Why a Scientist Is Now Attacking a 13-Year-Old’s Science Fair Research as ‘Unethical’

The findings made by a 12-year-old, now 13-year-old, student for her sixth-grade science fair project was said to “shock ecologists” and received international recognition after confirmation was published in a well-respected scientific journal earlier this year. Now, another scientist is hitting back at her accolades, though, he acknowledges, he doesn’t really enjoy doing it.

Lauren Arrington started her project nearly two years ago, the Palm Beach Post reported last month of the King’s Academy student. In the project she researched invasive lionfish in Florida, evaluating if the saltwater fish could survive in freshwater as well.

Lauren Arrington showing off some of the fish involved with her experiment. (Image source: Dr. Albrey Arrington)
Lauren Arrington showing off some of the fish involved with her experiment. (Image source: Dr. Albrey Arrington)

She found the fish could live in nearly pure freshwater, threatening estuaries in Florida in a way that scientists hadn’t known before.

Her work was confirmed by North Carolina State University ecologist Craig Layman, who published the results in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes, crediting the “sixth-grader for coming up with his idea,” as Lauren put it to NPR.

“I’m still like, ‘Oh wow I did something not even a Ph.D. scientist had done before,” Lauren told the Palm Beach Post.

Her father, Dr. Albrey Arrington, executive director of the Loxahatchee River District, said “we were all really amazed” over the findings.”

But not everyone is singing the praises of the research.

Zack Jud, who earned his Ph.D. in biology from Florida International University, said he published similar results back in 2011, and Lauren’s father was a co-author on that paper. Layman, who confirmed Lauren’s work, was also listed as an author on this paper as well.

"This picture was taken in 2010, when I first discovered lionfish occupying estuarine habitats — thre years before the little girl's 'discovery,'" Jud wrote. (Image source: Zack Jud/Facebook)
“This picture was taken in 2010, when I first discovered lionfish occupying estuarine habitats — three years before the little girl’s ‘discovery,'” Jud wrote. (Image source: Zack Jud/Facebook)

Though Jud doesn’t like being one to rain on the young teen’s parade, he’s not the only one doing so. The Central Florida Aquarium Society compiled a list of sources that it says “immediately discredit Arrington’s claim.”

Here’s Jud’s full Facebook post calling out the young girl and her father earlier this week:

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. At this stage in my career, this type of national exposure would be invaluable…if only my name was included in the stories. 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.

I’m looking towards you — my valued friends and colleagues — for suggestions on how I might be able to remedy this intentional misrepresentation without doing anything to disparage the little 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. 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.

In a comment, Jud said he contacted the Arringtons and “very delicately voiced my concerns.”

In an email to TheBlaze. Lauren’s father explained that the paper he co-authored with Jud included that the lionfish were found in the Loxahatchee River, but did not “experimentally define where in the river lionfish can live (i.e., what is the lowest salinity lionfish can live in).”

“Lauren got her idea to experimentally test just how far up the river lionfish could live (i.e., what is the lowest salinity lionfish can tolerate) after reading the 2011 paper and hearing the public presentations by Dr. Jud and Dr. Layman. Lauren cited the 2011 Jud et al. paper in her Science Fair report and display — so she adequately provided credit to the authors of the 2011 paper,” Arrington said.

Arrington said that his daughter’s own research spurred Layman and Jud to conduct further experimental studies, to which the father said it was “absolutely awesome to see that Lauren’s findings were solidly verified by the much more thorough and complex experiments conducted by Dr. Jud and Dr. Layman.”

“This is a great science story. Science builds step upon step, study by study, researcher by researcher, and it was awesome to see Lauren actually take part in and contribute to the scientific process,” he added.

Arrington also sent TheBlaze several emails within the last year between Jud and him that he said shows how they were collaborators in his work. In one email, Jud wrote that it was “really cool” that he could include Lauren in the acknowledgements of one of his later research manuscripts.

Layman told TheBlaze that he plans on discussing this issue in a post on his blog Friday.

Here’s a look at Lauren’s research if you’re interested:

Lauren Arrington Science Fair Display

(H/T: io9)

This story has been updated to include comments from Lauren’s dad.