Sixth-Grader May Have Stolen Credit For Marine Biologist's Lionfish Research

There's a new development in the story about 12-year-old Lauren Arrington's remarkable science fair project about the invasive potential of lionfish. A marine biologist is now claiming that the project was based on published work he did back in 2011 — and that the girl is the daughter of his former supervisor's best friend.

Stories of lead researchers stealing the work of their grad students is not uncommon, but this represents a major twist. It seems that in this case, a proud parent (and close friend of a college professor) encouraged his daughter to conduct a science fair project that was largely based on the work of that professor/friend's graduate student. Arrington's science fair project seems to have been inspired by the work of a grad student, Zack Jud, who published very similar results back in 2011 — work that Arrington's father was an author on.

Since the story broke a couple of days ago it's been picked up by numerous media outlets. The news eventually got the attention of Jud, who claims that his many years of groundbreaking work on lionfish in low salinity estuarine habitats is being completely and intentionally ignored.

Sixth-Grader May Have Stolen Credit For Marine Biologist's Lionfish Research

Zack Jud in 2010, when he first discovered lionfish occupying estuarine habitats — three years before Arrington's"discovery". Via his Facebook.

"At this stage in my career, this type of national exposure would be invaluable...if only my name was included in the stories," Jud wrote on his Facebook page. "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."

Unethical, indeed. Clearly, it's important that this scientific work — which highlights a worrisome ecological problem — receives the media attention it deserves. But it's also important that credit be given where it's due.

And it appears that Jud has a strong case. Here's what Fischer Aitchtuoh from the Central Florida Aquarium Society has learned:

D. Albrey Arrington, the father of Lauren Arrington, appears as an author on this paper released June 2011. He had absolutely nothing to do with the research however, he was clearly aware that lionfish were found in low salinity parts of the estuary years before the science fair project was carried out. By this time, Jud had planned on running salinity tolerance trials for quite a while before Arrington executed her project, invalidating the premise that any related research had been ultimately replicated or expanded upon by ecologists. Jud's work further revealed wild lionfish in salinities in as low as 8 ppt, just a hair above the young girls 6 ppt "breakthrough" in captivity.

A subsequent paper that Jud published in 2012 that documented movement patterns of lionfish within the estuary. The "discovery" was made years before the science fair project was carried out. Arrington's project lowered the salinity bar from 8 ppt (Jud's previous finding, which Arrington knew about) to 6 ppt. Jud subsequently demonstrated that lionfish could survive in salinities as low as 5 ppt for extended periods of time, and as low as 1 ppt for brief periods (in the wild, around low tide during the wet season).

Frustratingly, there's actually a petition going around demanding that Arrington's name be added as an author to Jud's most recent scientific publication. Upon learning of these extenuating circumstances, however, the author of the petition had it taken down.

Jud is now trying to figure out what to do about the situation without doing anything to discourage the girl.

"Most of you are aware of the massive amount of time I put into exposing kids to science, and I obviously don't want to do anything to diminish this young lady's curiosity or enthusiasm," he writes. "I'm thrilled that she chose to look at lionfish for her science fair project, but encouraging an outright lie is poor parenting and a horrible way to introduce a youngster to a career in the sciences."

Read more at Jud's Facebook page and CFLAS.

Top image Albrey Arrington via Sun Sentinel.