Comments made when suggesting alternative identifications (or corrections)

Alternative identifications and corrections are very much welcomed and appreciated, as are comments made when doing so.

However, with those comments, instead of saying something like, “Definitely not XXX,” or something similar and leaving it that, it’s helpful if a reason is given, eg: “that species is found in BBB”, “the vent feather colors are different in YYY than they are in ZZZ,”, “the stamens in QQQ have a different shape than in the observation,” etc.

Not only does that help the original observer to make better IDs and indicate critical features to look for, it also helps people to weed out incorrect suggestions that others have made.

A lot of other ID groups I’m a member of have a policy where members need to provide some additional information rather than blurting out an ID. iNat has a different foundational approach, but it’s helpful to the community to offer some reason when suggesting an iD that is different from what others have made.

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All very true, but …
There aren’t enough identifiers as it is. If you made it compulsory to add comments and explanations as well even less people will be willing to add IDs.

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I do a lot of Bumble Bee ID’s, and for a lot of corrections I will put a brief explanation. The problem is that takes time, especially since in most cases I can’t (shouldn’t) say things like “yellow on T2”, I have to say “yellow on second abdominal stripe”, because unless they know bees, T2 is some weird typo. A second problem is the amount of people who upload a picture either at the behest of a friend or for a project like a bioblitz, and then never return to the site. So I end up wasting my time giving a free education that no one uses, and other bumble bee ID’ers don’t need. The areas that I will always take time for an explanation are: if the person asks for one either in the original post, or tags me afterward, or if there are several mis-ID’s on the post already.

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Hmmm… I sometimes add Definitely not… or no comment at all. Most cases are:

  • Extremely common (and numerous) misidentifications while using AI. There is jus no time and sense in explaining every time, why it is Xanthoria parietina and not Candelaria concolor.
  • The original ID is for a pic of such low quality that it is impossible to tell the species or even genus.
  • Sometimes (rarely) when there are many things to ID and little time to do that and full explanation will involve extensive descriptions and comparisons of both involved species and (along with this popular explanation of specific terms).

Then, read the comment by @liesvanrompaey and check, for example, how many IDers are there, for example, for Lecanoromycetes (discount all these who only do Agree IDs) and compare against the number of observations.

And the last one (bit angry): there have been lots of grievances and instructions spilled lately in the Forum on the IDers: IDs take a long time, there are no comments when disagreeing or, on the contrary, why there are comments, there should be only IDs, etc. But, users dear, where is your own effort? Where is your own search for information (aside from iNat resources which are very limited)? Where are your educated questions and discussion?

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I specifically did not say anything about making it compulsory. In fact, I addressed that specific issue in the final paragraph.

iNat has a different foundational approach, but it’s helpful to the community to offer some reason when suggesting an iD that is different from what others have made.

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I addressed @liesvanrompaey’s comment in the final paragraph of the post at the time of writing. No mention was ever made of, nor was it ever suggested to make it compulsory on iNat.

As for the grievances, I do a lot of IDs for my area, I don’t mind others grumbling, especially as we don’t have many people who do IDs for this region. When it’s something that’s mis-identified at a species level, or if a higher classification is identified incorrectly, I’ll generally make at least a brief comment (unless it’s something very big and obvious).

It’s an initial ID, or if it’s a refining ID I usually don’t see that any comment is necessary or even all that helpful, but if it’s a contrary ID, then it’s very helpful, and it short-circuits the extra steps in the inevitable back-and-forth that ensues when the “why that species rather than the one it was ID’d to?” questions are asked.

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Hello there !

I definitely agree with you. I have some skills to ID marine creatures, but I struggle for terrestrial organisms and especially insects. I base my ID on ID books, but I can sometimes be misleading because I don’t know about the specific criteria to recognize this or this species.

I really like when other users correct my IDs, but I always have to re-tag them in a comment on their suggestions to have some clear arguments for why they think my ID is wrong.

However, I think this is more about an ethic, as it doesn’t take me much to directly ask the other users about clarifications. I don’t think everybody is interesting in that, but I definitely am.

So, maybe it would be still OK to just let people do it the way they want, and if one wants clarifications on an ID, then one can just ask the user !

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What you say is true, but I think a lot of people on iNat simply want to know what they found, and don’t necessarily want an explanation of how exactly you determined the ID.

And I don’t want to spend a lot of time writing explanations if only half or less of the people I am explaining things to basically don’t want or need to know that.

It is only very rarely that you can simply say something like, “this is red, the others are all white”, or “this is too big to be anything else”.

And often, in order for me to explain an ID for a mollusk shell, the observer would have to have to be familiar with the terms for the anatomical parts of a mollusk shell, otherwise I would have to write a page or two of text for each ID.

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This captures my sentiment. If the observer cares to know, they can ask, and if they don’t (most don’t) then they can remain silent. I leave brief comments if the situation can be explained in brief (“common name confusion,” “name changed,” “common AI mistake,” “impossibly out of range,” “cannot ID to species from photo,” etc,) but if there’s no way to explain the situation in brief, I wait for the observer/other identifiers to ask. Or sometimes if I’m familiar with the observer and I know they appreciate tips and chat, then I’ll be much more likely to leave a note. I’m thrilled to teach anyone ID tips if they want to know–seriously yesterday I wrote 900 words to a guy who direct messaged me about the difference between two sunflowers–but conversations are two-way and I can’t just go talking to the air in hopes the other person is listening.

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I understand the point being made my the OP. I myself love to learn more about IDing most of the time and there are certainly many taxa I am not to confident about and mis-IDing can happen. I appreciate it a lot, if the IDing person leaves a short comment when correcting me, as it provides also some information on how confident the new ID might be.

However, being quite active in IDing myself, I totally get that not everybody does that all of the time. My time is often limited and often I just ID some observations in between other stuff. Having to write even a short note every time I disagree eats a lot of this time. Not only because sometimes I have to think a bit about the wording in a foreign language, so I get my point across in a way, people can understand easily enough. But actually in many cases, especially where I only ID to genus or family level, I really would have to think about easily recognizable features. I ID species since many decades now, since childhood days and often I only have take a look and I simply know why one observation belongs to a certain taxa and not to another. I can not always put this easily into words as for me it is just this otherwise unuseful explanation of “general appearance”. So trying to explain my ID can take some time, when I have to actually think about easily recognizable differences between contradicting IDs visible in the photo.
If it is fast and easy, I often give a short remark, like “does not occur on this continent”, “only one species in this genus in your area” and so on… For some very common mistakes I encountered I have prepared some general messages I can just copy and paste. However, depending on what the initially suggested ID was, they might not always make sense.

As a person being corrected myself on my own IDs without explanation, I still find it rather helpful and only in some cases actually require more input. I usually just research the species and for example compare pictures of what I thought it was and what the other person suggested and try to find similarities or differences and go back to my own picture. In most cases that provides already all the information I need. In some cases, it doesn´t. In all of those I was easily able to get more information from the person that corrected my by simply asking. I think it is fair to assume that people really interested in the reasons for a certain ID can put some effort in… and at least ask, if they want to know. So far I never experienced anyone denying an explanation when asked. I certainly would not :-)

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Another possibility is that you could just use mollusc anatomy terms or "say things like ‘yellow on T2’ ” in a short initial comment. People who don’t care won’t be troubled by that, and if they do reply, it can serve as a kind of shibboleth to determine how non-technical the follow-up explanation needs to be: When I first started on iNat, I got some replies that mentioned pronotum, elytra, spore print, etc…terms I recognize now but didn’t know when I joined the site. It prompted me to Google those terms on my own or ask for clarification (if I had said, “what’s a pronotum?” they’d know to “dumb it down” for me).

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I have a narrow specialty (butterflies of sub-saharan Africa), and I’m aiming to review all the observations that have been posted to iNat. It’s taken awhile, but I only have about 2000 difficult IDs left to make. In the process I’ve learned a lot about posting a disagreeing identification.

First, there are common ID mistakes that lots of people make. Some species are similar at a glance and can be confused by the untrained eye. Take Belenois aurota, Belenois gidica & Belenois creona severina for example. They’re among the most common butterflies in Africa and yet there’s understandable confusion between them all the time. I just don’t have the time to spend 5 minutes typing up a clear reason for the correction every instance I come across the mistake. At the same time, the mistake is understandable and the other IDers deserve to know why I disagree. My solution? I’ve made identification guides and posted them in my journal. Now I (and others) can link to those when needed (and others can use them to help get the correct ID to begin with).

Secondly, when the IDs made are obviously low effort (wrong family/genus, wrong continent), I’ve noticed a few things can happen:

  1. After investing time in finding the correct ID, I spend more time explaining why I’m disagreeing and then… the observer (or other IDers) don’t react and the ID is left in limbo. (frustrating, and feels like I’ve explained myself to a wall)
  2. I don’t bother with the explanation and simply disagree… the observer (or other IDers), who had put little effort into the initial ID, change they’re IDs without comment. (Success)
  3. (This happens infrequently) I post my disagreeing ID and the observer (or other IDers) ask for an explanation. Keep in mind, it should be pretty clear their ID is wrong and it seems that they haven’t taken any time to truly try to correctly identify what they’ve observed, but I’m the one stuck spending time justifying my ID. This is especially frustrating when the species they’ve chosen is a practical impossibility, or just plain doesn’t even look similar.

So, my solution? When I’m making a dissenting ID I frequently include a request in the comments for the others to justify why they picked what they did. If they take the time to explain their thought process, I’m happy to do the same.

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Oh, what an excellent notion! Thank you for your idea. I have used this several times, too - no response from the author of incorrect ID, so forgot it. Ah, yes, there were several responses from kids, mainly: “it was prompted by AI”. I will make a note and use this question more frequently now.

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I assumed you meant compulsory as there is already a feature of sorts to invite users to explain their ID. At least, that is how I understand “Tell us why” when you add an ID.
Now that I come to think of it, that sentence and the text area beneath it are only visible when you go to the observation page directly. When you use Identify there is only room for an ID.

The section to attach a comment to the ID is right below the ID on Identify. If you have a very small screen you might have to scroll down?

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I can see the section, but on the observation page there is text “Tell us why”. This text is not present when you use identify.

Just checked this in my iPhone and iPad both. It’s also there when you use “Suggest ID”, but it only shows up after you’ve made an ID selection. Before you confirm your choice there is a final page that has the “tell us why” field.

I totally understand this but I’ll make the case that sometimes the rest of the community ends up benefiting by stumbling on an observation of someone else’s, someone less interested and engaged, that contains a learning opportunity. I can’t say that’s the norm but I’ve experienced it, and not just with Gerald. ;)

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Yes, I find that the icon pics alone are often enough to “explain” why my suggested ID is more likely to be correct than the original ID. That is why I spend a fair bit of time on taxon pages trying to select the clearest possible image to be the default one.

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I do not think that saying

is wrong, but it would be better to share a reason that shows why it is B instead of A. I normally identify a false identification by stating that “the calyx of the flower is not matching the species” or “the leaves are decussate and have strigose hairs, instead of no hairs on the leaves.”

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