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

I guess I see the issue as competing burdens of proof:

  • Identifier-A identifies an observation as Species-X.
  • Identifier-B asks Identifier-A to prove (say why) it is Species-X
  • Identifier-A asks Identifier-B to prove it is not Species-X

Who has the burden of proof? In the iNaturalist world, both do, regardless of expertise. That is how great learning conversations get started around identifying observations.

In this hypothetical scenario, if neither identifier can support their case, then neither should be saying that it is or is not Species-X. That is why Identifier-B needs a third option, instead of disagreeing that it is Species-X, to disagree that species-level (or whatever-level) identification is possible for this observation.

This again comes with its own burden of proof, to convince Identifier-A that they have insufficient evidence to call this Species-X, or Species-Y, or any other species. Then it’s up to Identifier-A to adjust their ID, or justify standing their ground.

All this said, it is well to remember that iNaturalist asks identifiers only to “Suggest an Identification” and “Tell us why…” With photographic evidence, we are usually dealing (at best) with a preponderance of circumstantial evidence, not 100% proof either way. Good enough, I say, for what we are trying to do here.


I have to admit I got pretty confused by all the responses here and I’m still not sure I totally understand what’s at issue.

In the hopes of making it clearer (but at the risk of making it more confusing) I’ve made a silly chart and attached it as jpg image.

@michele_m Can you confirm that this diagram captures your issue? (I don’t want to misconstrue it).

My sense is that there may be no way to avoid the problem that @charlie describes (in the first response) while simultaneously avoiding the problem that @fogartyf describes later on.


To address the specific feature request, was this wording suggested here already? Maybe it was in the Google Group…

Rather than “bouteloua disagrees this is Geranium maculatum”, it could be “bouteloua disagrees with the ID Geranium maculatum”

This covers both bases. I could be disagreeing that it’s that particular species, or I could be saying that the ID is unwarranted given the evidence provided.


Or maybe adding an “or” to the response: “bouteloua disagrees this is Geranium maculatum OR does not believe there is enough evidence to confirm this is is Geranium maculatum”

Pretty long winded but it is pretty specific.


suppose there’s an observation with 3 existing IDs:

  1. species Z
  2. genus Y (parent of Z)
  3. genus X (not a parent of Z but in the same family A as Y)

suppose i want to make an ID family A because i know it’s not Z and it’s not Y, but it might be X or W (W = another genus in family A). when making my ID A, i’d like the system to ask me a question for each of the existing 3 (distinct) IDs:

Even though you made an ID at a higher level, is it still possible that this organism is
genus X?(Yes/No)
genus Y?(Yes/No)
species Z? (Yes/No)

i’d like to select Yes for X and No for Y, and i’d like the system to figure out that since i selected No for Y, my answer for Z must also be No. i’d like each of my explicit disagreements to be noted on the corresponding IDs, and i’d like to be able to go back after the fact and change an explicit disagreement. for example, if i decide that it’s still not Z but it could actually be something in Y, i’d like an option to change my explicit disagreement with Y (instead of having to put a new ID for A out there and redoing the whole disagreement process).

i don’t think it’s important to provide an option to explicitly disagree in cases where someone has, say, a species-level ID and you don’t like it because you think nobody can identify below genus based on existing evidence. i think this is a case where comments work just fine.

This thread has become cumbersome, but right near the top I suggested something similar to you that I feel is more concise: ‘ID to X.x species is incorrect or is not possible based on the available evidence" , I don’t see a need to include the name of the person disagreeing, as that is surely obvious.


3 posts were split to a new topic: Disagreeing ID text is persistent once previous ID is deleted

I like having the two options. The wording is really confusing at first, though.

I use one (yellow, I think) to say I know the plant is NOT what is says, but does belong to the higher taxon.

I sometimes use the other (green?) to say I agree with the higher level. I think this useful because I work with difficult taxa, e.g. grasses and sedges, and sometimes I just want to say yes, the genus is right, good work, but I can’t confirm the species.


I tend not to focus on the wording but rather on the function of the button. If I want to leave the current consensus untouched, I click on the green button. If I want to impinge against the current consensus, I choose the yellow-orange button. @andy71’s chart is a solid summary but I choose not to consider the right-most path as an option for me. I can only decide what I think to be correct, not what others might be able to know or not know. For all I know the observer did put the organism in a blender, or, more seriously, has knowledge external to the post that allows them to make an identification that I might believe cannot be made.

I do not decide what others can know or not know, I only decide what I know. That for me is a difference in the way iNaturalist works: no expert, however that might be defined, has a trumping final authority on what others can or cannot know. Change the wording for clarity, sure, but not the nature of the downgrading functionality.


It is confusing and is causing friction. Reading this thread it would seem that we are divided into two camps:
Those who believe one shouldn’t explicitly disagree with an ID to species level X.x, even if the experts will tell you we cannot currently know for certain from the available info that it is that species (because according to this camp it ‘could be’ the sp X.x so how can one say it isn’t? ), versus
Those who say if we can’t know for certain it is species X.x vs species X.y then we must retreat to the certainty of the genus X.sp.
I feel iNat needs to come to a consensus on best practice and then word the disagreement to reflect this. Currently the wording seems to indicate the iNat regards the best practice is to only explicitly disagree if you know for certain it isn’t species X.x.


To me, the wording can be interpreted both ways, which is where it is causing the confusions. But the OUTCOME of the choices and the iNat policy of community ID definitely support that position.

i do think a lot of this comes down to differences in taxa too. For spiders for instance, there are truly cases where literally no one knows (or at least can describe) how to tell them apart without dissecting them, etc. But for plants, there are multiple keys and also characteristics that are not in keys, such that it’s nearly impossible to say that someone else who knows their stuff can’t distinguish one from another. I have my characteristics I use to tell X from Y, and many times i’ve asked how someone distinguished two plant options and learned a new feature identifying a given species i didn’t know about before! For those reasons, except in the case of duress user type blurred nonsense and way out of range impossibilities (saguaros in Maine, etc) I don’t really think people should be using iNat to explicitly disagree on plants if you don’t know if the ID is correct or not. For sure with users who have left the site and a questionable ID it gets tricky, same with cryptic species and such. So there are rare cases where it seems appropriate. But in most cases, it’s better to ask first. Often a person didn’t even know about the second option (for instance Toxicodendron rydbergii) and willwithdraw the ID to genus or give oyu enough info to explicitly disagree after that.


Your summary seems accurate to me. I think it’s all about the “orange/green”?? on the right sight of @andy71’s chart.
There are a couple times I have used the orange button for that scenario to roll back the majority of observations of a particular species to genus. I imagine that would be concerning for some here. :)

One was Eupeodes americanus and the other was Graphocephala coccinea. Both of them are pretty difficult to separate from similar species in their genera. But in both cases they are the most common of the options, so that a field guide to the most common insects of the area or a quick Google search would only show that species. As a result, there were over 100 Research Grade observations of each going into the computer vision and GBIF etc.

One expert on BugGuide has a way to separate E. americanus but a field guide he reviewed says there’s no way to separate it from other species. Since I made the identifications I’ve learned that G. coccinea can sometimes be separated from similar species depending on the quality of photos, so I’m less confident pushing many of them back to genus. I did receive a bit of pushback which I’m thankful for because I learned from it. But I don’t regret changing the IDs because most of them are still unidentifiable, now people are (hopefully) more cautious identifying these species, I’m still around to withdraw my ID if I’m corrected on individual observations, and they’re (hopefully) not messing up the computer vision as much any more. Many were probably correct but there’s no way to know, and based on the users, quality of photos, and reactions to my identifications I think most of the identifications were based almost solely on the computer vision suggestion.

So anyway with all that said, given the comments on this observation suggesting that only very obvious G. coccinea should be identified to species at this point in time, and the number of Research Grade observations that don’t look super bright, what would be the best way to approach these again?


I’m one of some :)

but really, as long as you have considered all viewpoints and then formed your own position with those considered, and then apply that position fairly and considerately, what more can anyone expect!


I think as you have done in some of these cases, asking observers if they have excluded confusion species is a good way to start. If they haven’t even heard of the confusion species because it’s not shown in field guides (or don’t respond after a reasonable period), then rolling it back to genus makes sense. Then someone who really knows the species - if they turn out to be at all possible to distinguish from photos - can comment and move the ball forward again in the future. If observers feel strongly their ID is right, they should be ready to explain why (or, less ideal, they can always opt out of community ID for that observation).


Thanks to everyone who contributed thoughts here. We’ve discussed this at length internally this week. There’s no question our past communication about this has been poor and inconsistent as was our understanding of how people ‘disagree’. We just fixed a few bugs and posted a blog post that tries to clarify how things are working now and lays out a plan for how to improve things

There’s a lot of other threads relevant to this topic. Should I chime in on those with a link to the post, or do you think people will find it via this thread?


i think the proposed solution in the blog post could be just as potentially confusing as the current implementation. in your blog example, suppose B’s ID comes after everyone else’s IDs. so A says it’s 7-spotted while C,D, and E say it’s Asian. when B makes his class-level Insecta ID, suppose all he knows is that’s not 7-spotted, though it might be Asian, Lady Beetle, or some other insect. What disagreement choices will the system prompt him with after the proposed change has been implemented?

In the example you describe, the Community Taxon would be Asian Lady Beetle before B’s ID

So if B thought its not Seven-spotted but maybe Asian, he should not disagree with the Community Taxon.

But if B were to add an ID of Insects, the disagreement choices would be in regards to Asian Lady Beetle (not Seven-spotted Lady Beetle). In this example, neither would immediately impact the Community Taxon, but a ‘branch disagreement’ would add some additional disagreements to taxa like ‘Lady Beetles Family’ and ‘Seven spotted Lady Beetles’

while a ‘leading disagreement’ would not

so B would ‘branch disagree’ if they though the observation couldn’t be identified finer than Class Insects and would ‘leading disagree’ if they thought it was not Asian Lady Beetle but could be some other insect

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Extreme disappointment from me on this… I read it as saying “experts” should be bumping CID back if THEY can’t id, which to me goes against the whole concept of community ID. You may as well implement a reputation system…

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Thats why were planning the changes @kiwifergus - its now clear to us that ‘leading disagreements’ are more commonly used and less controversial than ‘branch disagreements’.

All we’re saying is that since we originally built ancestor disagreements (both when it was implicit and then explicit) the system has been interpreting them as ‘branch disagreements’ based on how the Community Taxon is tallying ancestor disagreements. (and obviously we did a very poor job of communicating this as all the ongoing confusion has demonstrated)