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Dustup Over Lionfish Science Fair Project

A former graduate student says he feels slighted by a failure to attribute his contributions to a line of research regarding the salinity tolerances of an invasive species.

By | July 23, 2014

The red lionfish (Pterois volitans)WIKIMEDIA, ALBERT KOKThe story of Lauren Arrington and her science fair project, for which she exposed invasive red lionfish (Pterois volitans) in aquaria to brackish water to test the animals’ tolerance for low salinities, has taken on a life of its own. Several news outlets (including The Scientist) reported on how academic researchers followed up on Arrington’s project and confirmed her findings—that lionfish could survive salinities far below the previously established limit. But one researcher, former Florida International University (FIU) PhD student Zack Jud, is calling foul.

On Monday (July 21) Jud posted comments on his Facebook page expressing his frustration with the fact that his “name has been intentionally left out” of the flurry of online articles reporting the story. “The little girl did a science fair project based on my PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED DISCOVERY of lionfish living in low-salinity estuarine habitats,” he wrote.

The Scientist contacted Jud to get a more complete accounting of what happened with Arrington’s science fair project and the subsequent Environmental Biology of Fishes paper, on which Jud was listed as first author. “The real issue is not about a science fair project,” he said. “It’s about acknowledging a scientist who has worked for years and years to solve these problems.”

Jud said that his frustration stems from how coverage of the story, which went viral after NPR did a piece last weekend (July 20) on Arrington’s project, omitted mention of his contributions to the study of the lionfish’s incursion into Florida’s estuarine habitats. “I’m not sure what happened, but my main issue is that the national media has presented a story that is sensationalized, and has left me out of the picture.”

In 2011, Jud and coauthors published an Aquatic Biology paper reporting his 2010 discovery of lionfish in the Loxahatchee River estuary near Jupiter, Florida. Then, in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, Jud and his PhD advisor, North Carolina State University ecologist Craig Layman, reported findings from a 10-month mark-recapture study, in which they documented lionfish occurring in water as low as 8 parts per thousand (ppt) NaCl. This effectively extended the salinity tolerance range for lionfish to below 25 ppt, the previously accepted minimum.

In 2013, Arrington, the then 12-year-old from Jupiter, built her sixth grade science fair project around doing some experimental work to confirm that lionfish could indeed survive such low salinities. In media reports, the now 13-year-old student credits her father, Albrey Arrington, executive director of the Loxahatchee River District and a coauthor on Jud’s 2011 paper on lionfish in the Loxahatchee River estuary, with helping her with the project. “This [2011] paper did not experimentally define where in the river lionfish can live (i.e., what is the lowest salinity lionfish can live in),” Albrey Arrington wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist. “It simply made observations about lionfish occurrence and distribution in the Loxahatchee River.”

Arrington added that his daughter had read the paper, and attended public lectures given by Jud and Layman explaining its results, before coming up with her idea to test the fish’s salinity tolerances experimentally. “Lauren cited the 2011 Jud et al. paper in her science fair report and display—so she adequately provided credit to the authors,” he wrote. “Lauren’s experimental research (i.e., the experimental lowering of salinity to determine the lowest salinity lionfish can tolerate) was her own idea, and she did that work well before Dr. Jud and Dr. Layman conducted their experimental studies.”

Indeed, Jud and Layman published their results in Environmental Biology of Fishes this February. And in that paper, the authors noted Lauren’s contributions to their laboratory experimental design in both the methods section and in the acknowledgments.

But Jud maintains that news reports claiming that Layman was inspired by Lauren Arrington’s science fair project omit mention of Jud’s pre-existing plans to perform those experiments. “It was something that I had discussed with my advisor numerous times since the first discovery of estuarine lionfish,” said Jud, adding that his other work kept him from conducting the studies until after Lauren had done her science fair project. “As a busy PhD student, I had a number of other projects on my plate,” he said.

“The last thing I ever wanted to do is anything disparaging to a future young scientist,” added Jud, who completed his PhD at FIU in April and is now searching for academic positions. “It was just important for me to make sure that my years of research were recognized in conjunction with the young lady’s science fair project. Having my research discussed at this level could certainly help kick-start my career.”

Jud told The Scientist that after the first round of news stories came out about this sequence of events, he e-mailed Albrey Arrington, asking that he acknowledge his contributions to the research in any future news interviews. “This is still 100 percent Lauren’s cool story and it is completely fine if my name isn't mentioned at all,” Jud wrote in the e-mail to Arrington, which Jud provided to The Scientist, “but if my research is brought up as a lead-in or follow-up to Lauren’s project, I would appreciate it if it was properly attributed to me.”

Arrington replied to Jud in an e-mail: “We have mentioned you frequently in nearly all interviews. We have provided PDFs of your publications to nearly all reporters. Of course, the reprints show you as first author. I trust you understand reporters typically make the call on how to build the story to maximize interest. It has been my experience that reporters are not as interested in linking Lauren with ‘just’ a graduate student, rather they think it makes a way better headline to relate Lauren’s work to a ‘real professor.’”

In subsequent news stories, Jud’s contributions to the work were rarely mentioned, with most referring to the follow-up research as Layman’s alone. “It’s shocking to me that such a great story had such a negative twist to it despite my appeal to Dr. Arrington to properly attribute the research to me,” said Jud.

Albrey Arrington said he views this not as a case of what some media reports have described as his daughter’s “stealing” or “hijacking” of a scientific idea. Rather, he noted, the situation represents the natural progression of science. “Of course, if Lauren had ‘stolen’ their idea or plagiarized their material they would not have provided the very positive acknowledgement to Lauren in their paper,” Albrey Arrington told The Scientist. “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.”

Still, Jud said he feels hard done by. “My years of work were omitted from a very interesting story that otherwise did a very good job about exposing people around the USA to this invasive species entering coastal systems.”

Layman could not immediately respond to The Scientist’s request for comment.

Update (July 24): In a post at his blog, Layman recounted the series of events. “I have been mentioned in many articles/stories/posts that have not named Zack [Jud] explicitly. This has not stemmed from any deliberate attempt to exclude Zack. I always do everything I can to promote students’ research programs,” he wrote.

“A young student did a really cool science project. It related closely to, and facilitated, a bunch of other important findings about lionfish,” Layman added. “I am glad tens of thousands of people now know about Zack’s research and Lauren [Arrington]’s project that never would have otherwise. But it is unfortunate how it played out in such a manner over the last few weeks.”

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Comments

Avatar of: LeeH

LeeH

Posts: 33

July 24, 2014

A teaching opportunity was missed by not pointing out proper citation.  Her father should have known better as a coauthor on the published work she was merely repeating.

Avatar of: ibap

ibap

Posts: 1

July 24, 2014

As I've commented elsewhere - My HS chemistry teacher would have nothing to do with science fairs.  Having myself judged a couple of them at the district level, and knowing others who have judged at the state level, it is disturbing that the winners are nearly always someone with use of laboratory facilities that the vast majority of students simply do not have access to.

In this case, while the 6th grader might have cited the work of Jud, the reporters publicizing her work are much more interested in writing about the work of a youngster, rather than the scientific reports.  It will get a bigger splash for the reporter if they can report on a science fair project rather than painstaking scientific work reported in refereed journals.

Avatar of: Salticidologist

Salticidologist

Posts: 20

July 24, 2014

This happens all of the time.  I once demonstrated a certain phenomenon that I had observed related to the behavior of flies to a distinguished professor at a major university.  Several years after I moved on, he showed this to someone else, who proceeded to write a paper in Science with another collaborator.  The author did acknowledge the professor in his paper, and I'm sure that the professor had long forgotten who showed this to him.  No problem at all.  The person who gets credit for a publication is quite often not the original discoverer of something represented therein.  Many things are discovered multiple times, in multiple places.  That's a good thing.  Alfred Russell Wallace set the ethical standard  for shared discoveries.  But certainly it is only ethical to cite contributions and discoveries if one is aware of them.  And, at all times, the observations are more important than the observer when it comes to science.

Avatar of: paulr

paulr

Posts: 5

July 24, 2014

It would be very interesting and informative to run a correlation study on the winners of science fairs versus the profession (and resources) of their parents.

 

 

 

Avatar of: CMA

CMA

Posts: 1

July 24, 2014

Jud should just move on.  If he was snubbed by a 6th grader, who cares.  Science Fairs are learning environments not Nobel prize competitions (lots of snubbing goes on there too).  The lesson to be learned is to not pay much attention the to media, they have and will always spin a story to suit their needs.  As for Jud, by making a big deal out of this minor issue future collaborators might be turned off and choose to work with others.  The people who really matter in this case (the researchers not the public) will know where the work originated and give proper credit.

Avatar of: mightythor

mightythor

Posts: 43

July 24, 2014

This paragraph caught my eye:

"Jud maintains that news reports claiming that Layman was inspired by Lauren Arrington’s science fair project omit mention of Jud’s pre-existing plans to perform those experiments. “It was something that I had discussed with my advisor numerous times since the first discovery of estuarine lionfish,” said Jud, adding that his other work kept him from conducting the studies until after Lauren had done her science fair project."

I wish I got credit for all the experiments I planned to perform until someone else beat me to it.

Avatar of: Catfish

Catfish

Posts: 1

July 24, 2014

I think Jud's comments are misplaced. If the schoolgirl cited/acknowledged  his work, she did her duty by him. That the media simplifies the story and misses him out is hardly her fault. How was the media to know he planned to do the experiments?

Replied to a comment from mightythor made on July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014

I totally agree.  This former graduate student has a lot to learn, if he thinks that having thought about a project gives him any priority!

Avatar of:

Posts: 1

July 24, 2014

 

 

It sounds to me like Jud doesn't have much of a real bone to pick.  She gave his work its proper attribution and she extended his previous observations, that were confirmnatory of the more recent paper he published.  What he doesn't seem to understand is that it is very difficult to leverage your 15 min of internet fame into an academic job or grant funding.  The media is hungry for science stories and this young girl makes for some instant publicity.  Every week there are 100 cool science stories popping up on Google, Yahoo, Redditt etc  and Jud should know that next week there will be 100 more and in a year no one will remember about salinity and lionfish except for those in the field.  He should just focus on publishing more and better papers and that's how he'll get his job.  

 

Avatar of: Amanda Biederman

Amanda Biederman

Posts: 5

July 24, 2014

Arrington properly cited Jud's work and never claimed his research as her own. His complaints come off to me as childish and petty. Read my article for a more extensive review of my argument http://www.cennamology.com/home/seventh-grade-scientist-is-not-guilty-of-plagiarism

 

Avatar of: Amanda Biederman

Amanda Biederman

Posts: 5

Replied to a comment from LeeH made on July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014

She was expanding on Jud's research AND properly cites where she got the idea. (Read my article for links to both her project, as well as Jed's 2011 paper where in the conclusion he says no formal salinity test has been perfomed). Then, HE replicated HER findings. http://www.cennamology.com/home/seventh-grade-scientist-is-not-guilty-of-plagiarism

Avatar of: Amanda Biederman

Amanda Biederman

Posts: 5

July 24, 2014

She properly cites Jud's work AND expands upon it with her own findings. He's clearly upset the media is more interested in her work than his. All this is is popular media at its finest. http://www.cennamology.com/home/seventh-grade-scientist-is-not-guilty-of-plagiarism

Avatar of: Amanda Biederman

Amanda Biederman

Posts: 5

Replied to a comment from Salticidologist made on July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014

It seems to me like you're saying Arrington may have been slighted in only making the acknowledgment- which isdefinitely  arguable, although my take is that her research was probably not sufficient for publication, even with her father's name behind it. Yet it seems that it's Jud, not Arrington who is claiming damage, even though she never claimed his research as her own. http://www.cennamology.com/home/seventh-grade-scientist-is-not-guilty-of-plagiarism

Avatar of: Amanda Biederman

Amanda Biederman

Posts: 5

Replied to a comment from mightythor made on July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014

So true! In the discussion of his 2011 paper, Jud says no one has yet documented the maximun salinity tolerance. That's pretty much inviting another lab to come in and do it. Not that that's a bad thing... it's just how science works. He's lucky he was beat by a 12-year-old who couldn't actually publish the data on her own. http://www.cennamology.com/home/seventh-grade-scientist-is-not-guilty-of-plagiarism

Avatar of:

Posts: 2

August 1, 2014

Lauren Arrington has learned an important lesson that is of ultimate importance to every Scientist.  The importantce of proper Citation within a paper and to see that the citation is carried through to the press.  It does not matter about the age or experience of the researcher.  Lauren did legitimate research just as professinally as Zack Jud did.  Zack Jud was the primary publisher of the one paper while Albrey Arrington andf Dr. Layman where the Co-authors. Lauren Arrington was the primary publisher of the second paper and Albrey Arrington was cited as a contributor while Zack Jud was also cited as the publisher of the referenced paper.  Lauren Arrington's primary failure in the affair was in not seeing that the citation was carried through to the press.  This is the lesson she has learned at an early stage in her scientific carreer.  Zack Jud should also take a lesson from it.  it would be a lesson well learned. 

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