"When should I agree with somebody else's identification?"

" When should I agree with someone else’s identification?

An identification confirms that you can confidently identify it yourself compared to any possible lookalikes. Please do not simply “Agree” with an ID that someone else has made without confirming that you understand how to identify that taxon. If you agree with the ID without actually knowing the taxon, it may reach Research Grade erroneously."

I find it hilarious that this site does not want users to agree with somebody’s identification without themselves knowing how to ID it. There are people here with far more knowledge of certain species than I ever will. There are people here with PAID positions after getting far more educational experience than I can even afford that have specialized skills are able ID certain things down to subspecies. And this site doesn’t want me to agree with them because I don’t have the same knowledge?

Maybe it is time to start demanding that people who do identifications to write a description under every last one explaining why something is what it is, because I’m not going to spend time learning every single species in the entire world. I specialize in birds. It’s creeping up to 11,000 species being found. I know only a portion of even just those and spend time writing descriptions for uncommon and rarities on another website to justify my OWN observations. Why people can’t write descriptions here, and then get angry because people “automatically” agree to an ID is beyond me. That’s part of citizen science.

I also just had somebody ID some photos of mine to subspecies, and what was their justification? A link to a third party site with a bunch of photos and absolutely zero text on the third-party site, or their own. I’m just supposed to say, “Yup, these pictures match.” That’s not what I have learned is okay in birding, so I’m going to need some explanation. I’m tired of not getting any. So it’s one way or another, either people write their justifications to their identifications of other peoples’ observations, or they don’t get upset that users “automatically” agree to IDs since some days I log on and somebody has gone through 45 of my photos adding IDs.

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Welcome to the forum! This is rather controversial and has come up many times before, so you may be interested in the following threads (among others):

Why do you find the need to agree in the first place? If you’re interested in getting observations to Research Grade status, that is not the goal of iNat and incorrectly IDed RG observations perpetuate data inaccuracies outside iNat (GBIF for example). Even experts make mistakes, and we shouldn’t make it harder for them to change their minds. Personally, I cannot in good faith select “Agree” if I don’t actually agree that’s what it is. Sometimes there’s only one person who can ID something and that’s OK.

Also, many users are very willing to explain their IDs if you would ask them. I love explaining things more in depth, but I make too many IDs to do this with every single one. It would be great if people were learning from the experts so that the experts aren’t the only ones IDing.


As Thomas says, there is no obligation to hit ‘agree’ at all, regardless of whether you can independently confirm the ID or not. A common misconception is that observations are only ‘useful’ or ‘valuable’ if they’re at research grade. Interestingly, there is actually a recent paper using some iNat data that found " our results indicated that iNaturalist data do not exhibit a higher taxonomic classification accuracy when they are designated research grade" (note this is for termites only). So there is nothing wrong with leaving an observation and not hitting agree.

Ditto for explanations; I make hundreds of IDs every day, sometimes 1000+, so it’s not feasible for me to explain myself every time. But if someone asks me for justification, I’m always more than happy to do so.


I generally try to understand why the ID was made so I can be better informed next time. I am an avowed generalist who is interested in a wide variety of taxons. Which means,of course, I am hard-pressed to call myself an expert in any. However, part of my intrigue with INat is to learn as much as possible about insects plants, fungi and other taxons. Keeps the brain sharp. I try to put in best initial IDs as I can but am well aware that I might be mistaken and really do appreciate the input of the experts in all the given fields. Thank you all for the continued learning experience.


You don’t need the same level of knowledge as experts to agree, you just need to have enough knowledge to know whether their ID is correct or not. If someone has explained how to identify something and I have verified that is correct I’m happy agreeing with them even if I couldn’t have identified it before. If someone can id something to sub-species and I can’t, or species and I can only id to family level that’s fine.

I’m not sure whether that’s better than no explanation or not! I think I’d feel less confident in asking for clarification in that case.

I agree with @thebeachcomber that it’s not practical for everyone to add a comment every time they id something as doing so would slow down identification a lot. There are currently over 20 million observations needing id so on balance I think I’m better identifying more things than commenting on every id. I’ll comment on some ids though, especially if I’m disagreeing with someone, I probably would if I was adding a subsepcies id (though I rarely do that as I only know a few obvious ones) and sometimes if I’m refining to species level (something like “the only uk species of mole”). I’m quite happy to give a reason if anyone asks.


While initial ID’s are only a suggestion, agreeing to an ID is a commitment to that identification. So it’s best to make sure of the ID before committing. I do a lot of Noctuid identifications, but I’m slow. I do add explanations if I make a change, and try to at least give a link to an initial ID. As folks have said, all this attention to detail does slow things down. I might do 50 ID’s a day, rather than 1,000. But I like doing that way, so that’s how I work.
It’s rare to get subspecies in Noctuidae, but one of the first things I would do if one was added would be to go to that person’s profile and see what their main specialty is.
You are also not obliged to respond to an identification change/enhancement. If you don’t know a subspecies, then neither agree or disagree. Perhaps someone else will come along and agree or disagree. This whole thing is a process, so only do what you are comfortable with. There are some groups of moths that I completely ignore because I don’t have the knowledge to offer a reliable ID. There are also a whole range of people out there who belong to iNat. Since there is no ‘right’ way of doing things, then expect a range of styles. I have found that most people are willing to help if I ask them. I hope this has been of some help. Remember, one of the tenets of iNat is to assume people mean well. I have found that to be a good principle.


Aside from the issue of when to agree or whether justifications to IDs should be required, no one (even experts) should be displaying anger or “upset” with you or anyone else. If they can’t control their anger they should wait until they get a grip on themselves before commenting.


This is another place where I think the “Agree” button language goes awry. Beyond many users thinking it means “Thanks”, iNat isn’t really asking us to judge each other’s work either. iNat is asking us to ID our own observations and those of others as best we can. The “Agree” button is mostly a shortcut to save time. It probably should say “Save yourself a bunch of typing by clicking here if this is what you were going to type anyway.” That doesn’t fit on the button well. I’ll make another vote for replacing it with “My ID”.

Everyone knows some species and some people know a whole bunch. Just pitch in as you can. If you only know it’s a grass, fine, ID it to grass. Maybe someone more knowledgeable will come along later and tell you it’s Aristida stricta. And what a nice side-effect that we get remarkably accurate IDs of all these observations. Most of us learn something by IDing. Some of us learn that there are a bunch of species we know but it’s hard to be sure from just a photo and a location.


The question of subspecies ID’s and when/where they are acceptable is one without a formal ‘rule’ on the site or even a consensus as to how to deal with them

  • there are users who believe no record is completely identified until it is at a subspecies, or whatever the lowest level of taxonomy (subspecies, form, variety etc) is supplied
  • there are users who believe that entering subspecies ID’s based on range is appropriate
  • there are other users who believe they should only be done when the morphological or other physical keys that define the subspecies are evident
  • there are users who believe that even if the keys are evident, only do it if it is an unexpected finding in location (ie add a subspecies ID for an Eastern Yellow-rumped Warbler if found out west or vice versa, but not in their home range)
  • some users will add them as a quick way to increase their ID count

You are going to encounter, and likely eventually have users of all the descriptions (an often not know which type they are)above interacting with your records. You’ll have to decide which approach you are comfortable with for your own actions.

With regards to adding commentary, as a mid level identifier (I’ve done about 30k), my willingness to add comments is typically directly proportional to the degree it looks like the user is engaged with the site. I see a class project badge on the record, I’m not taking the time to do it as odds strongly favour the user not giving a toss about anything I write, they just want the assignment over. A user who appears to be using the platform because they want to, I’m more inclined to do it, especially if I am adding a dissenting ID.


The purpose is to preserve data integrity.

For an identification to be research grade it should have two identifiers come to that conclusion, one saying “hey I know it’s this” and the other confirming. I would argue that this should be independent and so even if someone explains the ID I don’t think it should be agreed on just on that basis as there can be flaws in an individual’s conclusions and rationale. A lot of casual users agree with identifications blindly after someone identifies their observation and I think it’s a real problem in terms of data integrity. And, though helpful, there is there no obligation for identifiers to provide rationale for their IDs and it is more a teaching exercise and a kindness rather than useful for bumping something to research grade.

Using birds as an example as you said you are a birder, if you upload a Blue Jay and know that it is a Blue Jay feel free to identify it as a Blue Jay or agree that it is one when someone else IDs it. You don’t need to know every bird in the world, you just need enough knowledge to determine which species (or even broader ID) the organism is. But, if you upload an accipiter and someone says that it’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk and you blindly hit agree without knowing anything about how to identify it, their ID could be incorrect as it’s an easily-confused species with Cooper’s Hawk and thus could be made research grade as the wrong species. Some of the rationale the identifier used could be based on a weird angle in the photo, using only a single field mark, an organism that is nearly the same in appearance but inhabits a different range, or could have flawed logic to draw their conclusion.

So, agreeing with one’s observation is simply the difference between “I think that person’s ID is right” and “I know that person’s ID is right based on my own independent knowledge” and by not clicking agree it does not necessarily mean that you disagree. Hope this helps to clear things up and you find the logic a little more agreeable.


Maybe it would be less confusing if the ‘agree’ button were to be called ‘confirm’. I think one would have to be more certain of an ID to click on “confirm” than you would if you clicked
on “agree”. To agree could mean that the previous IDer has convinced you, or that you believe that person to be an expert, and therefore you tend to agree to whatever they suggest. However, you can only ‘confirm’ an ID if you could have reached that ID independently if someone had not beaten you to it (and that is what I understand under the purpose of that button).


There has been so much discussion about this that there is a feature request that you can vote for: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/improve-id-function-and-name-of-agree-buttons-a-modest-proposal-not/6589. It has a good summary.

Nothing will come of it, regardless of what the button says, people will click the button. Because it’s a button. And buttons need to be clicked on.


Your comment on the button reminds me of one of my favorite Terry Pratchett quotes:

If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying ‘End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH’, the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry.


No ider will write the explanation of every single id, you know they’re not paid and there’re millions of obs needing attention?
You shouldn’t add an id you didn’t come by yourself or can’t replicate with keys used by ider, it’s not hilarious to see iNat caring about added data that also comes to scientists who won’t appreciate you clicking on agree every time someone adds an id. You can’t learn all species, but who said there’s only one person who can id one of them? Why do You need to make the obs RG because an expert used it? Why not waiting or asking another expert to check it? When experts became gods who don’t make mistakes, how can you, if you don’t know the group, can add that id just because an expert added it? It’s not rare to see another, second expert disagreeing with the first one.


Awww! I miss me some Terry Pratchett. Actually, rereading his books would probably be a welcome diversion right now. Thanks so much for reminding me of his wit.


I think this really gets to the heart of it, and in my opinion the ‘Agree’ button should be removed altogether. It only provides a minor time saving (convenience) and sacrifices a lot of accuracy in exchange. Even now it might be too late, as so many users are ingrained into aggreeing with another’s ID.

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I mean yes, completely agreed. But do you remember this thread? https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/changes-to-the-agree-button-functionality-and-addition-of-markdown-in-comments-and-id-remarks/14566


And this site doesn’t want me to agree with them because I don’t have the same knowledge?

Nobody said that.


So, what I’m getting out of this thread is that I better have some expert level knowledge of every taxonomic order in order to agree, which is completely impossible. I would never agree with a single observation on this website for anything to be Research Grade in that case.

I also now have people suggesting IDs to subspecies on some of my things and only providing a link to photos of specimens with NO text, and when I requested information as to WHY, I get told the only way they are claiming that observation is based on RANGE. There is no VISUAL way to confirm the subspecies is what it is. I really do not have time to sit here and go through arguments of this level of insanity, the subspecies should never have been suggested in the first place then, and the expectation that I just accept these things blindly is ridiculous.

Well, why would you need to know each taxonomic order? You id only what you know, iding Motacilla doesn’t require knowledge in Rumex and so on.
Some subspecies can be added only by geography with 100% certainty, e.g. there’s no Alces alces ssp. americanus in the middle of Europe, but anyway there’s no need to discuss it again, it’s a personal choice of things.

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