Agree or not agree? A question of verification on observations...

Someone posts an observation of a bird or plant that you know. Should you identify it or verify its identity? How sure are you that you know what you know?!?

I love plants, but I don't consider myself a professional botanist. However, I do like to identify plants or at least try to figure them out. There are bazillions of different plants out there, and I'm never going to learn them all... but I still like to try! I'm recently getting into birds, and going back to my childhood passion of bugs. Comparatively, I know quite little in both of these areas, but I don't mind doing a bit of researching and scouring the internet to find new resources.

So, when I "agree" with an observation, this is what I am saying:

"Based on what I know, I think that this observation is a ______. Someone else may come along and have a different view and may give different insight into this identification."

That's ok! This is what makes iNat so wonderful -- it represents a community of naturalists. When I "agree" with an observation, I'm not claiming to be any sort of expert -- I'm just saying what I think it could be, based on what I know or what I've recently researched. Our understanding of species changes some too... So today's species may be tomorrow's genus. :)

Do you "agree?"

P.s. I especially appreciate it when people give reasoning behind their verifications/identifications. Thank you!

Posted by sambiology sambiology, January 12, 2015 20:12

Comments

Thumb

Sam, I do agree with you, and I'm glad you asked. I would much rather have some kind of input than none at all, leaving me wondering if I've misidentified something or the picture is just so poor that no one can tell what it is. I do try to take the time to identify things in my area that I am pretty confident about, unless there's already four or five "agrees" ahead of me.

Posted by lauramorganclark over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

I agree, Sam and Laura, and really appreciate all the iNat folks such as you who have ID'd and/or added comments and info to help me learn so much in the past year.
And, I certainly wish I had better photography skills (and patience).
In the future, I hope to be educated and confident in some field and able to help others as you all have helped me.
(However, I do always check the "profile" of new or unfamiliar to me contributers to my observations. A bit more than the comment "is a naturalist" really makes their input more personal and valuable to me.)

Posted by connlindajo over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

My personal policy is to provide the most helpful and most accurate ID I can, so I will try to ID at the taxonomic level where I have the most certainty, but only if that adds more specificity to the existing IDs. If it's a group I don't know well like, say, grasses, and no one has added an ID, I'll add an ID of Poaceae. But if someone else has already ID'd it as Avena or something, I'll hold off since I can't provide a more helpful ID.

I'll also add disagreements if I think people are getting too specific in their IDs based on the evidence presented. So if someone says Avena and I don't think there's any way anyone could possibly ID to genus based on the photo presented, I'll add Poaceae. That said, I usually only do that with the obs is RG.

If I have some tentative ID suggestions, I usually leave them in comments.

I would love to encourage more justification of IDs, but I'm not sure of a technical way to do so. A social way might be to encourage people to ask for more information when they want it.

Posted by kueda over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

Thanks for the comments and insight.

"Evidence presented" is a good point -- sometimes the pictures don't show a descriptive characteristics (hairs on the undersides of leaves). With some observations, especially of animal tracks, I'm not sure how someone can tell coyote-sized dog from coyote! I'm definitely not that experienced!

On my observations, I like to add several photographs -- additional photographs can provide more evidence for a identification/verification from others. It may clog up some additional webspace, but hey, it's a worthy cause! :)

The comments section is a wonderful area to describe why/how one came up with the identification. It opens up a discussion, and that's a good thing!

Example:
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/1106067

I was certain that this was a waved-sphinx moth (that's what I called them when I saw them before). kueda comes along and says that it looks different! So, I went back and looked some more and found another possibility (pink-spotted hawkmoth - Agrius cingulata)... The ID of the moth is still Sphingidae, and derekbromantpwd can come along and verify/change the identity.

More pictures, more info, more accurate ID.

To avoid diluting the credibility of the site, I still think it's up to the observer to accept/reject identifications. When I "accept" someone's identification for an insect that I observed, I feel most comfortable when I do a little bit of research rather than just "accepting" what someone else says. I hope others do that when I identify one of their observations. Remain skeptical and double check me!

As Levar Burton says on Reading Rainbow, "But you don't have to take my word for it..."

Posted by sambiology over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

Hi All, i thought I would just add a small comment. Sometimes people post a sighting with no corroborative evidence at all!! How do you even begin to ID that? Look at the profile. If Derek Broman says he saw a coyote, then that means there was a coyote there! Is this a scientific/ research grade obs? I have an obs of an Osprey (photograph included) that has not been ID'd by anyone else. When you see the photo you will see why no one has committed themselves to print! But I know this is an osprey as between photo attempts it flew approx 20 ft over my head. The, only, other time I saw a similar bird it caught a 3lb bass 30ft from me. I know what an osprey looks like but you cannot ID from the photo. In scientific papers (pers.obs.) is a valid citation in the text!
On the other hand, if 5 people have ID'd your Greater pink footed cedar warbler and then someone comes along and says its a sparrow, does this mean your ID's are wrong or that it is not research grade? i have had this when I tentatively ID'd an organism (wrongly), then changed it ( to a community agreed ID to species) but the helpful person who pointed out my mistake did not change their family ID. RG did not appear!
I love this site as I have learnt so much about my new, local flora and fauna and is giving me the chance to show my local community how valuable their local Park could be/is! Thanks to everyone who has contributed to my ID's and, to everyone whose sightings I have tried to ID, I have done my best, after research and experience, to ID your sightings as correctly as I could!

Posted by andyk over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

From one of my favorite movies, The Usual Suspects: Convince me. And tell me every last detail.

Personal observations are used a lot in papers, but I tend to raise an eyebrow to these. Lately with this site, I've been telling myself that if I didn't get a usable picture, then it didn't happen. Trust me, it's led to some frustration! I can't get my camera out quick enough or my pics all come out cruddy. When I first started using iNat, all of my pics came from my iPhone and were TERRIBLE quality. But I could tell what species they were... from "personal observations" that come along with the photograph. I've been gradually changing my views though. If I can't get a good shot of the bird/bug/plant, that I'm hesitant to put it up. If I do put it up, I just have to keep my fingers crossed that someone without more experience can ID it.

Here's an example of a cruddy picture, but a bird that I SO wanted to see:
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/1023367

I snagged about 50 pics of this warbler, and 5 are semi-usable. I did get a good visual examination of it though, so I feel fairly confident in its identification after the discussion.

I think we all agree that the more information the better -- so on that osprey http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/1091995, you may want to describe it a little more. With your personal observations and description of "saw the raptorial bird flying over water, looking for a fish meal," others can maybe help out with the verification... Or, perhaps it will just stay a casual observation and stay on the list as such. Several folks put up observations of their bird life lists, and that's ok, I think. :)

Posted by sambiology over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

I agree with your last comment, too, Sam. I see tons of things I can't get a picture of, and I discard tons of pictures that aren't good enough for an ID. I am personally discouraged in going through hundreds of observations that don't have pictures or good enough pictures for an ID, so I won't put those up for others to have to look at. On the opposite end of the scale, though, I sometimes see Something observed Somewhere in the Past with a perfectly good photo. I'm a bit hesitant to add an ID to those, too.

Posted by lauramorganclark over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

As I have said elsewhere, every ID that a person gives out is an opinion, no more and no less than that.

Obviously an opinion from a professional who does taxonomic research on that genus or family is (at least sometimes) likely to be more reliable than an ID from an amateur who is a beginner in that phylum and who has only just now learned about the existence of a certain species.

Some people seem to be born with a better "eye" than others for ID-ing; they notice details and proportions well, and have a really good memory for the subtleties of shape, form, and appearance.

However, ID-ing from photos is often an extremely tricky thing, very different from ID-ing something when the organism is right there in your hand or in your yard.

Photos can sometimes be very misleading. They often don't carry nearly enough information. Scale in particular is often lacking, and for invertebrates, the size of an organism can be a crucial factor in an ID. The angle of the photograph can also be a problem, because it can cause the shape of the organism to appear distorted by foreshortening or other optical effects.

Agreeing with another person's ID of an observation can also be a little tricky. A pre-existing ID can psychologically prompt you into seeing and interpreting the image in a certain way.

Plus, people have to accept that a lot of organisms just can't be identified to species from a photograph and maybe not from a real life sighting either.

All that being said though, I believe that IDs do tend to get more accurate over time if enough people view them and give good input.

Posted by susanhewitt over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

Thank you Sam for all of your help with my observations. you ARE a plant expert in my eyes.. well, much more than I am anyway.

Personally I have not be very active with ID for others and I need to work on this. Once in a while I will ID someone's something but only if I am confident that I am correct. If I am wrong I will change my id.

I am always grateful when someone tells me I have id'd something incorrectly and that it is really a "x" because of "y" reason. I have split several observations into additional observations when I had photos of different subjects in a photo. and I have learned much from this process thanks to the iNat community.

I used to only post my photos where the subject was very clear. I was encouraged by others doing research to post coyote and bobcat sightings even if I did not have a photo.. but to detail the observation as much as I could in the observation notes. that even a blurry photo was sometimes helpful to researchers. (like maybe they need to pay more attention to area x) This has led to a blog of sorts about each of my observations...photo or not. and has led to me posting photos of lesser quality... sometimes I will point out a detail in a photo... like the one purple dot on the neck of a hummingbird that has led me to believe it is an immature black chinned hummer instead of an immature ruby throat hummer.

Sometimes I am slow to agree with someone's id because I want to see if someone can id closer to the species level. and I have been encouraged not to feel pressured to agree with anyone until I am sure they are correct.

I love to learn new things, iNat definitely helps me to to do that. Thank you everyone in the iNat Community for all you do. :)
Deborah

Posted by zooga1961 over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

Thanks everyone for the comments and conversation. I must admit, many times I've so wanted to see something in my images that a bias develops. It happens to us all, I guess.

I suppose every ID is tentative, even from the experts. After all, taxonomy is a constantly changing field as our understanding of the tree of life changes.

Even with the best picture, herbarium specimen, DNA sample, full report from ancestry.com, and extensive documentation, there's still discussion/argument about "what to call something." When I worked at the BRIT herbarium, so many specimens had a TON of annotations by the labels. Botanists go back and forth on what to call something. That's ok -- it again shows that taxonomy is not a stagnant field! Our thinking changes all the time!

All in all, I do like it when people explain why they verified or identified something the way they did. I don't think we should be scared to ask that person/people, "why did you say that this is ____ species?" I've found that people here genuinely want to help. That's a great thing. :)

Posted by sambiology over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

Perhaps it is not proper, but at times I do post some really awful photos just to document that I observed something (identified to species or not) at that particular time and place. When I periodically review my "iffy" observations, I am goaded to further research, field observation, and always learn more, whether I can verify an ID or not. (I find it rather embarrassing sometimes as to the photo I submitted of a species observed. By the way, Sam, your earlier iPhone photos were great.)
I may be selfishly using iNat for my own personal devices, but for me, my entered observations serve as a visual journal, diary, or checklist; a way to record my local phenology records; and a fantastic method to organize and manage my accumulated information in a somewhat orderly manner. I do want to add more information on each sighting in the future.
And, I especially love it when someone verifies my ID's or corrects and leads me down the right path. That is really the fun part.

Posted by connlindajo over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

I like iNat for all the help I get in the identification of plants that I take outside of my home state of Kansas. When I retire in a couple of years, I hope to spend more time here.

Posted by bnearhood over 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

Yeah, maybe i am interpreting the etiquette wrong but something recently just came up with a plantago (where I was linked to this post) and my understanding whas people should not knock back levels (IE from species to genus or family) just because they can't tell what something is based on the photo - unless they think the ID is wrong. I have some observations that may never get to research grade because I didn't get great photos, but I was confident in ID. I don't want to have to make sure all of those have community ID turned off because I photographed a hemlock from far away in an area no other conifers grow and the other person can't tell it's a hemlock. If people lump to genus or higher based on a blurry photo, by that logic shouldn't they also lump all observations without a photo to 'life' because they can't see a photo? But maybe I'm off base.

Posted by charlie almost 5 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

@charlie As I undertand the example you describe (your hemlock observation), you posted an observation with a species ID, did not state how the ID was reached, and included a photo that should not be the basis for the ID.

Let's assume that I know you really know your plants.

Would I click "agree"? No. When deciding whether to click "agree," I shouldn't consider your confidence level or level of expertise.

Would I give a higher-level ID for which the photo could reasonably be the sole basis? No. For this question, for me anyway, your level of expertise IS a factor, and I'll assume you had some good basis for the ID.

Would I do nothing? Yes.

If I didn't know that you really knew your plants, then my answers to those three questions would be: "no, maybe, and maybe."

That said, I assume that there's a reason iNaturalist requires photos or sounds for an observation to be eligible for research grade, and that it's not just a meaningless requirement. If someone posts a photo that he knows shouldn't be the basis for an ID, just so that the observation can be eligible for research grade, then I think he's treating the requirement as essentially meaningless.

Posted by johnschneider about 3 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

I would say that for now you don't click agree just based on reputation, because that isn't how iNat works. But don't go to genus either. you click reviewed or whatever and leave it alone. if you are sure no one else can ID it click 'no' on 'needs id?'.. if the photo is that bad i should consider doing that myself, but often people can see more than one expects.

I don't post these photos so it is eligible for research grade.. i post them because *i* could tell what the plant was and I wanted the information in the photo - phenology, associated species, just what the forest or desert or chaparral looks like there. I use that information later.

In the future the iNat developers have said they may develop a way to agree to genus without disagreeing with species. So if you could only tell species you could do that. Usually I wouldn't use the actual disagreement unless i am sure the hemlock in the photo isn't eastern hemlock, but is another hemlock.

Posted by charlie about 3 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

@charlie thanks. I just finished editing my post and saw your reply. Thanks also for clarifying about the reason for the photo. I hadn't thought about that, although if I were posting a photo for the reasons you mention, I think I would put in the description something like "Photo included to show phenology, surroundings, etc." so that it's not misinterpreted.

Posted by johnschneider about 3 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

yeah, except i make thousands of them and am probably not going to do that. I guess in theory that would be a good thing to do. but iNat isn't a top down authoritarianism like that. as long as you are following the rules, any natural history observation goes. One great value of the site is sharing data with others but another one is being able to record it for ones own purposes. And in the end i am enough a part of the ecology community both onsite and offsite that people will know who i am and decide for themselves whether they consider the data valuable or not.

But of course that's another angle of the whole thing. For every crappy road observation I make several good photos of other organisms elsewhere,, and I make it a point to add more IDs than I do observations. I suppose if someone came along and only took blurry pictures of white pine along the highway but neither added high quality photos too nor added IDs for others, it might annoy the community some.

Posted by charlie about 3 years ago (Flag)
Thumb

Thanks all for this conversation -- I'm a new iNat user (~ 1 week) and I've been wondering what the etiquette is. When I installed the app, I didn't realize it was more than just a personal way to record observations, like a digital field journal; I wasn't expecting other people to ID or comment on my entries, but I just hadn't looked closely enough at the app description, haha. My goal is to get more familiar with what is living and growing around me and to keep a record of the things we notice, so when I see birds in my back yard that I don't recognize and I can't get a picture, I still look them up, figure out what they are, and I record the observation here without a picture. I'm not expecting anyone to agree; it's for my own records (and I do find I retain the new information better if I do more than just find a bird in a book and think to myself, "oh, that's what that is").

If I can get a good photo (or photos) that can ID it down to species level and others agree, that's great, but it's not why I'm adding observations. My 9-year-old son now has an account as well and he definitely feels like getting a research-grade observation is an achievement, but he's adding fuzzy pics or pics of fallen over trees and calling it "fallen over tree." He's learning and having fun. I'm hoping to let him figure it out on his own without too much micromanagement from me. But we're not trying to pretend to be anything other than what we are -- total noobie laypeople enjoying getting out and seeing what's out there to see and trying to learn a bit about it, and happy to have iNat as a handy place to keep track of it.

Posted by shanlouise about 3 years ago (Flag)

Add a Comment

Sign In or Sign Up to add comments

Is this inappropriate, spam, or offensive? Add a Flag