Chief Science Correspondent
Florida 13-year-old Lauren Arrington gained internet fame this month as an up-and-coming ecologist when we learned about her school science fair project on lionfish hyposalinity, which had earned her an acknowledgment in a scientific journal article published by ecologist Craig Layman during the previous school year.
Arrington had been studying whether the lionfish, a saltwater species, could survive in fresh water. She placed the fish in tanks and gradually decreased the salinity in the tanks, reporting a final concentration of six parts per thousand, according to NPR. Arrington's results demonstrated that the invasive species could potentially migrate up further than their documented range into Florida's rivers, posing a threat to natural species in the area. It will probably come as no surprise that Arrington's father, Dr. Albrey Arrington, is the executive director of the Loxahatchee River District and has a degree in fish ecology. In fact, the project was inspired by the research of her father and some of his colleagues. Arrington senior had reportedly not expected his daughter to find a tolerance level below 12 or 13 parts per thousand, and was shocked by the implications of her findings.
“I’m still like, ‘Oh wow, I did something not even a Ph.D. scientist had done before,” Lauren told the Palm Beach Post earlier this summer.
Zack Jud wrote on this post Facebook on Monday:“My lionfish research is going viral...but my name has been intentionally left out of the stories, replaced by the name of the 12-year-old daughter of my former supervisor's best friend. The little girl did a science fair project based on my PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED DISCOVERY of lionfish living in low-salinity estuarine habitats. Her story has been picked up nationally by CBS, NPR, and CORAL magazine..., and has received almost 90,000 likes on Facebook, yet my years of groundbreaking work on estuarine lionfish are being completely and intentionally ignored...I feel like my hands are tied. Anything I say will come off as an attempt to steal a little girl's thunder, but it's unethical for her and her father to continue to claim the discovery of lionfish in estuaries as her own."
Jud, who has a Ph.D. in biology from Florida International University, claimed in a Washington Post interview that he and the young teen were formerly very good friends, and would often perform science experiments together.
However, he says that he refuses to stand by and watch this young girl receive credit for a project that was based on his own work.
However, Arrington did nothing wrong. First, she cited the 2011 paper in question in her project. On her poster, she wrote: "In a field study...the most upstream lionfish was found in 15 [parts per thousand] (Jud et al. 2011)."
She acknowledged that previous research had been done, but explained how her results went farther and offered new information. That's real science.
Citing papers is the standard way that scientists give one another formal credit for their research. Once you publish a paper, it's fair game for another scientist to attempt to reproduce or expand upon the results. That's how science works; and that's how science improves on itself over time.
It's clear to see how the 2011 paper (the one which Jud claims the Arrington plagiarized) inspired the teen's work. In the paper, Jud reports collections of lionfish from the Loxahatchee River estuary, lived farther from the ocean that previously thought.
"While there is no published record for salinity tolerance in lionfish, their presence in the Loxahatche River suggests that the species may be able to behaviorally (or physiologically) handle fluctuating estuarine salinities," Jud wrote in the paper's discussion.
No published record? It looks like a middle schooler just answered your further research question for you. Arrington did not copy Jud's project; she continued it and generated new information that was ecologically relevant.
Jud may have been working on a similar experiment and was hoping to publish his own results. However, that's how science works; sometimes someone else will beat you and publish a finding before you do. That's not unethical; it's just life - and it's completely acceptable.
But looking further into the situation, I can't help but be confused.
Google Scholar is an excellent source for finding peer-reviewed articles. According to NPR, the younger Arrington's work was acknowledged in a 2014 article that confirmed her results. I know that the article was published in Environmental Biology of Fishes. I was able to find one article authored by Layman in that journal this year.
The article, titled "Broad salinity tolerance in the invasive lionfish Pterois spp. may facilitate estuarine colonization," certainly seems to be the article replicating young Arrington's work. It reports a maximum long-term salinity threshold of five parts per thousand (Arrington went down to six parts per thousand in her project). And this work appears to have been performed completely in the laboratory, rather than the wild.
If this is the right paper, it's certainly interesting: Jud is actually the first author of the paper, with Layman in the third slot. Perhaps Layman is credited in the NPR story because he wrote the article, or at least suggested or wrote the acknowledgment. But this demonstrates that Jud clearly knew about the teen's project. He knew that she had generated results that he found interesting. If anything, Jud "stole" her research by replicating her unpublished findings.
Unfortunately, I was only able to access the first two pages of the article, although I have requested to have it sent electronically and should receive a copy within a few days. So although the abstract and introduction gave me a general idea of what the paper is about and what results they generated, I was not able to see the acknowledgment to Arrington.
Jud further claims in his Facebook post that he wants Arrington to learn about academic integrity, which is why he is pursuing this matter through such as public forum. But if he actually cared about teaching her about plagiarism (or examining her father's parenting, which he also attacks) then he would not have criticized her in such a public manner. Seeing as Jud knows this family personally, it would have been more appropriate to deal with any perceived plagiarism (although it doesn't seem like there was any) in a more private manner.
I suspect Jud is not actually upset with Arrington; he is upset with the media. And, to an extent, I do not blame him. A few of the reporters covering this story may have gotten a bit carried away.
Originally, the NPR story bore the headline, "Sixth Grader's Science Project Shocks Ecologists," claiming her results showed that lionfish could infest Florida rivers, noting that this was new information. They later amended the article, toning down the headline and taking a few of the statements.
In the end, Arrington's research clearly did not stop him from publishing another paper on the subject and I'm sure he'll have plenty of papers to his name in the near future.
Jud is claiming that this so-called "little girl" had stolen the credit for his life's research, and that he should be the person receiving national attention. But let's be honest: The media doesn't really care about lionfish invasions. They're reporting on this story because it's a human interest piece.
By complaining on Facebook, Jud is looking for the national attention he feels he was robbed of because is not a precocious middle schooler. And he got his wish. A Google search for "Zack Jud" yields dozens of news articles telling everyone what he wanted them to know: It was his idea first.
Whether he meant for it to or not, Jud's complaints come off as petty and childish. And now, that is how he will be remembered.
UPDATE: I received the 2014 Jud et al. article. The acknowledgment reads, "Lauren Arrington (King’s Academy, West Palm Beach, FL) conducted preliminary laboratory experiments that helped give rise to our experimental design."