Interesting philosophical discussion - Intuiting OP Intent vs. Research Grade

What’s your take on [observation link removed by staff]? Should it get ID’d as a plant or a beetle? OP didn’t provide any label whatsoever, and the first two ID’ers labelled it as a plant, but it’s three pictures of a beetle on top of a leaf, sequentially zooming in on the beetle. I figured it should be corrected to a beetle ID, but another contributor thought absent hearing from OP, and given it had already reached research grade, we should stick with the (accurate) plant ID. Elsewhere, I’ve seen discussion on here about folks IDing something an OP explicitly said was not what they were interested in, but I’ve not seen anything discussing where we’re intuiting OP’s intent.

More broadly, I’ve also seen situations where an OP posts a vast landscape with no ID whatsoever, and somebody comes along and says something like, well, I see a bug in there, so let’s ID the bug. Interestingly, I’m more okay with that, although I don’t think the OP in those situations had such an intention, either. Thoughts?

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I first try to ID what the observer seems to be focused on, but if I can’t tell, then I usually try to ID whatever I think is most likely identifiable to species, or in cases where all organisms seem identifiable, whatever seems rarest or most interesting. I usually don’t correct other identifiers in unclear multi-organism situations unless it is obvious they just didn’t see what the observer was focused on (green mantis on green leaves) or when the observer has come back and said “no – I wanted the other thing identified.”
In cases where undoing a correct ID to recognize a different organism would be a lot of extra work for identifiers, I just add a comment (nice x also pictured) and add the observation field “other organism” or “nectar plant” or whatever and add the second ID there.


without addressing the main thrust of this thread, the example cited is a case where the OP was active just a few days ago. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that they’ll weigh in, though we’ll have to see. this isn’t something like an observation made by an observer who last logged in over three years ago.

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I think that the observer’s intent is the most important but I always check their other observations from that day to make sure they didn’t duplicate it for multiple species.

I often see obs where the observer left no ID and someone else has given the label of plants, but when I zoom in I see an animal in the center of the photo. In these cases I assume their subject was the animal. In this case the observer even left an ID for the snake but a bunch of people didn’t zoom in and look closely for the snake and left an ID for the plants.

In this obs neither plant is in the center of the photo and both can be IDed to species, but you can see in the second photo that the observer is touching the plant on the right, indicating that is the one they are interested in.

There are lots of cases where someone takes a photo of a group of plants and no species is obvious to be the subject (central in photo or dominant in abundance). If only one of those is flowering/fruiting, I will go with that one. If multiple are blooming, I usually pick the one that is easiest to ID to species, but sometimes will pick the less commonly observed/recorded species.


Saw a similar case here - the observer suggested an ID which could be either wrong (for the plant in focus, fruiting in the photo center) or right (for the single leaf, out-of-focus, in the upper right corner). Accept? Reject? not clear what the intent was.
And without feedback from the observer, problems like this stir moral (who is entitled to choose?) and technical issues (what about CV and Photo Search?)

6 against 3 for beetle in the first link. That is clearly the focus of the photos.

For @SQFP I would wait for the observer to chime in.

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I agree that whatever is in the exact center of the photo is probably what the observer is trying to observe (pointing phone/camera directly at). This means the beetle is obviously the target even without looking at the other photos.

I think it’s just as likely that this was supposed to be the monocot: the seeds in the exact center of the first photo were out of focus, so the observer put a hand behind them to provide a background and help out the autofocus. No way to be sure, though.

To be honest in this case, both the plant and beetle are visible. Once one or more identifiers have weighed in, I would let it go to what they went with.

It is actually quite annoying when several of us put an ID only to have the observer come along later and ID some other part of the image meaning they basically wasted the time of everyone who already weighed in. At that point, if the observer wants something else ID’d, they should duplicate the observation. So guessing what the observer wanted isn’t really being that respectful of the time of the identifiers who already got there. If the observer included a note indicating which one, or had attached it to a project, but they didn’t.


I think in that situation specifically, the beetle is what the OP meant to identify.

Generally if there are multiple species in the same picture and it isn’t clear which one OP wants identified, my suggested ID is the one I think is most likely their intention and add the other one as a comment beneath that.

For my own observations, I either crop images, draw a circle around whichever I want identified, or write it down in the description. That way there’s no need to guess and no confusion. :)


I know, right? That’s one of the other sides to this. Given the other ID’s, I was hesitant to put the beetle ID - the other posters weren’t wrong about the plant, and OP wasn’t bothered to even provide a coarse ID (of course, maybe it was inadvertent), so why not the plant? What level of OP inattention makes OP’s intent - I don’t know - irrelevant? I think what pushed me over the edge was that I suspected the first ID’ers weren’t paying much attention. If you were quick and just looked at the first picture, you might not even notice the beetle, and the plant is an easy ID. I suspect I’ve been guilty of the same at some point. The ethics/social norms on this are fascinating, and I know most of us have encountered similar situations.


This^ applies to both plants. There are lots of the Eleocharis (the monocot) all over the place. Why photograph the ones right next to a plant that there was only one of?

It’s remarkable how different everybody’s conclusions can be. On the observation you’re referencing, I too think the poster was going for the specimen that’s being touched. But @dhasdf thinks it’s just as likely to be the monocot. And suddenly - appropriately for the situation, I think - we’re discussing why somebody would want to ID something over something else. Presumably one side is correct - surely the poster wasn’t coming to us in bad faith, trying to get two ID’s. So why are we coming to different conclusions? Is one side an idiot? (Haha, joking of course). You’d think there’d be more universal agreement on the meaning of, say, what basic hand gestures mean in trying to focus somebody’s attention.


In that case it’s pretty obvious even from the first picture that OP was interested in the insect, not the plant.

The insect is what’s centered, not the plant, and the whole plant is not even in the frame, not even the whole leaf.

In cases where there is a landscape with no indication of what’s being focused on, or where there are several clear possibilities I don’t ID, I ask OP what they want the ID of.


Observer - please crop, or tell us which, what??
Indentifier - please - look at all the photos - it may be one of those happy multi-species obs … :sob:


Haha. The TLDR - so true!

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But the second and third photo clearly focus on the insect. Nobody would post a picture like the third one to showcase the plant.

If the observer has no use for the specific plant in their life list and/or doesn’t consider their encounter with the plant to be eventful they have every right to reject the IDs (as long as the alternative is valid).
Providing identifications is a form of volunteering that benefits the observer, the website at large and the researchers that use its data.
When an identifier chooses to change the focus of someone else’s observation against their wishes they’re no longer providing something useful for them, they’re hijacking their work.


I agree that the observer’s choice of the focus of the observation has priority and IDers need to respect that.

However, in cases where the observer entered the observation with no ID and no notes about which organism they were interested in, identifiers have to make their best guess. Inevitably, sometimes they will guess wrong (none of us are mindreaders and sometimes the organism of interest is not the obvious focus of the observation). So the observer also has some responsibility to make this clear from the beginning.

When the observer fails to indicate their preference until the observation has multiple IDs, it may be the more pragmatic choice to duplicate the observation rather than try to get all previous IDers to withdraw or change their IDs. Some IDers may have unfollowed the observation or they may miss notifications – and they have already put effort into IDing the observation. Asking them to come back and change IDs that were made in good faith also seems somewhat inconsiderate of their time and energy.


Not applicable in this case. The observer put no indication in ID or comment what they’re work was. Therefore the work that was “hijacked” was the identifiers who placed the initial ID’s. Some of us are putting a lot of ID’s in, so it’s annoying enough when a month or year later the observer adds an ID for something completely different in the image. In this case everyone’s guessing, but the plant guys did get there first.

Really? How do you know that the observer didn’t add that picture as the last picture to record an interaction?

There is nothing in the observation to indicate the observers preference. Therefore, since the plant guys got there first I don’t think hijacking their work was the best option.

I think this most often happens with novice posters, so it makes sense to look at it from that perspective. Novice posters are occasionally trying to impress or prank, but most of the time they are just curious to know what something is, and they put that something front and center in the photo. So that’s what identifiers should address. Let’s respect and reinforce the novice poster’s curiosity and make them feel like they belong. If they stay, they’ll get better.


It’s clearly the beetle. But without feedback from the submitter in this sort of record, at what point do you just let it go and move on (whether it’s a novice iNatter or not)? [says the old curmudgeon]

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