A lot of questions are asked on Biology SE about species identification. In today's times it has become very easy to right click on the image and an option of 'search using google lens' appears. The google lens shows various species similar to the one in picture. It becomes very easy for anyone to just write or rather guess one of those species in the answer with some information, say from Wikipedia.

Similarly there are various apps available too for identification. Eg. PictureThis for plant identification.

All these have made this very easier. Now even a layman who is not at all related to biology can use these and write an answer. And I have used these(google lens as well as the apps) for my house plant identification and they were accurate.

Earlier, when the question used to appear in Biology SE, people used to answer based on their knowledge, or they used to actually search for that species based on their knowledge, which required hardwork also.

But now literally anyone can do this and this doesn't even require hardwork.

Now my question is that is this right to use these modalities for identification? If yes, isn't this an injustice for someone who has a knowledge of these without the help of google lens?

Also now the OP too can find these species with the similar apps and lens, then why ask?

  • $\begingroup$ I right click and I don't see any Google lens. That is because I do not use Google products if I can avoid it so that I don't have it spying on me all the time and trying to serve me ads. I certainly do not use Google Chrome. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Aug 6, 2020 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ These tools are very often inaccurate. Simply put. There is an immense amount of nuance and diversity, and such tools can't account for small differences. Without deeper knowledge of the taxon in question, a novice identifier could easily not know the nuances and therefore not realize this. To complicate matters further, taxa are being increasingly differentiated by non-morphological characteristics, which these tools simply cannot pick up on. E.g, Even determining location can rule an ID one way or another between 2 similar species. These tools often don't account for even that simple measure $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2020 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ Tldr: just cause it looks right, doesn't mean it is. Simply trying to match morphology without considering ecology, location, genetics, etc can lead any novice using these tools to wrongly think they find the right answer $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2020 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ @theforestecologist yes agreed. However when these kind of questions are asked the op usually gives all the relevant information related to the habitat, ecology etc. Though you are right however I can't say it's totally inaccurate $\endgroup$
    – Ojasvi
    Aug 13, 2020 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


So, if I understand you correctly:

  1. The poster is concerned that people may be building up a ‘reputation’ of points without being an expert or having done the hard work of becoming an expert on species recognition.

  2. The poster feels that because he thinks everyone can use Google’s spy tool, SE Biology should stop accepting questions on species recognition.

As regards point 1, this would seem to be a moral question. This is not the Boy Scouts or even the Olympic Games (where cheating is rife) in that the point of SE is not to laud those that answer questions, but to provide answers to questions. The privileges that reputation brings are hardly such that in the wrong hands they are likely to cause the house to crumble. People edit posts for typos to build up reputation initially, and that can be irksome because it often brings old and bad posts to the fore again. But I think we have more important things to worry about than this sort of thing.

Point 2 interests me, but because I have always had trouble with SE Biology and species recognition questions. Disclaimer, I have never studied traditional biology except for a couple of years at school, and, although interested in nature, have always maintained that a rose by any other name… Certainly this sort of thing is the core repertoire of the naturalist and there would seem no question that it belonged on something called SE Biology, and questions of this type are much more popular than the ones that interest me. Except…
…except that the purpose of SE Biology is “to build a library of detailed answers to every question about biology” and a library is no good without an index of the books it contains. I can search SE Biology for “isocitrate dehydrogenase” but I can‘t search for a plant if I don’t know its name. So perhaps what SE Biology needs is its own Google spy thing — but built from open-source widgets that have never been to Mountain View. Don’t hold your breath on it, though.

  • $\begingroup$ Correct interpretation of my question. And you showed a very positive approach towards this problem. Thanks :) $\endgroup$
    – Ojasvi
    Aug 7, 2020 at 6:04

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