I'm a newbie needing expert advice: how should I deal with "proactive incompetence"?

Dear all,
please excuse my English.
I began using iNaturalist since a little more than a week, and I’m in difficulty with its founding phylosophy, “anybody may give his opinion”.

While I’m immensely eager to get educated and corrected by anybody more expert than me, I still don’t understand how to manage situations like the following:

  1. somebody who has no clue about the species observed assigns it to an order or a family in my area of expertise;
  2. based on my experience, I deem that I have all the needed clues: I recognize the species and propose the suitable specific identifications;
  3. the original observer, or somebody equally inexpert, does not agree with me and restores a supraspecific level of identification or a different specific identification.
  4. The observation gets demoted to supraspecific level, or gets assigned to the wrong species.

While trying to discuss one particular case with a very kind observer (the discussion is in progress, you may check it here: [link removed]), I got the following, puzzling reply by the original observer:

  1. he has no clue about the species;
  2. he trusts my identification;
  3. he doesn’t disagree with me.

While I would have expected that those premises would result in him leaving undisputed my identification, he felt compelled to re-assign the observation to the family level.

There is something that escapes me. While I’m waiting for a clarification by my kind interlocutor, I would like to hear the opinion of senior iNaturalist members: does a polite way exist, to make an expert opinion preponderate over a non-expert opinion?

Thank you for your attention!

Cesare Brizio


Hi Cesare, and welcome to both iNaturalist and now the forum.

Before I directly address your question, I’m letting you know that I removed the link you provided to the observation. You didn’t do anything bad, it’s just that on the forum we try to avoid posting links to observations where the implication is that someone on the record is doing something perceived to be wrong or negative, and you’re using it as an example of said wrong action.

Before I removed the link, I had a look at that observation. I understand your confusion, but the original observer was not doing anything wrong. After you added your corrective identification, and they then provided a coarser identification, they did it in a way that did not explicitly disagree with you. If you look at the top of the observation, you’ll see that the overall identification matches your species identification that you added. So in this case, you can just consider the other user’s identification to be agreeing with you but at a supraspecific level. Yes, I agree with you that they did not really need to add that identification after you added your own species identification, and that to take no further action after withdrawing their initial incorrect identification would have been the ‘simplest’ thing to do, but my guess here is that they simply wanted to apply some kind of label to their own record. Given that they now knew their original identification was incorrect, this was the next best level they were confident with.

So overall to summarise, although the user did add a new identification at a coarse level, they did it in a way that does not dispute your identification, and it has not re-assigned the overall observation to family. If you check the identification at the top of the page, it matches your species identification.

Let me know if this makes sense


@thebeachcomber Hi, Thomas and many thanks for your quick, helpful and spot-on reply! Yes, it actually makes sense - now I understand better the course of action by my interlocutor, and this will help me in future, similar situations.

Anyway, since we are on the subject, and speaking in general terms with no more reference to that particular observation, again I ask: in case of actual, open disagreement when a non-expert “overwrites” my identification, does a polite way exist, to make an expert opinion preponderate over a non-expert opinion?
Or should I try to engage in a discussion and try to educate him in every such instance?

In other words, is there a way to be recognized as an “expert” in any particular area?

Many thanks!

Cesare Brizio


No worries, glad I could help.

There is no formal way to do so on the platform. The best thing to do is to fill out your profile with a brief biography explaining your expertise, which I see you have already done; this is perfect, and is a good way of letting people know about your experience.

the best thing to do in these cases is, as you say, to engage in a discussion with them and explain why your identification is correct, which characters you use, etc. If they still disagree, then a good approach can be to tag other users on iNaturalist that also have expertise in that group, and get them to assist you by adding their own identifications.

Usually when you explain to someone why your identification is correct, and they learn about that species, they are happy to withdraw their disagreement.

Thanks again for adding your identifications to the platform, your expertise and time is greatly appreciated


Dear Cesare,

It depends a bit on the situation, in my experience. I come across this situation often, where I give an identification to an animal, and the observer disagrees or indeed gives a more generic identification. If I am well-rested and in a good mood, I often try to explain my reasoning, why the (in my case) crab is a specific species, and how you can tell it apart from other members of the genus.

In some cases, where I think it is really important to have a Research Grade attached to a crab (if it is rare, or a new record for an area) but someone else without expertise disagrees with my ID, I tag a colleague expert to confirm it again for me. But in this case also I try to be polite and explanative to the observer/other people involved. We are all here to learn, and if you don’t explain your reasoning, they won’t learn eventually.

If you want to be recognised as an expert on iNaturalist, it is best to just identify and confirm IDs loads! Communicate with the observers. I have identified crabs for almost a decade before I went on iNaturalist, and it took me a while to get recognised by people on here. Now I get tagged in difficult observations, messages in my inbox, etc. It can also help to list your area of expertise on your profile.

Good luck, and have fun on iNaturalist! The power of iNaturalist is also that anyone can give an identification. This makes it so much easier for everyone to learn, learn, learn! Even if you haven’t studied officially. There’s good value in “enthusiastic amateur naturalists”.



Thanks again, Thomas!
By the way, if you are a “beachcomber” proper you may be interested in another subject I’m fond of: Olive shells. Photos of all the 1200 specimens in my collection are available on my web pages, if you send me a private message I’ll send you the link.
All the best,

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@crabbymaxie Thanks, Max!
Yours and @thebeachcomber 's are the exact kind of answer I was hoping for.
It’s mostly a matter of time (…and mood!)
I’ll try to work against “informational entropy”: one can’t complain about ignorance and then do nothing to educate.

Around twenty years ago I contributed 1300+ arthropod pictures to Tree Of Life (tolweb.org) - but that was “unidirectional”, with expert advice provided by reviewers you didn’t interact with. iNaturalist is an entirely different word and requires a different level of involvement,

All the best,


Exactly! That is a good aim. I think last few years it has also become quite apparent that platforms like iNaturalist are really helping science. It makes observing organisms more fun for kids, amateurs and professionals. Of course there will always be “stubborn observers” who are pretty sure they are right, but the overall aim of knowing as much as possible about our natural world is getting so much closer thanks to platforms like this.

A little side story (I wont go too much off topic): I am now writing a publication on a species of crab that was seen for the first time on the North Sea Coast. On iNaturalist and Waarneming.nl (also a citizen science platform) people has submitted their records, but under a (wrong) different species name. I sent them a message, explaining the right species and how to distinguish them from other crabs, and a few observers went out to collect even more records with this info! I involved them in my research and will acknowledge them in my publication. I wouldn’t have the time to go out myself as much, so this interaction is really valuable.

Have a great day,


Very interesting, Max!
On my part I, an educated amateur in the field of bioacoustics, was “dragged by the sleeve” into iNaturalist by a professional naturalist who is using it for scientific purposes and who disclosed to me the potential of this platform. That way, the “Orthoptera Sounds of Italy” project was born just a week ago. A strong point of the “project” thing on iNaturalist is that “projects” are in fact database queries, and grow without any need of people knowing that the project exists…
Anybody’s observations, as long as they contain sounds and are related with Italian Orthoptera, become part of the project, that grows by “passive engagement” - at the price of some “noise” that will require the kind of education we were talking about a few minutes ago.



Wow, very interesting! I hope you get many nice observations! :cricket:

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There are situations where an older observation has multiple incorrect identifications and the observer or identifier is not active anymore and therefore discussion will no serve any purpose, except to future identifiers. In those situations, the best solution is to tag people whom you trust in their identifications. This can be done by putting @ in front of their username (so @cesarebrizio tags the oiginal poster here). Over time, by identifying, one comes to realize who has an eye for certain things and who is just mindlessly agreeing. The algorithm requires 2/3 of identifiers to agree to a certain taxon, so if there are multiple wrong IDs, even more correct IDs are needed to overturn an identification. This is where the leaderboards come in especially handy because one can determine quickly who has at least seen this taxon enough to have a chance at a correct ID. What I have learned is that both identifications require a degree of curation in that errors of identification happen to all of us, but once one ID’s quite a few observations those notification can become overwhelming, so the @ tag is often the only way to get one’s attention.


I have people disagree with me all the time. Usually pointing out the proper fieldmarks and asking why they disagree is all that’s needed. In other times, I know who the other experts are in my taxa and can tag in more people.

A big one to remember is most people on the platform don’t really realize the amount of actual experts that are also on here, so they have to kind of figure out whose opinions have weight. I did this myself once where I um, “explained” morels to someone who knows more about mushrooms than I ever will. After he very nicely explained that my cursory research was wrong, I withdrew my ID. On the other hand, I have run into experts who don’t realize that people can become experts from using this platform.

As someone else said the best way to get a reputation on the platform is to make a lot of ID’s.


@petezani Thanks, Pete.
In fact I already begun tagging people, but you made me understand more clearly why I should keep on doing that.


@neylon Thanks, Joel.

The hard and - for someone I know - discouraging part is exactly that. One spends years to gain a scientific reputation, teaches, travels, publishes and yet, unless one gains a rank in the leaderboard, isn’t deemed more trustworthy than a primary school kid.

While I finally grasped the consensus-based paradigm of iNaturalist, I still do think that competence is an objectively measurable quantity. In your very own case, would have you tried to educate the expert mycologist about morels, if his status of leading expert were clarified by some peculiar icon?
Maybe not. You wouldn’t have wasted time just to risk being ridiculous, he wouldn’t have needed to justify his proposal by talking to you. To access the opportunity for getting educated, it would have sufficed to ask “Expert, please explain!”

If we hope to engage really expert people in the iNaturalist community, we should show respect for their time and arrange the things, so that they need not to waste it. IMHO, based on a short, fact-based questionnaire, some “competence badge” (or reputation, if you prefer) should be attributed to any expert who joins the community. Any non-expert would be free to tag them, and surely they would be as available to chat “on demand”, as they are available now to discuss as the mycologist did with you.

An expert opinion should be marked as such from the start, with no need to escalate the leaderboards. While people of any level of competence may tag or contact the expert anytime, only people with similar levels of expertise would embark in revisions and discussions, and this would save loads of time for everyone.



this topic has been discussed at length in other threads on this forum, and I understand and sympathize with your point, though I don’t fully agree.

almost the entire scientific world is based on the premise that those with more professional experience (tenure, a doctorate, etc) are always right. in many cases, most even, that’s a fair assumption, but there’s two big flaws in that:

  1. it allows the experts to rest on their laurels and reputation. your skills and knowledge will rot away unchallenged, and/or a specialist will grow arrogant.
  2. it makes newcomers to the field scared to ask questions or speak up. it is essential to the continuation of the sciences – especially in these days of anti-intellectualistm – that we welcome new people into the fold, with warmth and patience.

and further, while iNaturalist produces a wealth of useful data, its primary purpose is to encourage citizen scientists, of all backgrounds, to love and learn about nature.


On iNat we are all equal.

The taxon specialists show themselves by informed and useful comments.
see @edanko 's comment here
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/70555587 - update sadly the helpful comment has gone, as the obs has since been deleted.

That info is useful to me - and to anyone else who comes to the obs in the future.

You can - for a particular obs - reject Community ID - then your ID is the one that dominates. But preferably where you have done lab work for example, or leave an explanatory comment - to support your ID. @mentioning the ‘right’ people usually succeeds.


More than two thirds
so 3 against 1
and 5 against 2
then the numbers rack up

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@astra_the_dragon Thank you, Astra.
I understand that, so to speak, I’m hitting iNaturalist in a soft spot and discussing one of its fundamental tenets.
I’m grateful for the opportunity for clarifications that your are giving me with your welcome answer. I do like warmth and patience: they are sorely needed.

@neylon provided an excellent example a few answers above yours. Not knowing whom he was discussing with, he tried to educate an expert. While the opportunity of exchanging opinions is always welcome, the “educate an expert” part is a waste of time.

Expert opinion should indeed be challenged, and I’m not saying that an expert opinion is the end of the story! That would amount exactly to the unacceptable scenario of arrogance. A primary school kid would remain able to say that my grasshopper is in fact a crocodile.

I am only stating that challenges should not be reckless! And, to allow anybody to understand better whom they are going to exchange opinion with, it would be great to now, e.g. by a visible badge or some colored border around the profile thumbnail, that I’m going to challenge the opinon by a knowledgeable person.

Thank you!

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iNat is an interesting place. Some of our taxon specialists are - high school students who focus on their taxon of choice. Some are professors and doctors who share their knowledge.


@dianastuder Hi Diana,
in the last few days, while searching the forum, I stumbled upon other insightful comments of yours. While I didn’t dare tagging you directly I am delighted by the opportunity of getting your opinion. Excuse my English.
The “we are all equal” part… I do grasp it, and I knew it even before getting involved in iNaturalist despite some contrary advice.

Yet, that’s more a commendable declaration of principles, with which I agree, than a demonstrable fact. I may say - and that would be equally acceptable and perhaps even more interesting! - that on iNat we are all different, and that is exactly the main strength of iNat as a platform. Scholars and schoolchildren, bound by common interests and trying to help each other.

What I request is much less dangerous that it may seem. I would just like to see “expert identifications” clearly marked as such, with no limitation to the capabilities of anybody to challenge an expert opinion. As I said to @astra_the_dragon, even a primary school boy may challenge an expert identification at any time. But he would know that such a challenge may be reckless.

I do also agree on a point I found among the iNat feature requests: any identification should be accompanied by a short explanation (a required field).

Before giving my opinion, I would like to be enabled to understand whether it was an expert who spoke, and on which basis he spoke. In my opinion, only then both my agreement or my disagreement would make sense.

Thanks for your attention, and also for the clarification on “more than two thirds”, on which I would add that an expert opinion, based on decades of studies, should weigh more than an (un)educated guess.

Cesare Brizio

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