Change wording used by the system when downgrading an observation to an higher level taxa

@kiwifergus I don’t fully follow your first intervention (may be a language issue, since I am not a native english speaker). I agree with you that an explicit disagreement with a species ID should be only left when having strong evidence that the species is wrong. And in that case it should be motivated with a comment. I also fully agree that there should be a greater level of dialogue amongst users when disagreeing on a certain ID. At the same time, I do not consider improper bringing an observation to a higher level taxa, when I know there is not enough evidence to reach a lower level ID. Doing that and leaving a comment motivating your decision are not mutually exclusive options, so I’d rather do both.
Also, I find very risky to only changing the wording of the second question to make it lead to obvious disagreement. Because you would exclude all the many cases in which there is no evidence to exclude a species but there is ALSO no evidence to confirm it. This situation represents the majority of the cases of misgiven IDS in my opinion (e.g. non-expert users entering IDs of the most common species without being aware of the existence of very similar, less-known species), and there should be a way to amend for it, other then just leaving an informative comment (which may be taken in consideration or not by the original user).
Probably a compromising solution could be having three options, as suggested by others above, with the 2nd and 3rd option only being selectable after leaving a MANDATORY comment. So there will be no disagreements left without an explanation from the disagreeing users.

EDIT: I will add here that I actually don’t even see the point of having the 1st option. It has no impact on the community ID and can only be left by someone who doesn’t know whether there is enough evidence or not… so, if you don’t know, why adding a higher level ID in the first place? I don’t see a purpose. But could be that I am missing on something.

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This might help make my point clear.

In a museum an expert might look at a number of specimens, and put IDs of a species. Another expert might review them, and “correct” them by changing the IDs to something else.

But in iNat, we don’t do it that way. all suggested IDs get noted, and the ID applied to the specimen is a representative one BASED on everyone’s IDs collectively. No one person’s ID is treated as right. No one person gets to say the applied ID is wrong.

What often happens is that an identifier feels the ID should be at genus, so they explicitly disagree to FORCE CID to change to genus. They do this even when they admit it COULD be that species, but they insist it can’t be ID’d to species by photo.

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If I remember correctly it used to be that adding an ID of a higher taxa automatically counted as an explicit disagreement, but then enough people had situations where they didn’t intend that that the two-option-system we have was added.

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Would you say then that the green button should be used for @fogartyf’s cases #1 and #3 and the yellow button only for #2?

I think if someone posts an observation to species level and I know that it cannot currently be identified to species on iNaturalist, either because there are several knowledgeable people on iNaturalist who don’t know how to separate them, or because an expert has explicitly told me that the species can’t be separated from photos, then I think it’s fair to push it back up to genus with an explicit disagreement. If in the future we learn something new about separating them or a new expert joins who knows how to separate them, then it can easily by changed by adding more IDs.

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I very much disagree with the “I can’t, so you can’t either” point of view.

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If I remember correctly it used to be that adding an ID of a higher taxa automatically counted as an explicit disagreement, but then enough people had situations where they didn’t intend that that the two-option-system we have was added.

@upupa-epops, I remember why it was changed to a two-options system. But adding the second option automatically nullifies the purpose of having the first option, in my opinion. When I am in front of an observation which already received a species ID, adding my higher level taxa through the first option adds no information to the community. I would either confirm the species ID or disagree with it or do nothing. My opinion.

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It does add information. It shows that you are only confident of it to the higher level. When I see that, I might take it as a cue to re-evaluate my own…

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Ok, I see a point there.

I really do not see it as a big problem with that. There are many cases of observations showing distractedly taken pictures of an animal in the woods, especially small animals, followed by the ID of the most common species resembling that animal. If I have expertize on that taxon and I clearly recognize that the picture carries no information to support a specific ID, I should be able to revert the ID to a higher level and, of course, inform the user about my decision.
When I do that, I receive feedbacks such as: “ah ok, I indeed only gave a tentative ID” or “Ah, yes, I rushed too much with my ID, I didn’t know I should be looking to this and that character”.
This is what I experienced so far.

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The system asks if the evidence provided is enough to confirm to species. If this species cannot be confirmed from photos (even by experts), then the answer to that question has to be no.
My reading of the current language is that disagreements of type #3 require explicit disagreement – the yellow option. It doesn’t matter if it could be that species, what matters is whether the evidence is sufficient to be sure that it is.

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since this back and forth never seems to end, and is difficult to establish, i am wondering if another solution might work. What if we have three options here:

  1. Yes, i am confident that this is Carex stricta (‘green’ option)
  2. No, i am confident it is not Carex stricta ('red option)
  3. I am confident that we can’t determine if this is Carex stricta from the evidence. (yellow option)

Maybe we don’t need non-disagreeing IDs if we have these three options available.

1 obviously results in an agreement. 2 would involve knocking the observation back to genus (or higher - explicit disagreement).
3 would not knock the observation back to genus, but would put it in ‘casual’ or a new ‘unverifiable’ category. In fact, i’d remove ‘casual’ and put these, along with all no-media observations, into ‘unverifiable’. Those can already be turned on and off on the range maps and filtered away. A blurry photo someone says is Carex stricta with no diagnostic features visible is essentially the same as someone putting in a photoless observation of Carex stricta, right? This option would also save everyone some time when someone explicitly disagrees with something I am confident in because they didn’t think there was enough evidence, which inevitably just causes me to turn off community ID for that observation and create a ‘casual’ observation.
Option 4 of course is suggesting a different species: “This is not Carex stricta, it is Calamagrostis canadensis”. That can keep functioning as it does now.

Along with these changes:

-I’d make sure things marked as mapped wrong or no evidence of organism are still excluded - not as unverifiable but as problematic data and filtered out of most site functionality.

-Observations with no date I’d honestly rather see eligable for research grade. They are still valuable data. But if not that, i’d be ok with them in unverifiable.

-Remove captive/cultivated from ‘casual’, allow them to get research grade, and just use robust filters to make sure people who don’t want to see them don’t. Either continue excluding from the map or use a different symbol. Do not export them to data partners who do not want them.

Thoughts? I kind of think this would solve several big problems at once, but maybe it would create other problems I don’t know of.

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The current green option fulfills “I don’t know if this is Carex stricta subsp. stricta, but I do know it’s Carex stricta”.

yeah but i am basically proposing that if one thinks there isn’t enough evidence they don’t bonk it back taxonomically just make it unverifiable (subject to community ID voting).

I’m not referring to evidence in my (fake) example.

The difference is that it might still be possible for it to become Research Grade at genus or family level as a photo. For a lot of insects and other arthropods it’s not possible to get to species level from photos but genus is easier and still valuable.

How about a more equal “nobody can, and we’re all disappointed together”?

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I guess it depends on what you are looking at and why but for that example in particular, Carex is a huge and diverse genus… an unverifiable Carex stricta is far, far more useful than a verified Carex sp., and when you explicitly disagree now, you lose the former. In unverifiable observations, you can still also filter by genus and see it, albeit not research grade.

I know for other taxa that is different, thus the challenge. My issue here is mostly that i don’t want to lose my Carex stricta data point due to some overzealous person who can’t identify it. And yes that has happened before with Carex species and others.

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This is my main point… It is not your decision to revert the ID to a higher level, no matter what your expertise level is… The CID algorithm does that. Your role is to make an ID that reflects what YOU think it is. Your expertise can be expressed appropriately through a comment.

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From the way I see it, expressing what I think it is sometimes coincides with reverting a previous ID… If I understand your reasoning correctly, i should express what I think it is without having any impact on the ID left by the others, and simply explain my doubts or disagreement on a comment. This pretty much reflects the option number 1. And by doing that you will not affect the CID algorithm in any way, unless the other user will decide to respond to and follow the information given by your comment (this doesn’t happen SO often, in my experience, and definitely doesn’t happen in every case).
So, I am not quite sure that’s the way to go. I see this platform as a valuable tool, but only if we are all able to maintain the observations to a reliable level. And this does not only mean giving what you think it is the correct ID; it also means avoiding that a potentially wrong ID sits there when it doesn’t have any reason to stay there.

But maybe I am just struggling to interpretate your reasoning correctly. Sorry if that’s the case.

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[Edit: Feel free to skip to the bold text below. I think it’s a simpler solution than my initial suggestion.]

If someone posts a mammal and IDs it as genus Sorex (long-tailed shrews), and I put an ID of Mammalia, the system will ask “Is the evidence provided enough to confirm this is Sorex?” That’s fine.

Currently, option 1 (green) says “I don’t know but I am sure this is Mammals.” That’s not great. “I am sure” adds a standard that just doesn’t apply and is unnecessary. The system’s question doesn’t include any standard of certainty, and there’s no official standard of certainty for making an identification on iNaturalist that I know of. The standard for identification is up to the individual user, and the question asked by the system is simply, “Is the evidence provided enough to confirm this is Sorex?” Therefore, the green option 1 can just be “I don’t know.” Or if we really want option 1 to restate the chosen ID, it can just be “I don’t know, but this is Mammals.”

Regardless of whether the current green option is retained as-is or revised as above, if this option is selected, the language “johnschneider disagrees this is genus Sorex” should not appear below my ID, and the CID algorithm should not take my ID into account. Those things don’t currently happen, anyway, so that’s fine.

Currently, the only other option that appears (yellow box) is “No, but it is a member of Mammals.” That’s not fine. Obviously I think it’s a member of Mammals, or I wouldn’t have entered Mammals as my ID. What the system should be trying to figure out instead is whether I think it could be a member of Sorex.

This is easily done by replacing existing yellow option 2 with something like the following two options (as responses to the question of “Is the evidence provided enough to confirm this is Sorex?”):

  • In a yellow box: “No. Although this could be a member of Sorex, the evidence provided is not enough to confirm.” (If this option is selected, then something like “johnschneider disagrees the evidence provided is enough to confirm genus Sorex” should appear below my ID.)

    and

  • In a red box: “No. This is not a member of Sorex.” (If this option is selected, “johnschneider disagrees this is genus Sorex” should appear below my ID.)

Replacing the current yellow option with these two options would solve the very real problem identified by the original poster.

I just re-read the original post and thought of a solution that I think is simpler than the one I just described.

Say someone posts a mammal and IDs it as genus Sorex (long-tailed shrews), and I put an ID of Mammalia. If the system then asks whether I disagree with the existing ID and gives me appropriate response options, as suggested below, there doesn’t even need to be a separate question about evidence sufficiency.

The question could just be something like “Do you disagree this is Sorex?” and the response options could be something like:

  • In a red box: “Yes.” (If I choose this option, “johnschneider disagrees that this is genus Sorex” would appear under my ID.)

    and

  • In a yellow box: “No, but the evidence provided is not enough to confirm genus Sorex.” (If I choose this option, “johnschneider disagrees that this is genus Sorex” should not appear under my ID. However, I do think it would be helpful for something like “johnschneider disagrees that the evidence provided is enough to confirm genus Sorex” to appear under my ID.)

I guess there could also still be a green box, saying something like, “No, and the evidence provided may or may not be enough to confirm genus Sorex” – or maybe even just “No.” If I choose this option, there’s shouldn’t be anything under my ID, and the CID algorithm wouldn’t take my ID into account.

Also, if I choose the yellow box, should the CID algorithm take my ID into account? I think that it should, although perhaps(?) it should have less weight than if I choose the red box.

Or I guess there could be two levels of question. Like asking about sufficiency only if I answer “no” to the question about whether I disagree with genus Sorex.

Well, these sound like fairly complicated solutions, after all, and I have to go take care of some other things now. But hopefully this has given the people behind the site some things to think about :)

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I get lost when we start talking about what the green button is, and what it could be, and red and yellow and green and blue… dang, my head get’s turned inside out!

My hypothetical cases:

Joe Inatter posts an observation, and calls it Agenus specifica. Harry Identifier comes along, and looks closely… sees it is blue, not green and deduces it can’t be Agenus specifica because those are green. Harry puts an ID of Agenus and ticks the box to say explicitly disagree with Agenus specifica. CID becomes Agenus with >2/3 agreement at that level.

Lets say it was a black and white photo, and Harry can’t tell if it’s blue or green, but knows it will be in genus Agenus, just not sure if Joe is right about the species. Harry IDs as Agenus and doesn’t tick the box to say explicitly disagree. Joe would have seen this in real life, and so would know whether it is blue or green, but hasn’t stated which in the description. It could be Agenus specifica, or it might be some other Agenus, Harry can’t tell from the photo. So Harry also comments: “Hey Joe, Agenus specifica are green, but if this was blue, then it would be best to ID at genus (Agenus in this case)”. CID is at species still as there has not been an explicit disagreement, which is how it should be because Joe saw this in real life, Harry is only seeing the photo. Joe may know more than Harry and can tell by the size of the toenails… who knows! But then Joe reads the comment and replies “oh, didn’t know that, yes it was blue!.. thanks for the tip!” and changes his ID to Agenus. Or he might reply "nah, you can tell by the toenails, but I also did see that it was green :) " in which case Harry sees his reply, and comments back “oh, I didn’t know about the toenail thing, interesting… I’ll have to look into the validity of that, but I can agree with you on the colour” and Harry changes his ID to Agenus specifica.

Or perhaps Harry is of the same mind as the scientific community generally, in that NO Agenus can be determined to species by photo, and that the green/blue thing is a misconception that is rife on the internet so gets mis-ID’d far too often! Same deal… it could be Agenus sopecifica, or it might not. Genus level ID with no explicit disagreement, and comment to Joe that “to ID to species it needs to be put through a blender, and the generally accepted position on these is to ID to genus”.

It falls down in nearly all cases when Joe doesn’t partake in the conversation, as there is no way to back up to the genus without an explicit disagreement. The observation “belongs” to Joe, so I don’t think anyone is morally correct to force the change back up to genus with a lie about their own view of what it is. I know observers that have changed their global settings to opt out of Community ID for this very reason.

We are all “equals” in iNat in terms of our IDs, so how would you feel if someone went through your observations and bumped them back to Plantae simply because that is where they feel they can only be ID’d to from the photograph they are looking at? I can just hear the reply now… “Oh, but some of us are more equal than others”…

It is difficult to walk away from an observation that you feel has the wrong ID, and the more expert you are, the more sure you can be about it being wrong… but it is NOT WRONG! CID is the result of the IDs made by all identifiers involved in that observation. If the CID is showing something that you feel is wrong, then what you need to “fix” is the ID of the other identifier. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so they say, so have a go at changing the viewpoint of the other identifier!

If an observation ends up with two IDs at species by two identifiers that don’t engage in dialog with the community, then it becomes RG, but even then, RG is not that big a deal… it’s just an label. Anyone using the data for serious use should be validating the content anyway, and so the best thing you can do is hit the observation with good comments to highlight concerns you have about species level ID for these.

I won’t go into the idea of tagging in (called brigading by some) as it is ineffective in these cases anyway. I do think iNat devs need to look at ways that can be used to address the absent/unresponsive identifiers with their problematic IDs (and there are other situations where they are problematic too) because if they aren’t present to partake in the discussion and change their positions according to the outcomes, then they aren’t really a part of the community, so why should their IDs count toward Community ID. Perhaps if someone hasn’t been active for the last 12 months, their IDs that are inconsistant with the active participant IDs should be removed from the CID calculation. How this would be implemented would be difficult, perhaps when an account becomes 12 months inactive, it is parsed for dissenting IDs at that stage… dunno… gets messy real fast! I only throw it on the table in case it sparks some other ideas :)

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I feel like some of this discussion loses sight of the objective reality that:

A) the organism in an observation belongs to a single taxon at a given level (e.g., genus, species)

B) there either is or isn’t enough evidence in the photograph to correctly label that organism with the taxon it belongs to

As an expert in identification of Taxon A, I see no reason I shouldn’t be able to bump an observation up a taxonomic level (e.g., genus to species) if the answer to B is “there isn’t enough evidence”.

If experts don’t have that ability, then there is no ability for the community to override two users who over-identify an observation to species, even if 1000 observers add a non-disagreeing genus level ID. That would be a significant blow to the quality of the data in iNat.

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