Doesn't iNat commit a basic logical error when an identifier suggests a higher-order taxon?

I’m almost certain this has been discussed before. Yet one can never promote critical thinking enough, so here I go. An example of the issue is at

Consider a situation where an identifier (a person doing IDs for others) happens to know that photos alone might not allow reliable distinction between two or more candidate species, but the observer has picked one of these species (seemingly at random).
Other than just leaving a comment, the identifier might want to suggest the proper higher-order taxon that includes all candidate species. Then, iNat will ask, “Is the evidence provided enough to confirm this is [original species ID]”. As only possible answers, iNat offers

  1. “I don’t know but I am sure this is [chosen higher-order taxon]”, and
  2. “No, but it is a member of [chosen higher-order taxon]”.
    Now, the identifier clearly believes that there is not enough evidence (because there are more than one candidate species which are indistinguishable from photos), so they will choose the 2nd answer.
    Bizarrely, iNat will then conclude that the identifier “disagrees” with the original ID. This is where basic logic breaks down. The identifier only meant to point out that there is not enough evidence. In contrast, “disagree” means that they’re reasonably certain the original ID is wrong, which is completely different from pointing out that there is not enough evidence (because the original ID may well be correct).

So currently the identifier has to be aware ahead of time that the 2nd answer will register as outright “disagreement” (unlike what it actually means).
Inasmuch as iNat handles this process, the correct choice in such a case would be the 1st answer, even though that’s not what the 1st answer actually means. I really believe that the wording of these answers is illogical and misleading, and should be changed.


see (and the rest of the thread), if you really want to get into the weeds. the short version is that there’s been lots of discussion and even an attempt to address the confusion, but i don’t think anything has been implemented that has gotten beyond testing with a small group of users, and it’s unclear if it’ll ever progress beyond that.


We need to be able to say - it is not Species A.
Without being forced to say it IS … Species B or a broader taxon.

I often see comments - it is not A but I don’t know what it is. That isn’t an option that iNat permits.


I get what you are asking, but I am confused by the construction of the example, I think.

If you, the Observer, know it cannot be identified to species, why would you initially identify it to species instead of identifying it to the degree you were able to positively discern?


I think then it says “disagree” it means “disagree that that identification is warranted from what’s visible here”. For example, if someone calls a moth Hahncappsia marculenta without dissecting it, I will automatically “disagree” with that identification, by which I mean I disagree that the observation can be identified as such from the evidence provided (because two other moths look identical to it externally). It may well be the case that the moth is a Hahncappsia marculenta. But its’ the assertion of “I saw the moth shown in this picture and then didn’t dissect it and now I say that it’s Hahncappsia marculenta” that I’m disagreeing with, not the possibility that that may be what the moth is.


I think it’s usually that observers are unaware of the “look-alikes”. I see this all the time with moths; the observer sees a species suggestion that looks exactly like their moth, they click on it, but they don’t realize that a dozen other moths look exactly the same and differ only in ways that can’t be assessed from a live image (larval characteristics, DNA analysis, genitalia dissection, etc.) So they may in good faith think the moth is “species A”, but someone who knows moths better will kick it back to the genus level because they’re aware of “species B, C, D, and E” that it could also be. About half of the times I “disagree” with a moth species ID, it’s because the ID might turn out to be correct, but it can’t possibly be confirmed from what the photo shows.


I also think that there should be an option for explicit disagreement that makes this intention very clear BEFORE you click on it. On the other hand, I can see that some alternative is needed in this case. Sometimes when I knew an ID was wrong but had absolutely no idea what was in the photo(s), I ended up picking “Life”. Luckily, there are quite a few users that take a closer look specifically at observations with those very generic taxon IDs.


Yes, this is the case for a few insects here, that require dissection to arrive at species. Initially though, some enthusiastic identifiers would set them to species and so for some time I thought they must know this to BE the species and I began to upload to species. Then an expert, a true expert, would come and gently explain why this was not possible and so now thanks to @ameeds I upload to Arvelius only, for example.

But consider when he disagreed with me. It really does not matter that he clicked the red button indicating “I know it is Arvelius but it is NOT Arvelius whatever” because the end result is the same.

I or someone else agree “Arvelius”, then someone eventually clicks on, “Can this be improved?” NO. And it is Research Grade Arvelius. Period. The end result is the same. It really does not matter how it gets there, only that it does get there.

Or am I misunderstanding?

(The example shown confused me because I failed to understand the Observer intentionally misidentified to species to make his point. His comment saying he knew it was misidentified was what threw me.)

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I think your approach is a valid personal choice, but part of my concern is that it is based on your own re-interpretation of the wording. It’s not what the words actually say: “[User] disagrees this is [taxon]”.
Personally, I don’t think it is proper to explicitly disagree with an ID when there is a possibility that it is correct (as long as it is not “Research Grade”). There should be separate options that make clear what is intended by the identifier. But above all, science has to use clear language and logic, that’s my issue here


Are you referring to the example in the link I originally provided? If so, it’s a really good question. Why would I decide to pick a species ID even though I am aware that it may be difficult (or that the current lore in the field assumes it is difficult) to distinguish this species from other, similar ones using photos?

I have partially answered this at the end of my long comment at the example. Sometimes, the observer may take into account additional information that makes one species the most probable choice. Things like seasonality, commonality, behavior, etc.

Other than that, choosing a tentative species ID can help with filtering observations in case you want to look at them side-by-side, which is an extremely useful tool for final identification. When you have a genus with 60 species but you know that a subset of your observations of this genus can only be one of two similar candidate species, then it helps to tentatively assign all of them to a single species. If you then filter out all of your observations of this species, you can see them side by side without having a lot of other species mixed in. It is then often much easier to figure out if you have only one species or perhaps two populations.

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The wording in that box that pops up when we agree at a higher level is confusing. I would say, it could be improved, except that the attempts to do that have just made it confusing in different ways. One gets resigned to it.

I think it is appropriate to say I disagree when I push something up from species to genus because the photos don’t allow species ID. The plant might be what it says but it might not and we can’t tell. I’m happy with calling this a disagreement because it is. I do not agree that the species identification is appropriate. I do not agree that it is the right name to put on this observation on iNaturalist. True, the organism might be the species chosen but it might not and there’s no way to tell. When there’s no way to tell, it’s inappropriate to put a species name on it. I disagree with putting that species name on it.


If the question is “is there enough evidence to confirm this is X” and that’s what we answer, then the text below the ID should match that. It doesn’t. It says I “disagreed that this is X”. Why doesn’t it say I “disgreed that there is enough evidence to confirm that this is X”?


I’ve been adding a disagreeing ID along with the following comment: “I don’t believe it’s possible to distinguish Caulophyllum thalictroides from Caulophyllum giganteum at this stage but please correct me if I’m wrong.” I look forward to being corrected but I’m not optimistic that will ever happen.


In such circumstances, they choose option 1, and not as you what you’ve just suggested.
Option 2 is for situations when the identifier is confident that the previous identifications are somehow incorrect.
iNat’s system will compute a result based on the identifications done by different users. Choosing option 1 and Option 2 will have different effect on the result. This result will change when future identifiers chime in.

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I agree with you, @chugbug111, except where you say, “in such circumstances, they choose option 1”. Yes, absolutely, in such circumstances, they SHOULD choose option 1, but this whole thread is about occasions where they don’t choose option 1 but instead choose option 2.

This is how I interpret them:

  1. I’m not sure what this is or if it has look alikes, but I know its definitely somewhere under Its possible the original ID is correct but I personally cannot independently verify that.

  2. I know that this observation is either missing info that would be required to identify this to species, or I know this is a genus where non-visual, non-macroscopic information is required to ID it; IE, the information provided in this observation is not enough information to separate it from other species.


@trscavo I also often add a comment when I believe that an ID could not realistically be made at the original level. But in such cases I either don’t add an ID suggestion at all, or I choose a higher-order taxon along with the “non-disputing” option 1 where my ID will show up without the statement about “disagreement” and without downgrading the original ID. My reasoning is simple: I may be the world’s biggest expert in this area, but I’m not all-knowing, and there may be all kind of reasons for the choice by the original identifier that I am not aware of. I have made my intention clear and contributed my insight, but I am not going to tell the original observer/identifier that they are wrong (which is how iNat interprets the “disputing” option 2) when it is well possible that their choice is correct.

Exceptions to this approach are cases where an ID that is problematic based on the provided photos has been elevated to Research Grade by identifiers who, by all appearances, are not experts in the respective area. In such cases a stronger statement seems in order.

@lothlin These your intentions are in agreement with the wording of the two options that iNat offers.
But unfortunately, iNat afterwards re-interprets your choice in a manner that you may not have intended and that violates basic logic. The latter issue is what I am worried about in this thread.

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I get what you are saying now. It is human error. Humans can also be affected by conformity bias, and various other bias. I’ve no issue with the present iNat logic system. I’ve been seeing is that the resultant Identity is a conservative one. That choice of option1 and option 2 may carry like half a point, the weightage may be not very significant. I say this without knowing what the logical equation is like, just an instinctive feel that it is ok.

Maybe this makes the problem clearer. (I gave a talk about basic probabilistic logic to some math geeks when I was 14, that is, a few centuries ago. I hope I remember this correctly.)

Presume that, according to your knowledge, there are 2 similar (generally assumed to be indistinguishable from photos) species that the shown specimen could belong to. But the original observer has chosen “species A” for an ID. Your intention is to express that “this is species A OR this is species B”. In probabilistic logic this is called a “nonexclusive OR” statement (which even includes the possibility that there actually is only one species instead of two). Unfortunately, when you choose option 2, the statement that iNat incorrectly converts this to is, “this is NOT species A”, which is a simple negation. In formal logic, “A OR B” is not equivalent with “NOT A”. These two statements are not at all the same; in fact, “NOT A” excludes the possibility that it could be “A OR B”.
Obviously, you didn’t mean to EXCLUDE the possibility that “this could be species A OR species B”. To the contrary, that would in fact be your favorite choice. But in the next step, iNat incorrectly interprets your choice as if you DID intend to EXCLUDE the possibility that “this could be species A OR species B”.

It’s not a matter who is right or wrong. It’s simply a formal logical fallacy that has snuck into iNat’s programming.