How to act on RG observations that lack evidence for the community ID

Based on my forum search, there seems to be a (perhaps shaky) consensus to

  1. not to disagree when evidence is insufficient (e.g., to move a species community ID to the general generic ID) unless you can prove that the ID is wrong, and

  2. not to use the “Based on the evidence, can the Community Taxon still be confirmed or improved?” to move a generic ID to research grade unless in very rare cases where one is absolutely sure the ID can’t be improved (i.e., with published evidence that microscopy or genetics are needed).

I want to question both of these. Assume we have an observation with a single ID to species level, and identifiers who see it judge “not enough evidence” and leave it as is. It may stay in “Needs ID” for a very long time, identifiers need to look at it again and again. The worse thing is that the probability that someone erroneously agrees with the ID increases over time, and many observations that are non-diagnostic at species level may end up “research grade” eventually this way.

I understand that using the “can’t be improved” button makes it more unlikely for experts who can do what others can’t to see it. But these experts can still specifically search for those observations, they are not out of the world. I also see that “can’t be improved” might demotivate some observers, though I do think that 1) being honest is always the better way, and 2) if the ID is at genus level it would move to research grade, which can be more motivating than leaving it at “needs ID”.

Now assume we have a genus within a specific region which is not possible to ID at species level in the majority of observations. Research Grade observations at species level will accumulate over time even when evidence is weak, since identifiers are unlikely to disagree to set it back to genus level (point 1 above). This will necessarily generate many possibly inaccurate (or at least non-reproducible) research grade observations. The more common of the identified species is most likely to be selected as ID for new observations, and everyone using Inat to identify species get’s tricked. Sometimes a species is the most common of a genus in Inat even though it is rare in reality.

When I go through RG observations and I encounter one that I am sure cannot be identified at species level, what do I do? I’m thinking about using both 1. and 2. more freely for older observations, while copy&pasting a standard explanation into the comments each time. For newer observations, I would leave it with a broader non-disagreeing ID + copy&past comment first. This could also be a way to rectify those genus records that are off to a degree so that they skew the statistics (example above). Or should we try to rectify such records in the first place?

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You make a good point.

If you’re sure it cannot be IDd to species, go ahead and leave a disagreeing Genus-level ID. But make sure you can defend your decision.

If I’m uncertain, I leave a comment. Or a non-disagreeing coarser ID.

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I leave plenty of disagreeing higher-taxonomic-level IDs on plants that are at too immature a stage of development to know which species they are. If the observer thinks I’m being rude, then they can expand on why they think it is the species they identified it as.

I’m more than happy to be corrected, and in some cases the observer might say “I photographed feature so-and-so but the photo was too blurry to see”, and that might be enough to know for sure that it was that species.

I work in a Herbarium, and am used to working by having to identify what is in front of me, either the physical specimen or the notes made by the collector.

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I don’t see how “can’t be improved” is used rarely while it’s used on a daily basis for tons of obsrvations.
If you can’t agree with species you need to add non-dis. id and vote for can be inroved>yes, getting it back from RG if you’re so sure about it. Plus add a comment to notify user how their id can’t be done without proper examination of a specimen.

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At least in my region, with the taxa I work with, I almost never see these features used to get observations back to a coarser ID. And they are not in my personal repetoire either, that’s why I’m asking.

So this sounds a bit as if you would recommend not acting on such problems in the first place? Which is for me very acceptable as it means much less work; I don’t want to invest a lot of time to do something that is against consensus (which is why I opened this post).

I never thought about using it the other way around, “can be improved -> yes” instead of disagreeing and then check “can be improved -> no”. Is “can be improved -> yes” the best way to get back to a coarser ID? It feels a bit counter-intuitive to say “can be improved” when I actually think “it has to stay at the coarser ID and cannot be improved”.

The main group I use “Can’t be improved” on is blackberries. Here they are all exotic and all growing together and unless the observer has photographed primocane and fruticane and flower and stipules… not much hope of knowing what species it is, so they end “Complex Rubus fruticosus” and after a few people ID them as such, I click on “ID can’t be improved”.

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If the observer and iders will withdraw their species-level ids you can revote and the observation will be left at genus and be RG. So unless some serious reasons there’s no need to add disagreements cause who knows, it may be that species too.

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I think the disagreeing higher level IDs are very confusing. If somebody adds one of those (orange button) on something, I interpret that as a vote against the species ID that was on that observation before, as in: “It most definitely is NOT that species but has to be something else in that genus.”

Having been on the receiving end of such disagreeing higher level IDs, I can tell you in the majority of cases the identifier did not actually mean to disagree. If I ask: “What makes you rule out that species?” It turns out in most cases they actually agree it could be that species but they would need more evidence (e.g. additional pictures) before confirming the ID to make it research grade. That’s fine but in those cases they should have pressed the green button instead of the orange one when adding their higher level ID. Apparently the wording on those buttons and what each option does is confusing to a lot of people.

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Thank you for doing some searching around before posting. It’s really appreciated!

Many iNatters add disagreeing IDs based on lack of evidence. It’s very common to do so, even if it’s possible the organism could be that species, but the evidence just can’t support the ID because it could also be one of many other species in the area. I don’t think consensus has built around not disagreeing in these cases. (oof double negatives)

It’s not actually that rare, since this happens with some of the most common organisms. But yes, the person checking that box should be fully informed when doing so.

@annkatrinrose, I’ll respond to your comment at this topic: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/change-wording-used-by-the-system-when-downgrading-an-observation-to-an-higher-level-taxa/3862

If anyone want to add to that topic about the disagreeing ID pop-up language, meaning, or concerns, please do read that existing discussion first to see if your thoughts, questions, or ideas have already been covered. Thanks!

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I think your thought process here is good. If you have enough expertise to know that an ID to species (or any other taxonomic level) can’t be made based on the evidence, it’s fair to disagree.

I also think it’s fair/courteous to explain your reasoning and source it if needed, since this is how folks learn. This will help observers make better initial IDs in the future or better observations when they learn how to document key features (like taking photos of specific structures/traits that are important for IDing, etc.)

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Thanks all. That clarified it for me. I will use the “disagreeing” function to move to a coarser ID for my pet taxa where I know what I am doing, accompanied with an explanation. It seems to be the right thing to do.

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11 posts were merged into an existing topic: Change wording used by the system when downgrading an observation to an higher level taxa

Like melodi_96 said, I think responses to this are supposed to go into the other thread linked by bouteloua above to keep that conversation there. There have already been a few.

OP’s question was answered - moving discussion about the semantics of the disagreeing language to the existing topic https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/change-wording-used-by-the-system-when-downgrading-an-observation-to-an-higher-level-taxa/3862/