I cringed when I read this paper a few days ago
I won’t go into too much detail as I’m about to head out for some fieldwork, but my rough thoughts:
To be fair to the authors I can understand the point they’re trying to make, but overall the paper (imo) is poorly written, poorly executed, and lacks any nuance or any legitimate supporting evidence whatsoever. I think some portion of the ‘blame’ needs to also be attributed to the reviewer (note the singular: why was there a single reviewer?) and (to a lesser extent) the editors; god knows how they let this be published in its current form.
A few of my major concerns
1 . I can’t recall ever reading a paper where the main concept contained within the title appeared so late in the paper, and constituted so little of the actual content. Outside of the title, the phrase ‘extinction risk’ appears literally a single time in the entire paper, in the sixth last line of the final paragraph!! This is just mind-boggling to me . Imagine trying to publish a (non-correspondence) paper on extinction risk in a particular species and you mention the word extinction once in the entire manuscript. You’d get desk rejected in 10 minutes.
To me, this ‘paper’ is like an article you see in some of the D-tier online news outlets; sensationalist clickbait headline, and then when you open the article the apparent main topic is effectively non-existent in the actual text. The framing of the title as a question also makes me think of Betteridge’s law of headlines: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no”.
2 . They just pretend that human identifiers are non-existent in iNaturalist (I can’t speak for the other apps having never used them, but I assume at least one or two of them are also not exclusively based on AI/computer vision). The way they present the identification process is highly misleading and implies that IDs are only based on computer vision.
3 . To support their claims of ID apps providing misidentifications for plants, they cite literally a single published paper, McMullin & Allen (2022), that does not deal with plants…it’s about lichens… I strongly suspect it’s because it was one of the few papers that actually supported what they a priori expected, ie poor ID quality, so they just shoehorned it in, and if they picked any papers that actually explored ID accuracy in any plant taxa they would have had much poorer empirical evidence for their arguments.
The other two studies they cite are about plants, but they’re unpublished masters theses which, at least from my efforts, are completely inaccessible/non-existent in an online form (but maybe someone here can find them), so you can’t even look at their methods/results to assess them.
4 . They make the statement that (from the findings of those two masters theses) “Notably, the
apps falter in identifying rare and/or endemic taxa”, and provide one example: “Ononis varelae Devesa (1986: 84), an endemic Leguminosae taxon from the southwestern Iberian Peninsula, not correctly identified by any of the apps tested.” This species has literally a single observation in iNat (posted by one of the paper’s authors), so of course it will be impossible for the computer vision to suggest it! To claim this as a shining example supporting their argument and to have the iNaturalist bar for endemic species correctly identified (Figure 2b) sit at 0% is ludicrous, as they intentionally cherry picked species which are obviously literally impossible for the computer vision to suggest because they have so few observations. It’s either intentionally misleading, or they have no idea how the computer vision actually works.
5 . “Traditionally, plants have been identified using dichotomous keys. This specialized and time-consuming task demands meticulous examination and expertise due to the intricate nature of botanical terminology and the challenges posed by certain taxonomic traits” [emphasis mine] is such a weird statement. Is this true of some taxa? Sure. Is this true of a lot of taxa? Sure. Are there many plant taxa to which this statement does not apply whatsoever? Absolutely. This is such a weirdly and obviously hyperbolic claim.
6 . (with respect to increasing use of apps, and decreasing use of books) “increasing time spent
within our classrooms utilizing tools that feature cryptic scientific language, creating confusion and leading our students to erroneous outcomes, and frequently perpetuating outdated taxonomies.” This is maybe one of their most ludicrous statements. I genuinely struggle to see how they equate apps with ‘cryptic scientific language’. This claim is also completely self-contradictory given earlier in their piece they literally said that keys require expertise and time to use due to the “intricate nature of botanical terminology”. And as for apps “frequently perpetuating outdated taxonomies”? Do they understand how print books work?
As my last point because if I spend any longer on this I’ll have an aneurysm, I think the most amusing line in their piece is near the end where they state “For all these compelling reasons…”