Does anyone else get bothered by how many observations are marked as "unknown species"?

I lean to b. So long as you keep up with your notifications.
Hook line and sinker gets it seen …

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I don’t think there’s a big problem with either approach. I lean to b), It’s ok to have a stab and be wrong - arguably it’s the best way of learning. If you have no idea go for a), but if you think you have a fair guess, by all means go for b). the only thing is if someone bumps it back to a broader ID rather than straight to the correct ID at the narrower level it might need more IDs to take it forward again.

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It’s a good question, and different people will give you different opinions. I think there’s a balance. Being bold usually evokes faster reponses–either your ID is wrong and people can’t resist correcting you, or it is right/believable and hitting “agree” is so easy and tempting.

When you are bold but wrong, some people find that rude, and may act unpleasantly towards you. Even if your ID is not that far off, or you are not wrong more than once in a while, just by chance one viewer might find several IDs of yours they don’t like and then forever have a low opinion of you.

Or kind of the opposite problem, if you’re the first identifier and your ID is not really correct, but believable enough, “agrees” may pile on. I always wince when I get a disagreement notification, find the other person is in fact more correct, and then see that between our two IDs, several “agrees” were made to my initial ID that I no longer stand by.


Most days, I’d say, “Go with your best guess, even if it may be wrong.” Maybe write in “maybe” or “tentative” to discourage unthinking agreement. Some days, I’d be pickier and say “ID it to what you’re really confident about,” but I have to admit that I enjoy identifying at the edge of my ability – that’s where I learn things.


Good point!


Select Pterygota of course, lacewing people are not waiting for all the different larva to see and correct, they have lots to id (and actual lacewings are waiting for years), if you’re not sure it’s not this group, don’t id it, add a comment you think it is this. I’ll come back to iding perygots this winter, so will go through the last ten thousand observations hopefully (with idathrone it can be done in a week), so will see the last couple of months of weird larvae people can’t id.
I don’t support suggesting something completely different just for the sake of fast id. If you see it’s not this group, no need to id it.

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I think option (b) is better because the lacewing is a subset of (a) Pterygota, so:

  • People who just filter for lacewings will see your observation and can tell you that you’re wrong and suggest an alternative.
  • People who just filter for Pterygota will still see the observation.

As to whether doing this wastes the specialists’ time, I think that depends on them. Some enjoy seeing a wrong ID that’s close enough, but they know how to ID it correctly, whereas others do not and find it bothersome.

However, this might be moot with tricky taxa where your decision to go with (a) so the specialist can focus on just lacewings is significantly outnumbered by all the other observers who chose (b).

No - that wouldn’t achieve anything. But reasonable doubt - then respond promptly to notifications. Two steps forward, then one back?


I tend to agree with the reasoning of @Marina_Gorbunova , but (b) might still happen (I didn’t even know that some hoverfly larvae look like clawless lacewing larvae, so I wasn’t suggesting something completely different but hoping there are species with short or no claws).

I’ve been doing a lot of IDing Unknowns recently, and it occurred to me that maybe I was rewarding observers who should know better by this point. I have no problem IDing an Unknown for someone who is relatively new to iNat (maybe with fewer than 100 observations, say) because I suspect they haven’t learned how the system is supposed to work just yet and I don’t want to discourage them from using iNat.

But observers with more than a thousand observations overall? I would hope they understand how iNat works by that point. Are these observers just adding observations and don’t care if others ID them? Are they just figuring someone else on iNat will do the work of identification so they don’t have to? What do you think is going on here? Are we identifiers just rewarding slightly lazy behavior?

I am debating whether to stop IDing Unknowns for observers with more than a thousand observations and I’m wondering what you all think.


Maybe clear first for newly created users, then for everybody else, I think leaving them unided would clutter the system, so even if it’s rewarding, ids should be added.

I occasionally submit my own unknowns that sit for a little while — maybe a day? — as I research an ID. I could stick a temporary higher category but don’t always do that. Some IDers are fast and jump on my record before I’m done with reviewing it. That’s not being sloppy on my part, I’m just submitting at a different pace.


Yeah, I wasn’t talking about people who upload and then ID within a day or two. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear.

I will give the unidentified Ks … the benefit of the doubt. Unless they whine about waiting for an ID!

But I will no longer struggle with blurry pictures where it is hard to work out what is going on.
If I can see 2 or 3 identifiers have battled with that (blurry or whatever) obs, I will reach for - Good as it can be, next.

(I have nearly caught up with Western Cape, then the neglected 1K from Rest of Africa)


You’re reminding me - and this is for Marina, too - that I could do a couple hundred very general IDs every day for Unknowns posted by newer observers, and I’d never work down to the blurry photos or the ones added by experienced observers.


What give me nightmares is not the honest Unknowns.

It the Needs ID - that is frightening. I won’t go there (except, the Western Cape, Plant broad IDs, sigh …)

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I assume you have seen the topic…?

Yes, I have, but I just read through it again to refresh my memory - thanks for digging that out.

I knew that some users prefer to upload and then add their IDs some time later, for whatever perfectly good reason, so I’ve been trying to remember to dig back in the older Unknowns for those that were uploaded a month or two ago. (Sometimes I can’t resist a really cool bug that was just uploaded, however!) Still, there are quite a few older Unknown observations from some very active observers. Maybe they’ve just lost track of observations they meant to ID a while ago? (Maybe I should go check to see if I have any Unknown observations, come to think of it…)

Edited to add: Whew - all of mine have at least some ID!


A couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. It takes more work to move to a broader ID than to a narrower ID, because of the “do you disagree?” dialogue box.

Personally, I’m usually going through observations identified as a particular genus or species. When I see misIDs I mostly just push them back up to the highest level that I believe is correct, even if they are taxa that I could identify. This is just more mentally efficient for me—if I’m paying attention to genus Alpha, I don’t want to be switching my focus to identifying members of genus Beta or genus Gamma every time those come up in the pile. One mental task at a time is plenty.

So, if your observation is seen by an identifier like me: The more precise ID does increase the likelihood that I will see it and put an ID on it, but I’m probably just going to kick it up to a higher ID, which doesn’t really help you. And if I’m encountering a large number of misIDs I’ll start getting irritated by the “do you disagree?” box.

  1. Misidentifications can propagate, both by way of the computer vision IDs and by way of other users IDing their observations by looking for other observations that look like the same taxon.

I think this is a larger problem at the species level. In some cases it can result in a feedback loop—as the number of observations of Alpha beta that are misidentified as Alpha delta increases, so does the probability that any new observation of Alpha beta will be misidentified as Alpha delta. It’s rare for this kind of feedback loop to really take off, but when it does it can be a real mess, creating hundreds or thousands of observations with the same misidentification.


That said, what level of certainty is appropriate before you make an identification is a judgment call that does not have any good, general-purpose answer. There’s a complicated relationship between expertise and uncertainty. A large part of developing expertise in a particular genus is learning which species are likely to be confused with each other, and in which contexts. Without that knowledge, estimating the certainty of an identification is difficult!

Regardless of his other attributes, Rumsfeld’s famous taxonomy of knowledge is helpful here. If you’re learning the genus Astragalus, a particular species like Astragalus emoryanus will first be an unknown unknown (you don’t even know it’s one of the possible identifications for your observation), then a known unknown (you know it’s a possibility but aren’t sure how to identify it), then a known known (you know it’s a possibility and you can identify it reliably). When I visit areas where I don’t know the flora well, a lot of my work in identification is converting the unknown unknowns into known unknowns—figuring out what the possibilities are. My error rates are highest when I jump to an ID based on apparent familiarity without first checking if there are some unknown unknowns that I ought to be worried about.

(Wandering further down this rabbit hole, suppose you’re in an area where there are two species of genus Alpha, and Alpha beta is twenty times more frequently observed than Alpha delta. For observers who haven’t heard of Alpha delta (it is an unknown unknown), the most common misID will be identifying Alpha delta as Alpha beta. For observers who have heard of Alpha delta (it is a known unknown or a known known), the most common misID will be identifying Alpha beta as Alpha delta—if you know there are two species but you’re only seeing one of them, the natural tendency for most people is to try to force the variation within that species to match up with the two options.)


The real killer is the less-often mentioned 4th possibility: unknown knowns – things you don’t know, but thought you did, but are known by someone who specializes in that taxon. Like there are other multiple species possibilities where you thought, based on out-of-date information, there was only one.