Agreeing with experts and "research grade"

Forcing a mandatory comment is nothing more than a recipe for either a bunch of spacebars or a suite of snarky, sarcastic comments to be added along the lines of ‘because it is’, or ‘obvious’ etc.


Well, I’m sure this well generate a lot of responses. Thanks for explaining your perspective on this.

I say this with great humility but I feel that there is a fundamental flaw in your argument. If novice user’s start basing ID’s on expert opinion you are actually just creating a new issue. Instead of asking users to determine what an organism is based on the photos and other data, you are also asking users to evaluate the level of expertise of other identifiers. If you don’t trust novice users to ID species why would you trust them to correctly identify who’s an expert and who isn’t? While it may seem obvious to you who’s an expert and who isn’t, that may be because you have a ton of experience in ecology and natural history already long before you joined iNaturalist. Someone who is just coming into this won’t necessarily know who to trust and could very well be persuaded to believe someone is an expert who you might not consider an expert.

iNaturalist could introduce some certification system so that “trusted” authorities are given a special status. But how? Every proposal to do something like this requires a whole new complex level of administration. Besides we already have curators.

A simpler approach is to encourage users to ID things based on objective criteria in the images and objective keys and guides and encourage experts to produce keys and guides. Seems much simpler to me.

I don’t know about others, but I came on the site to learn how to ID things myself.


It’s way better than doing a Google Image search – plenty of garbage there! Actually I have found looking at iNat photos to learn ID to be very helpful. Choosing photos from the center of the species range helps, and of course choosing photos from a reliable identifier.


Correct: :a novice wont know who an expert is, and therefore would not agree with them. So there is no flaw in my argument: those who know and trust the experts would do as I did. And those who dont would treat them as just another identifier.
It is only once one knows a group reasonably well, or is particularly interested in the group, that you would learn who the experts are.
iNat differs from iSpot in this regard. On iSpot specialists had special badges alongside their names on their observations showing their ID reputation. So in this regard, iNat is “safe” from novices gaming by agreeing to Experts, unless they are particularly interested in the group. But iSpot solved this problem by giving novices only 1:1000th the vote of an expert, so that gaming was not possible. It also had a system for learning, whereby as one posted correct IDs that were agreed to by other users, their ID-reputation rubbed off onto you (in proportion to their reputation), encouraging and training users, and instilling a very useful mentor-mentee relationship. So the reputation system encouraged learning. But this is just to answer your question as to how such as system would work (iSpot also had curators - their task was totally different (although on iSpot curators awarded Expert and Knowledgeable badges to eligible users).).

All new features bring along “whole new complex levels” - that should not be a valid reason not to consider them. And many seemingly complex things are deceptively simple to achieve (and vice versa).


Thanks for your response. I should probably learn more about iSpot!

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This is a human problem. You could take this discussion and apply it to any other human endeavour with very minor changes. There is no solution to people who don’t care or only care about getting high numbers or being on the top of lists. Changes to the site won’t change their priorities, only the difficulty in using the site. There is a solution to people who don’t know, and that is the many members who take the time to educate people about the site and its purpose. In all the time I have used the site I have only found one person who refused to believe they had an ID wrong even when an expert confirmed it. Most people are happy to listen, and learn. In fact, I have found, that when I explain the true purpose of the site - that it isn’t just an ID app like making your phone into a flashlight - they get more excited and are more eager to learn.I have benefited from the knowledge and kindness of many people on iNat who were willing to help me learn. I mostly do basic ID’s of the unknowns for people who are just starting, and I do my best to educate them, and to help with their ID’s. This takes time, but it is the only solution I can see which will get the most people using the site correctly and have them enjoy using it. Perhaps tweaks to the site will work, but not if they make it more difficult for members to help others learn to use the site, and learn how to ID correctly. A willingness to be wrong is the quality we should be helping to create in all members. We all makes mistakes. I leave all of mine so others can see that everyone will make mistakes. I have made many ID errors. I fix them quickly and always try to learn from them for next time. If most members are doing this, there isn’t a big problem to solve. Engaging new people with the site, educating them about how it works, instilling a culture of respectful disagreement without blaming or disparaging mistakes but educating instead is what will make the site work. Humans created iNaturalist and it is humans interacting and communicating who will make it work best.


I strongly suspect that the low usage rate of this may have something to do with the large portion of app and smartphone users on the site.

When I’m doing stuff on my phone, I don’t want to engage in extended dialogue because typing is cumbersome.

I save that for when I’m at the computer and I have a full keyboard at my disposal.

I think this may be one of those “mixed blessings” where you can’t have it both ways, on the level of the whole community. If we encourage and promote iNaturalist as a phone thing vs. a web-based thing, I suspect we’re going to get less dialogue and discussion, and probably less thought put into things too. iNaturalist has been heavily pushing itself as a phone-oriented app lately…and although this may cause us to reach a larger audience, it may produce unintended consequences in terms of decreased seriousness of engagement.

I run a bunch of websites, nothing anywhere near as big as iNaturalist, but some with large enough communities that I can see patterns of aggregate data, and the pattern is really clear…smartphone users just don’t engage as much in extended discussion. They are less likely to do anything that involves writing at all, and when they do, they write much less. And there’s not really any way around it. You can make an app better and make a site more mobile-friendly but in the end it’s just easier to type at a computer and a lot of people don’t want to spend as much time engaging in text-based dialogue on their phones, especially given that most people already spend a lot of time doing it via texting and other messaging apps, and more time spent on your phone isn’t always a good thing for your mind and body.


A large population of phone users also discourages discussion from the other end – identifiers have learned that observations posted from the app are less likely to get responses and so they are less likely to try to engage with those observers.


I think this could become odious for identifiers. When there are school groups, adding tons of IDs that often rely on Computer Vision so, in many cases, are incorrect, having to write a comment to justify your ID would dis-incentivize observations from being corrected.

I do try to add comments about why I’ve IDed something as such, when I can, but having to do so in every instance there is disagreement, would be burdensome, especially when the original ID is really implausible. Telling someone that their ID was not well thought out or researched might not be as well received as just providing an accurate ID.


very true and I agree. Just trying to think of ways to get the needed discussion happening at the observation/identify level – all of which involves more work/keystrokes, etc. and will be onerous at times, I’m sure.


Imagine that I know nothing about birds, but I’m out in the field with my friend, who is an experienced birder. I spot a bird, but can’t identify it. My friend takes a look and says, “it’s a Northern Mockingbird.” Do I say, “I agree”? Of course not. But that’s basically what I’d be doing if I clicked the “agree” button based solely on someone else’s ID.


Just speaking for myself, as a very active identifier, I have never paid any attention to whether something in front of me came from the app or the web. I just roll through everything I can, and let the chips fall where they may.


I actually played this conversation out in my head when I read it :)

Me: That’s a bird.
Tom: Yes, but not only that, it’s a Northern Mockingbird
Me: I agree
Crowd: We agree!
Jane: That’s not a Northern Mockingbird, it’s a Southern Mockingbird
Me: I agree
Crowd: We agree!


Comments during disagreement don’t (and shouldn’t) have to be required. A “please consider explaining” prompt with an opt-out button (paired with keyboard shortcut) is worth considering as a compromise.

I know it takes more time to explain why you disagree, but that kind of positive, informative interaction encourages new users (even kids from those school groups) to stick around and helps lead to a more informed user base.


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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