Agreeing with yourself

Sometimes I identify things on other sites (BugGuide, etc). Later, I may also notice that the user crossposted the observation to iNaturalist when I am going through and making identifications, and the observation is already identified and labeled along the lines of “Det C. Mallory” (ie me). To agree with these identifications feels wrong somehow, as I would essentially just be agreeing with myself to make an observation RG; am I overthinking this, or is there a protocol to adhere to in these kinds of situations?


Yeah, I won’t agree with myself. I try not to make this all about stats. Usually I delete IDs when I suspect some little kid has just agreed with my initial ID because there’s a button that looks like “Thanks”.

You’re already listed as identifying the record. That sounds good.


Yes, I would probably also not agree with that on principle.

If those observations are on iNat and they are citing an ID from someone else, like you, I would also leave a comment asking that the user sticks to iNat guidelines and only identifies based on their own expertise. You can use the example you give here as a reason why this is problematic.


Are there two separate issues to consider here?

First, the issue of agreeing with one’s own ID made elsewhere, to make an iNat observation RG. I agree that that this seems wrong mostly from a bookkeeping perspective. That is, this becomes a sort of loophole for getting an ‘extra vote’ to make an iNat observation RG. This seems something to avoid.

That said, the whys and hows of citing an ID by a recognized expert from another site - or even citing in person expert identification - seem worth a discussion quite separate from the bookkeeping aspect of explicitly confirming one’s own ID. In some situations, I intuit, some iNat users cite an expert ID as evidence of a final, confirmatory step. That is, they, having applied their own expertise (such as it is) to identification, wish to reality check the ID i.e. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s this but it makes sense to check with so and so’. This seems not wrong and not in violation of iNat guidelines (though I’m certainly open to hearing arguments to the contrary).

And, in such discussions, it seems hard not to butt up against - for good or ill - philosophizing about expertise. In some instances, I (like many other users) apply a key to make an ID. I’d be uncomfortable calling my keying expertise. Nonetheless, careful keying seems to fit solidly inside what is advisable/allowed for suggesting an iNat ID. In keying, aren’t I simply leveraging someone else’s hard-earned expertise?

To extend, suppose the esteemed author of the reference I used to key comes along and confirms the ID I suggest. Would this be a bookkeeping error of the type described by psyllidhipster or would we like to call this a legitimate iNat RG observation?


Hi, if I may, I occasionally crosspost on Bugguide and iNat. I will sometimes use the expert’s ID on Bugguide on iNat. and thank the expert for the identification along with Bugguide for the help. To me, I am crediting sources, not trying for research grade. (Once I know what something is, I am unconcerned about research grade. I’m just updating my lists to reflect what I have learned. I am satisfying my own curiosity.) Also, when I was new, I followed the pattern of fellow iNat users who have used Bugguide and iNat for years apparently and acknowledged the outside help. I assumed for the same reason–acknowledging a respected source. I do not expect the expert to revisit my observation in a second place. I can stop doing that and cross posting if it seems problematic. I only wanted to point out that it isn’t necessarily about attaining research grade.


I think, as @woodillj notes, there are a few overlapping issues or aspects to consider here. I’ve been guilty of posting something to iNat with a note that so-and-so identified it on BugGuide or a Facebook group. I thought I was saving that expert the hassle of having to ID my photo twice, but I later realized that it could be problematic for identifiers who work on more than one platform, so I don’t think I do it anymore. (Only iNat has the “issue” of RG status, however; it’s no big deal to post something directly to a species page in BugGuide with a note that it was identified by such-and-such expert in a Facebook group or on iNaturalist.) But I don’t always know which experts work across multiple sites. And even if they do, will they ever look at my particular posting on both platforms? As for the (sort of separate) issue of posting it to iNat with an ID that I couldn’t come up with on my own when I posted it to BugGuide, I would say that in many cases I learn from the IDs given on the first platform and use those IDs going forward to identify my later observations, or to label my photos that I later post to iNaturalist. After receiving species IDs on BugGuide for several observations of a particular moth species, for example, I can now recognize that moth better and feel at least somewhat qualified to call it species X when I post it to iNat rather than placing it at genus or family. Perhaps I should have a higher standard for my own identifying skills! Sigh :)

On the flip side, I can recall instances when I’ve identified plants for a friend in the field, and they later post sightings of the plants to iNaturalist with the names I gave them. I’ve probably clicked “Agree” on a few of those without considering that I’m essentially agreeing with myself. But I also know that my friend now recognizes and IDs these particular plants correctly when posting.

I second the comment by @octobertraveler that my use of iNat is not about trying to achieve RG as often as possible. I post many many moth photos, for example, that will never get past tribe or my own suggested species ID. I don’t expect an expert to re-ID my observations, but I also don’t see occasional agreements with oneself as a big problem.


To address the issue of agreeing with an expert, the first and clearest point is that iNat asks identifiers to use their own expertise to identify. The help page notes:

“An identification confirms that you can confidently identify it yourself compared to any possible lookalikes. Please do not simply “Agree” with an ID that someone else has made without confirming that you understand how to identify that taxon. If you agree with the ID without actually knowing the taxon, it may reach Research Grade erroneously.”

So users should not ID or agree based with another user (either on iNat or not) solely on the basis of their assessment of the other user’s expertise.

In regards to expertise, using a key is not an issue. It does rely on knowledge codified somewhere else, which is a good thing. There will be an author or authors of the key, of course, although it’s worth pointing out that all keys will build on previous sources. So, like almost all scientific works, keys are ultimately a community effort in that they are built on the work of previous scientists.

If a user is using a key, they are using an objective standard that another user can assess and validate. The specific steps in the key can be discussed, along with traits, etc. Using a key requires one’s own set of expertise (evaluating the presence of traits, knowledge of vocabulary, etc.) - so someone using a key is using a source in combination with their own expertise to make a determination. This is essentially how all IDs will work - they are all based on some exterior source of foundational knowledge.

A big difference from the above is that, just quoting/copying another user’s identification cannot be evaluated in the same way. Users can’t then discuss specific traits or aspects of the ID process to assess whether the correct answer has been made - there isn’t a body of external, common facts that users can really work with.

In the specific case of agreeing to another user’s existing identification on iNat this also doesn’t really add any information to an ID - it’s just reiterating a point that’s already been made - it is not an independent source of information.

That said, this doesn’t mean that users should ignore the expertise of other users. If an identifier educates another user on specific traits to look for, information about a species range, or other facts or processes about how to make an ID, and that user is then able to verify those facts/processes themselves, then it’s totally reasonable for them to make the same ID (and encouraged!). That’s how we all learn on iNat, and it’s a different process from just agreeing to an identifier’s ID or reposting it based on the identifier’s authority/perceived expertise.

On a side note with regards to motivation, I don’t think it is a central issue here. The behavior of reposting/agreeing could be to get to RG or not, but any issues with presenting someone else’s ID as a user’s own or agreeing to another user’s ID without being able to confirm it are present regardless of specific motivation.


When the author of my wildflower guide confirms the ID I made using his book - that definitely equals 2 votes for Research Grade.


I just won’t post to Bugguide. Thanks for the clarification.

Sometimes I am physically present when an observation of a plant is made, and I tell the observer what the plant is called, and they put that as their upload ID. Then later when I see it on iNat, I don’t ID it because I consider that my opinion given twice.


If you link to enough other sites / sources where you’re the author, it might look a bit like this:


I’m laughing.

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I think you can still post to Bugguide (in my opinion)! I just wouldn’t add an ID on iNat based on some other Bugguide user’s ID (that I couldn’t confirm myself).

Also, I know some folks try to avoid duplication, but since Bugguide doesn’t export data to GBIF (I don’t think) that’s not a major worry.


Thank you. I do try to follow up on the iDs by reading about the insect or bug the expert has IDed regardless of whether its iNat or Bugguide, so I try to learn from the ID. I certainly have learned to do some of my own IDs as a result. But, in future, I won’t post the expert ID here. I don’t want to step on toes. I just thought I was attributing a source and crediting the expert. :)

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Is adding an ID from bugguide to iNat fundamentally any different from accepting the CV suggested ID? In both cases, the ID is coming from effectively a black box without expertise from the user.


Well, I sort of thought that I was crediting someone with expertise rather like you might do with a research paper, but since that is not correct, I’m not going to argue about what it is and is not comparable to. I just won’t do it anymore. To be clear, though, it was done with the best of intentions. Like we’re told on the forum, assume the person means well, right?


There are many IDs here, for example by top identifiers in Diptera, where iNat identifiers have had to consult an international expert off-site on a particular taxon …and then added the ID from that expert. In many taxa there may be only one expert internationally that you can turn to…

Regardless of the suggested etiquette, it´s a loss for iNaturalist if we do not use such off-site expertise to add more specific IDs here.

For me personally, many of my Diptera IDs come from identifications by experts on in Europe. These identifiers are not active on iNaturalist, and most of these observations are of rarely observed species which it’s helpful to have examples of within the system.

Adding expert IDs to rare observations like this are a far cry from how many iNat users agree blindly and take observations incorrectly to RG… which is more than anything a problem due to issues with the user interface design.

( I agree @psyllidhipster should not 2nd their own ID though… )


Quite. In most taxa, using a CV ID is incomparably worse than taking an expert opinion off-site! It seems more like the help page blurb just needs rewriting…

This help page text actually contradicts the way the majority of users use the site.


Experts use keys.


I always agree with myself because you never know when someone on here may id things incorrectly.

That said, as a BugGuide editor, I strongly encourage people to not cross-post. Just use iNat; the UI is orders of magnitude ahead of BG. Insects that are cross-posted to BG end up eating up a disproportionate amount of my time and effort because it’s next to impossible to find anything newly added to the site. Many of the people who id there may be experts in some taxa, but id others and often do so incorrectly. People make BG out to be some expert driven reliable source when it is far from that and sadly many efforts to make constructive changes are often removed by a few of the power editors there.