an ID with no explaining information. I learn a lot from my personal interactions with my observations and I would like them to be of the near same assurance quality that I hold myself to when confirming IDs. As such I almost always respond to disagreements. If I don’t know or I’m not sure, I ask.

I also think if your going to work to place yourself on the leaderboard for something, you should have relatively decent knowledge about how to identify it. I spend a lot of time working with one family and am high up on the leaderboard for the majority of it’s descendants. I always make sure to follow any disagreements I make so I can answer questions and typically try to clearly explain why I am disagreeing. Even if people were going to blindly agree regardless, I hope at least they took the time to read what I had to say - even if they weren’t going to make the effort to search for it themselves. I have no problem spoon feeding the same information over and over if helps at least a few people learn.

I’m here to gain and share knowledge and appreciate everyone who’s put in the work and time to learn what they know, and really appreciative of your time spent here freely exchanging that knowledge.


And it’s not just the photos that you learn from. It’s largely the dialog that occurs ABOUT the photos where I learn the most… I can’t stress enough how much the dialog really makes iNat so brilliant… and not just the dialog, but who you get to have the dialog with… it’s bridging gaps, left right and centre!


Maybe it is a function of our stereotypical national politeness, but my response to that would be thank you, not I dont know if I can trust you.

Funny, cmcheatle. But I think johnschneider’s point is that in the mockingbird example, your appropriate response would not be “I agree,” but “Really? Cool, how can you tell?” – deferring to that person’s expertise but following up to get them to help you learn.


I agree that mobile app users are likely to miss out on the interactive dialogues.

I am willing to spend inordinate amounts of time mentoring people who welcome mentoring (or on the other end, pestering people who are willing to mentor me). The trick is to find them. One way is to make a short comment (I keep it separate from the ID) that invites a response and if I get one, then an extended exchange can follow. If it’s ignored, that’s ok and I can spend time on someone else.


If I can’t ID the organism to begin with, I don’t feel like I have any business clicking ‘agree’ on anyone else’s ID, except in cases where I can first reference their ID against a field guide for an obvious match.

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Right, janetwright. In the situation I described, I trust the ID, so I say “cool, thanks!” (or “cool, how can you tell?” or something like that, so I can ID the next mockingbird myself).

Moreover, let’s say that, when he tells me the ID, he also tells me the field marks or I borrow his field guide and look up the bird. Then I take another look through my binoculars. I think, “Wow! Sure enough, that’s what it is!” This is analogous to a situation (but not the only situation) on iNaturalist where clicking “agree” makes sense to me.

At that point in my real-life example, I may or may not say anything. I might just silently enjoy being able to ID the bird myself, or I might thank my friend again–or I might say “I agree with your ID” in a humorously stuffy or pedantic tone, as if my friend needed my confirmation, which he doesn’t.

Of course, he might want my confirmation. But if so, what he wants confirmation of is that I can ID the bird myself or see the field marks myself or whatever. He doesn’t need me to confirm that he’s an expert.


(This is reply to a post in another topic but the post and reply are slightly off-topic for that topic which dealt with changing the wording on identification downgrading. I felt these two belong better here as the concern centers on expert users. If I am in error, please correct me!)

My apologies if I am misunderstanding, but once two other users disagree by identifying at the genus level and choosing the second option in the disagreement popup dialog box, the observation will “bump up” to genus and lose species level research grade status. And I see this process happening and playing out as I work through older observations. This takes time, and perhaps in this age we want instant answers. That said, in the plant world identifications can take years, with some of Charles Darwin’s collections apparently only now being identified. I know there is a desire to have single vote authority to reverse a misidentification, but iNaturalist is community science, citizen science, participatory. And with time, iNaturalist reaches consensus in a process akin to science: a community working towards agreement.


I think you are misunderstanding my comment, which is addressed at the use of the green and yellow buttons.

I’m not advocating for an additional option, or suggesting that a single vote should always be able to overrule the majority. In the case of an observation with only two votes agreeing on species, a single disagreeing genus level vote is enough to bump the record up to genus because the consensus is no longer >2/3.

I apologize if my comment was confusing because I was using an example of the dissenting ID being the 3rd on that observation. If there are more than 2 concurring identifications at species level, it would take >1 dissenting IDs to bump it back to genus. I think that’s a good system and not something that should be changed.

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I’ve become more restrained in my identifications over time. And I like to give reasons why I choose the identification, at least when I disagree with the original poster. However, that takes time. I do “agree” with a known expert (Mark Egger, Aaron Liston, some others) when I have no reason to disagree, and I’ll keep doing that. I’m not sure what to do about certain groups with very cryptic species or messed up taxonomy (e.g. Taraxacum).


I have learned to back up and just go with genus or a higher, unless I am, as someone suggested, at least 80% sure of my ID. And even then, I have been corrected on occasion. I do still occasionally slip into IDing with wild abandonment (like during the City Nature Challenges), but that is pretty much not my norm now. I am also getting better at tagging people I know to be experts in a particular area. And I am learning to not just blindly trust the iNat map for the location on a particular ID, because so many of the ID’s might be wrong. And when a taxon change happens, it might throw me into a tizzy for a while until I get a firm grip on it (although I guess I will never grasp the differences in the Genus Leucauge…lolz).
I love getting tips and info from people in the know, and love encouraging new members. I’m not a meek person by nature, so I have to bite my tongue when I run into a caustic or rude member, and just trust the powers that be to take care of them. Having my observation become “research grade” used to mean a lot to me - not so much now, as I would rather it be correct, than be wrong and misrepresented. I am learning, and truly appreciate those who take the time to teach.


I like your idea of a “please consider explaining” pop-up Also, thanks to the person who reminded me about tagging to ask for an explanation. An effective learning tool should facilitate learning, assuming the original poster isn’t just being lazy…

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[off-topic] If I know I am going to disagree I work to always add comments on why I am disagreeing, what I am seeing in the observation that is causing me to disagree. Once the green/orange-yellow dialog box appears, I already have an explanation in place, so I personally would want a way to quickly dismiss the pop-up. So the opt-out keyboard shortcut would be a key feature on the slow connections many of us deal with globally. My apologies for this reply being off-topic.


Explaining identifications is useful, but takes time. Something that helps: I now have a file of responses for commonly encountered problems. For example, the difference between Timothy and Meadow Foxtail Grasses, why you’re not wrong calling that willow Salix exigua even though I’m posting the name Salix interior, what a gall is, or why I labeled the “unknown” as “Fish,” which any idiot can see. I find it convenient to copy and paste.


I have always done this too, and recently I was introduced to “Text Blaze”, a plug in for chrome that allows text replacement. I now have all my “snipets” with easy to remember codes that I can type and have the snipet auto-replace.


I did a little studying using the key, but I would hardly call myself an expert. However, I seem to be one of the few on here who have studied the Lupinus key. The question is, how to get more experts, or existing scientists to join?

It may just take some more years. It is nice that people are involved for the joy of it.

It is better to stop at the genus level, unless you are 90% sure of your identification. I suppose the comments section works also.


I got couple into iNat posting about it at specialized forums: just described my experience, how it’s connected with GBIF, what problems do users encounter due to the lack of experts in certain geographical locations, etc. Small steps, but we got long way ahead for development :wink:


I don’t often agree with others’ identifications of my species for the simple reason that a great many of my “öbservations” have yet to be described and named. For some, the genus, if I know it, is not even in the iNat database. I have to admit that I don’t use iNat in the manner intended. That’s why I put quotes around “observations.” Except for my recent participation in the cities biodiversity challenge, 95% of what I post is photos of beetle specimens I have collected in Ecuador, most of them dead and positioned next to a rule. I post dorsal and ventral views for most and shots of various other views of their anatomy for some. It will be many decades before a majority of them are identifiable. I think researchers should make up their own minds about what is “research grade.” It depends on what they are studying. Thus I am not much compelled to boost anything to iNat’s Research Grade.


This is just an anecdote, but I’m a professional scientist (for what that’s worth) who has used iNat as a source of data for my research. In one genus of plants, iNat currently has 100% of the observations correctly identified. In professionally curated herbaria, over 25% of accessions are misidentified. I see similar patterns for some genera of mammals. Given that, I doubt that hiring or recruiting a few “experts” will make iNat any better a source of data than our professionally curated natural history collections.


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