Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
A New Species Discovered ... On Flickr (npr.org)
236 points by llambda on Aug 11, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

Shame the entomologist didn't offer to let the guy who actually discovered, photographed, and collected the bug name it. I was waiting for that to be the happy ending of the story, but surprisingly he just named it after his own daughter.

[(optional) insert lame joke about proper attribution]

Yeah, this sentence: "The new species was dubbed Semachrysa jade — not after its pale green color, but after Winterton's daughter." just bothered me. A total dick move by Winterton.

It's pretty presumptuous to call someone a dick when you know none of the details of the situation. It's entirely possible that he asked the guy if he wanted to name it and he turned it down.

I am the photographer. Shaun asked if it's okay to name it after his daughter. At that time, I thought it can't be named after the person who discovered the new species so I agreed.

Anyway, that's in the past now. Click here to check out more images of this beautiful lacewing: http://orionmystery.blogspot.com/2012/08/semachrysa-jade-new...

Thank you for coming here and clarifying.

I hope this only encourages you to take more photographs, and one day soon you'll have a new species named after you!

Thank you! Oh I love nature photography, esp the smaller creatures! It will be cool to have a species named after me! :)

Only if anecdotal, I find people from English speaking nations outside of North America being incredibly opportunistic in these things.

This observation purely emerges from my experience.

Some are in for the fame, others for the money.

I find North Americans incredibly opportunistic in registering patents. A friend that does network support outsourcing was complaining that their (American) boss was setting targets on number of patents registered by their support gig.

isn't that a bit of a generalization

The photographer wasn't without recognition. He is now a published co-author in a scientific journal. That's something.

Not really. I am not getting much publicity out of this. No $$ for sure since the images were all under CC-BY creative common licensing. No much fame either due to the way the attribution was done. My real name was used rather than my more common nick: Kurt orionmystery.

Oh well.

That sucks... I hope you're not too bitter about it. Would you mind sharing your flickr page here?

A little, actually. But luckily I did get a bit of exposure from Yahoo News and Flickr Blog. They asked me nicely if they could use my images and how I would like to be attributed. I told them to use my nick instead of my real name, and also include link to my blog.

My blog entry on this new species is here: http://orionmystery.blogspot.com/2012/08/semachrysa-jade-new...

You can find my flickr page from there :)

Daily Mail UK is the worse. The moderator wouldn't even let me comment on its page!

Just to note.

> He also found a matching specimen that had been sitting in the museum's collection, unclassified, for decades.

Yeah, he should have at least put the photographer's name in there somewhere.

He did:

    Winterton SL, Guek HP, Brooks SJ

    A charismatic new species of green lacewing discovered
    in Malaysia (Neuroptera, Chrysopidae): the confluence
    of citizen scientist, online image database and

    ZooKeys 2012; 214: 1–11. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.214.3220

Charismatic? Seems a bit generous. Panda bears are charismatic.

Charismatic in this sense refers to the fact that it can act a "symbol or rallying point to stimulate conservation awareness and action"[1], which seems appropriate considering the poignancy of how this species was discovered.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flagship_species

And the museum refused to fund an expedition for finding this? And the Scientist waited a year until the photographer went back there. It doesn't look to me that it was hard to find (especially since thy had an uncataloged specimen). I see that in this case the Scientist didn't want to be bothered very much with it. Furthermore he named the specie after his daughter and not the finder.

When has the exitement for discovery got so casual?

> When has the exitement for discovery got so casual?

When we realized that the number of species on the planet is large enough to give up on any hope of ever cataloging them all.

I wonder if a machine learning algorithm could spot new species from flickr photos...

> I wonder if a machine learning algorithm could spot new species from flickr photos...

You have to be careful with those things. My alma mater has a tale of a student 7 or 8 years ago who built a neural net to detect lizards in photos. He fed the system a bunch of pictures to teach it what lizards look like. When it came time to test he got remarkable results: it was 100% effective in positively identifying lizards. Then he fed it a picture of empty ground and the net happily confirmed that this picture contained a lizard as well! Turns out, if all of your training data is positive the computer just learns "everything is a lizard".

Of course, real-life researchers would never dare make such a mistake but this tale always amuses me so I couldn't resist :)

So he really didn't understand neural networks?

I wouldn't say that. I've always seen it like a physicist dropping a negative: he understands and when he sees the result he immediately knows what he did wrong but a little careless thought at the time led to a silly mistake.

David Icke would get better accuracy than that.

My university background is in Machine Learning. Sounds like this person did not understand ML. Was he new at this? You should learn about false positives, false negatives and plotting ROC curves from the first experiments with simple artificial random point cloud datasets (toy problems) before you even bother stepping up to image recognition.

When a ML researcher gets a 100% accuracy rate, they go look for the bug in their program, not think "oh awesome, it must be very good then"--it's a bit of an embarassing mistake if it turns out it's because your training set only contains examples for one of your two classes ("has a lizard" vs "does not have a lizard").

> Was he new at this?

I mentioned he was a student for a reason. What do you think? This was a project for a class and even still he immediately recognised the error when he tested it.

Similar to as I mentioned in reply to a child comment, you kind of sound like someone chastising a physicist for dropping a negative somewhere in their calculations. It doesn't betray a fundamental lack of understanding such that they should be lectured to go back to first grade and learn how to do arithmetic; it just demonstrates that at some point they were acting somewhat careless in what they were doing.

And, yes, it is a bit of an embarrassing mistake. That's what makes it such a fun story!

I doubt machine vision is good enough to even classify known species.

There is recent work along these lines for birds specifically, e.g., [1]. It's not anywhere near human accuracy and I think it's only a couple hundred species but it does kind of work.

[1] http://www1.icsi.berkeley.edu/~farrell/birdlets/iccv11-camer...

I don't think vision/ML techniques will be a viable option for quite a while. These algorithms have a hard enough time correctly classifying dozens of classes, let alone 8.7 million species of animals. This is especially true given that many of these species only have a small number of images.

Discovering something completely new still is a big deal - do a search for "new species" and then any recent year and you'll find numerous articles (usually written around December) about all the weird and wonderful creatures discovered that year.

But this was a lacewing with an unusual colouration and thousands of new insect species are discovered every year. If biologists and museums got all worked up and dropped everything they were doing over each one, they'd never have the time or money to do anything else.

No shoutout yet for Project Noah?


"Backed by National Geographic, Project Noah is mobilizing a new generation of nature explorers and helping people from around the world appreciate their local wildlife. Our community is harnessing the power and popularity of new mobile technologies to collect important ecological data and help preserve global biodiversity."

I put it up at projectnoah a moment ago:


Does anyone want to speculate on the evolutionary reason behind that interesting pattern on its back?

It's odd because it makes an insect that otherwise is very camouflaged much more noticeable. This makes me wonder if it's biomimicry of another dangerous/poisonous/distasteful local insect.

My son and I both thought it looked like a spider on its wings. Maybe it's a trick to make predators think it already got caught.

Yes, that's what I thought too when I photographed that beautiful lacewing. The marking really resembled a jumping spider!!!

kurt (orionmystery)

My first thought when I saw it.

> Does anyone want to speculate on the evolutionary reason behind that interesting pattern on its back?

More than likely, it's a sexual display/indicator without any "practical" purpose related to survival. Like a peacock's tail. If you're really interested in evolutionary biology, read Darwin's original work. You'll be surprised to learn that most adaptations have little to do with survival.

Perhaps I'm niggling, but even adaptations which evolve by sexual selection have everything to do with survival.

Genetic survival, yes. Survival of the individual, no.

Maybe they look like big eyes, which make the bug look like a bigger animal.

But this national geographic magazine seems to doubt that theory:


Something akin to the evolution of the peppered moth, perhaps:


But then again, the "original experiments behind the peppered moth story" were known to have "widely acknowledged flaws." http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/tis2/index.php/component/co...

Just how big of an unclassified specimen backlog do most museums have? When does it make sense to go through this rather than browsing insect tags on Flickr? Or, better yet, crowdsource the backlogs via Flickr...

pretty hard to crowdsource something like this, just how many people are there out there that would even know how to tell if a given image represents a "new" species or not. Not many.

Winterton comes across as a big of a jerk if you ask me. Without the photographer taking the photo initially and then a year later returning to the same spot and capturing this insect there would have been no discovery. Fair enough Guek not some recognition and has his name published co-author in a scientific journal, but seems like the importance of Guek is lost here.

All the scientist did was go, "Compare to any other lacewings we have on record, if no match, new species. Presto, new species give me my accolades" - the bug should have been named after Guek not Winterton's daughter.

I'm curious: how do they know it's a new species? Seems like it could just as easily be a small mutation that does not affect interbreeding. From one (presumably dead) specimen, how did they determine it was an entirely new species, and not just a local population?

"I swear this crazy weather has created new insects. Have you noticed that we have new insects this year?" - My brother, we live in Michigan, says this to me all the time.

I can't help feeling that this story would have gotten more media attention if only the photo had been posted to Twitter or Instagram


Fairies! I've seen them do it.

This may be totally off topic. But Flickr? While the story may be true It seems to be another new marketing things under new management to generate more buzz.

Oh give me a fucking break. Read the journal article. It describes how the original picture was found on Flickr.


It's NPR, not your mom-and-pop radio station. I'm sure they verify the story before publishing it.

Just like This American Life verified every story, until they didn't and it blew up in their face.

Well, right, and then dedicated an entire episode to a retraction and apology, which is to say that even that show clearly takes verification seriously.

It's actually a positive sign when a media outlet makes a public retraction.

Which do you think is more corrupt, a country like the US that has imprisoned governors and impeached presidents, or a country which has never questioned its leaders?

This American Life isn't even on NPR. It's part of PRI.

"This American Life" is not a news program. But you already knew that.

"The Picture Show" is not a news program either.

I don't understand where the hate is coming from. What are people disputing here? That the picture was found on Flickr? That the scientists didn't really see the picture?

What is it, exactly, that's getting in your craw?

It's a trivial little story. The thing that got me to comment here was the fact that it (the new species) wasn't named after the photographer; that's all. But I am really surprised to see people questioning the veracity of the story which is so insignificant (there are 100s of new species being discovered all the time; it's not like they found Sasquatch or something), and the baffling assertion that it's got something to do with the management at Flickr.... really?!?!?

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact