False "research grade" observations

Prevent - no…mitigate - yes!

Finding and cleaning might be easy in some countries and some genera, but for others this is arduous work getting bigger by the day. I would say a large percentage - maybe 50-75%? of IDs in UK Diptera right now are simply pulling an unwarranted species level ID back to genus or family. Repetitive actions like this don’t feel like particularly fulfilling work. They just feel symptomatic of larger systemic issues that could be addressed.

If offered a coarser ID, some might just google “blue dragonfly” instead but I think the majority of new users I see appear to just choose the elephant path. They are presented with a list of options …so they choose the top one, or the closest one visually. If you present them only with coarser, genus or family level options, they would opt for that. Realistically - many new users won’t even know the difference between family, genus and species. They are just delighted to put a name to a face, regardless of taxonomic rank.

It also creates a vicious cycle.
The worse the dataset is on GBIF, the less respect it has in the community outside of iNaturalist.
The less experts join to fix the set, the worse the set becomes…

That said! I’m optimistic the AI could potentially reflect back on itself in the future to detect, flag or reassign outliers in its own data…


An option to limit the damages would be to prevent the “computer vision” from suggesting species that have not been found on the continent. Working on treefrogs, I very often get suggestion from European or North American species that are not in Asia. If I weed these ones out, the then computer vision is almost always correct.


Where you notice, where you can, tidy up a mistake.

It is unfortunate, that new people coming from other social media, looking for a way to say ‘thanks for the ID’ can see only one option. Click Agree. With no malice intended.


Unfortunately I can’t see any other way besides being knowledgable enough on a certain taxa to at the very least know an ID looks suspicious. Otherwise you also run the risk of contributing towards the false research grade observations.

There are some observations that I have put to Research Grade for a minute, and then redacted the identification. I have had people put observations to Research Grade that are so out there. Sometimes there are four or five false identifications.

I agree with the scenarios you’ve presented. However, there remains a big problem, totally unrelated to the myopic computer vision: Agree-bots. Last summer a new user agreed to every single species that needed an agree to reach Research Grade - over 100,000 in less than two months. Maybe 1000-2000 were moths. This individual knew nothing about the moths he was agreeing to, including some very tricky ones that most of us “power-users” didn’t have the knowledge (guts) to agree…most of the agreements were incorrect but are now Research Grade. A professional actually wrote to staff to have those egregious supporting IDs removed (not a single one was leading or improving); my understanding is that he was told by staff, in effect, too bad, so sad. The professional no longer is involved with iNat. So another good IDer gone. Not one of the regular IDers have the time to repair that many bad Research Grade obs.

There should be a mechanism to reverse egregious agree-bot supporting IDs, or as @sbushes predicts:


I think the Key Word is…Suggest.

As a new user, as I read Tutorials and Forums and connect with people that are more experienced, I am constantly learning more about how iNat works.

I am presented with " Suggest an I.D" so if I know what it is I “Suggest an I.D.”.
If I don’t know, I can put a Placeholder there or leave it blank, This seems to affect it’s presentation to the rest of iNat. I also thoroughly check the ‘identify’ info so as to make my best ‘Suggestion’.
I can also go with an iNat suggestion.
I expect making a suggestion leads to someone agreeing or disagreeing.

I find it odd that it can become Research Grade with only two suggestions. Doesn’t seem to be to critical.
I HOPE that someone who really knows the specifics of the observation will gladly say " this is definitely a … "
I’m here to share the little knowledge I have and to learn from those who know.

iNat is advertised as a way to find the identity of a species for ‘anybody’ that wants to know.
I suggest advertising it as a way to share and verify the identity of species… for serious minded people.
Otherwise you will get more…people that just ‘Suggest’.

One other thing…cryptic answers in Forums…don’t help.

PS …whoops , on the like button.


Wow, I hate that story and completely understand why they would leave. Accuracy should be the goal here and not internet points or spam or what have you. Pretty scary.


I see this as one of the biggest challenges to the utility of iNat data. It’s made worse by the fact that there is quite a bit of pushback/disagreement from several active users about even trying to clean/correct these records in the first place.


Hmm, that’s unfortunate.


I’m not sure there is anyone actively arguing in favour of keeping bad data, at least I would hope not. I do think there are at times some legitimate questions/discussions raised about how it should be done, from a technical and process perspective.


On the ones that are already Research Grade another option is to check the box in the Data Quality Assessment Section that says the community ID can be improved, and add a comment as to why you think the community ID may not be right. That way, you don’t change the community ID, just the Research Grade status.


There’s a few suggestions you could upvote related to that (forgive me if you are already aware of these):





Thanks all for background information and suggestions.

I did not know that feature yet, and I am sure I’ll use it quite often.

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I really enjoy using the computer vision feature. Because it comes also with fun. Yes, I do it for that fun:
E.g. I saw a mouse in my garden (in Germany). Computer vision still thinks it’s a Thomomys bottae (from the west side of north america): https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/42963952
Fortunately, the mouse did not jump upon me and bite me with its strong incisivi. I hope it won’t fell the tree next to it either…
With a rabbit in the vineyards, I saw suggestions of large african mammals.

And, I have fun with other people agreeing to such suggestions. E.g. a photograph of a millipede taken in Penang: “Texas Rattler”. That boy had good luck too, was not biten by the snake (the Penang school project was mentioned in a different thread on quality issues).


When you open a taxon page, you’ll be shown a list of people who did most ids of that taxon.
Wanna be in that list?
Gaming the system is easy. Just search for observations of that taxon, and agree with the id.
Fear that you could be detected? Well, if you don’t agree with wrong ids, nobody can tell. So just take a closer look: who gave the id? One of the specialists for the taxon? Only then agree.

But …
some frogs sitting in a flower pot, some where in south thailand.
Some one knowing frogs gives the id " Papurana grisea", another guy with a good reputation re frogs agress with that shortly after.
I am interested in the taxon, look it up. A frog from new guinea in thailand? Does not make sense. I ask the guys if they are sure. No answer.
Was that a trap intended by the first identifier? I do not know.

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The thing is “CV said it” will only get you so far.

Knowingly & repeatedly posting joke IDs can and has resulted in account suspensions, and if someone determines you really should’ve known better than to blindly agree with an obviously wrong ID (especially if you’ve been already been warned, and/or you are an active & experienced user), then the fact that it was a CV suggestion may not matter.

Jokes are accepted in the descriptions and comments, not in the IDs.


Situations like this are bizarre and frustrating. Sometimes I need to take an iNat break because of the lack of critical thinking- and I think the CV often enables that. Overall the CV is pretty amazing (and makes me able to put up my obs faster than I’d type them in) but it’s not always right. It should be more socially acceptable to say “I don’t know” than it is, and I think iNat should reinforce to only identify to the level that one can comfortably.


I’m not sure the algorithm is really the reason for these incorrect identifications. I’ve been on Inaturalist since 2011 and I feel like they were actually worst maybe 2013-2014 or something. I don’t think they are worse now “per capita” because of the ID algorithm.

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If it’s not the CV, then what makes someone id their plant as a New Zealand endemic?