Is it okay to use the Data Quality checkboxes to return an observation to Needs ID status?

Hello everyone!
So I’m an amateur who’s been using iNat to get to know the nature of my region for about a year now. I usually don’t stick my nose into identifying things as I just don’t have enough experience, but I still try to be helpful by giving “broad” IDs to the unknown species observations, and I’ve used the “Can the community taxon still be confirmed or improved” feature a couple of times.
I know it’s used to flag unidentifiable observations, but is that the one and only correct way to use it?
Here’s the situation in question: I noticed a suspicious Research Grade ID of a plant in my region and checked the “yes” box under the “Can the community taxon still be confirmed or improved” part. This returned the observation into the Needs ID pool, and when an actual botanist came by, it turned out my suspicions about the incorrect ID were right.
But they also reprimanded me for touching the checkboxes on other people’s observations at all, saying I should never do that because I don’t understand their purpose. They didn’t explain why.
Can someone please clear this up for me? Was what I did really harmful? If this was already discussed somewhere, I’d appreciate it if you pointed me in the right direction.
I chose to use the Data Quality tab because I’m not comfortable giving specific IDs on my own, but our local identifiers are stretched so thin that Research Grade observations almost never get looked at by other people. Specialists just filter them out. It also feels invasive to tag people I don’t personally know to draw their attention. I figured they’d take a second look at the observation at their own pace, and that would be fine.
Was that detrimental in some way? I’m genuinely confused and would like to avoid annoying people in the future.

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You did the right thing. That’s exactly what “Yes, it could be improved” is used for. Of course you should do it for other people’s observations! Very strange response you’re reporting, in my opinion.


I think it’s fine to use the can be/can’t be improved boxes as long as you do it responsibly. The thing to look out for with the “yes, it can be improved” is that it will NEVER go to research grade (it will always stay “Needs ID”) if someone doesn’t realize that box is clicked and unclick it, so if you click that, be prepared to keep an eye on your notifications and unclick it when it gets reviewed. A lot of identifiers don’t realize that box is there or what it does, so I’ve seen many observations with 6-8 agreeing IDs, where people can’t figure out why the observation isn’t going to RG.


Good to know! I wasn’t aware of that.

Hmm. That’s probably when I’ve sometimes found that clicking “No, it can’t be improved” gets a stuck observation to RG.


Thank you all for the answers! :sunny:
I’ll make sure to uncheck the box if I ever end up using the feature again.

I think there’s a feature request to clear the votes when community ID changes.


One thing I’ll add - don’t let one negative interaction scare you off from ID’ing things - it’s useful, fun, satisfying, and you learn a lot!

Also - if you’re not sure you’ll be able to keep up with the box-checking, it’s fine to add a disagreeing identification at a coarser level - you know it’s not XX species, for example, but you know it’s a dicot (and to leave a comment explaining if you feel like it).


I’m also an amateur, but one thing I don’t like about this approach is that it doesn’t explain why you think an ID is suspicious. If I saw a situation like this (and I think I have, at least once) I’d be wondering why you thought a research grade ID at the species level could still be improved. Were you saying it could be identified to subspecies?

So, if you suspect that an ID of species X is wrong, but you’re not confident enough to say it’s species Y, can you add a comment giving a reason why it might be wrong? Is it a species that doesn’t occur in this particular region? Is a diagnostic feature missing in the photo? Is it impossible to confirm a species ID from a photo, without a microscopic examination?

Then, when an expert does come along, they have something solid to work with, either to confirm or refute your suspicions.


I agree with others that it is fine to use the check box, cautiously, in this type of situation. I would also encourage users to leave a comment explaining why they did so and mentioning a few users that might be able to help. I think this is a very legit scenario for mentioning other users, and most folks will be happy to lend expertise if there is a potentially incorrect ID.


i think the technical issue with this is that even if you realize the box is checked, there could be legitimate cases where someone else might not want to indicate can be improved = no to counteract the yes.

i think the better workflow is:


My experience is that most of the time when I see the “ID can be improved” box checked, it creates more problems than it solves. E.g. some users will check this box because they don’t understand what it means or because they want additional confirming IDs just as a general principle, and typically they never uncheck the box, so you end up with multiple experts all trying to ID the observation and not understanding why it is still not RG.

So I prefer to use it only as a last resort when other methods are not successful. Occasionally I’ve seen a lone expert who is cleaning up a taxon that has a lot of mis-IDs use it for observations that have three or more IDs at species level, where the species IDs are either wrong or not justified based on the evidence and their single vote is not enough to shift the community ID. But in the case at hand, my own preference would probably be to comment asking about the ID and either tag an expert and/or add a higher-level disagreement if I’m sure it is not the species in question.


I am very wary of using DQA in a situation where I really need to follow that obs so I can withdraw when I need to.

A broader ID, or a comment - will notify the observer and previous identifiers. And if it is my own input, I will be notified of any activity.

If you are not confident enough to say - it is not …, your comment can be - not sure this one is a violin spider, @ spider person please will you look at this obs … Difficult IDs on iNat are a conversation, and for identifiers like me, they are a huge chunk of my learning curve (what even is a Violin Spider?) PS my ID was a cautious Spider.