The Sciences

Proceeding upriver: a timeline of the dispute over estuarine lionfish

Science SushiBy Christie WilcoxJul 24, 2014 9:15 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Over the past month, the story of Lauren Arrington's sixth-grade science project on lionfish salinity tolerance has exploded. In the past week, however, questions have arisen as to the validity of her study and the events that led to her project, particularly the involvement of scientist Zachary Jud, who was rarely mentioned in early reports on Lauren's work. Some are saying Zack is trying to "steal the spotlight" from a 13 yr old girl, while others are saying Lauren "hijacked" her project from Zack and referring to it as "plagiarism". Given the conflicting media coverage of Lauren's project and Zack's research, it seemed prudent to have a complete timeline of the events, both prior to and after Lauren's project. Here is that timeline, which has been confirmed through emails, blog posts (including one by Craig Layman), and my personal communication with Zachary Jud. I contacted Albrey Arrington on July 23, 2014. Albrey did not respond.

August 2010

Zachary Jud, a PhD student advised by Craig Layman, dives at Coral Cove, near mouth of the Loxahatchee river, and spots two invasive lionfish. He decides to investigate upriver to determine how far the lionfish occur into the estuary as a part of his doctoral work. He obtained funding through the Loxahatchee River District with the aid of its director, Albrey Arrington. Over the next nine months (through April 2011), Zachary and his advisor document 211 lionfish present as far as ~5.5 km from the ocean. "Here, we identify a new threat to estuarine ecosystems in the western Atlantic and Caribbean, the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans and P. miles," explains the subsequent study which was published June 30, 2011 in the journal Aquatic Biology. Both Craig Layman and Albrey Arrington are listed as coauthors. Albrey did not assist in the fieldwork, and instead was included for because of the funding he provided for the survey. During the survey of the river and after, Zachary Jud discusses the possibility of testing the lowest salinity at which lionfish can survive with Craig Layman and others. According to Layman: "At this point in Zack and I had many conversations about the next step – an obvious one being salinity trials to explore lionfish tolerance further. But we knew that other labs were doing salinity tolerance work (one being James Morris’ group at NOAA: So for many other reasons (facilities, time investment, etc.), we decided a better track would be to take a different research angle."

September 2010

The Palm Beach Post reports about Zachary Jud's discovery of lionfish in the Loxahatchee.

This is the first time the predators have been documented inside any river on the Atlantic Coast from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to Venezuela, said Craig Layman, a biology professor at Florida International University in Miami... "One theory is that the water is saltier at the bottom. That's where the lionfish live," said Jud, who saw about a dozen of the red-and-white-striped fish while diving in the river on Sunday. Researchers from FIU have been tagging lionfish to learn where they swim.

The tagging research mentioned in the article continued through July 2011, and was submitted in October 2011 (more detail below).

June 2011

The paper describing Zack's discovery of lionfish in the Loxahatchee is published on June 30, 2011 in Aquatic BiologyFIU news covers the estuary discovery. “It’s pretty phenomenal to find this fish inside the estuary,” Layman is quoted as saying in the article. “This represents a totally new dimension of the lionfish invasion.” Just before the paper publishes in Aquatic Biology, Zachary Jud contacts other scientists via email to inquire about the best methodologies for performing salinity tolerance tests on lionfish after in-person conversations, cc'ing his advisor, Craig Layman. "After looking at the design, I'm a little concerned that a Steeland-style tank might not work with lionfish—I don't know if they'll move up in the water column enough to go over the baffles. Do you think the electronic shuttlebox system that [your grad student] used would be a better option for lionfish?" he asks as a part of the discussion with another scientist. "This could be really interesting," Layman replies to all.

October 2011

Zachary Jud submits a second paper on the Loxahatchee River lionfish to the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, which tracks the movement patterns of 55 lionfish within the estuary. The study documents that lionfish in the estuary have extreme site fidelity, and were often caught within meters of the original capture site. The research was in part conducted concurrently with the estuary survey that was published in June, 2011, and was concluded in July, 2011. The study is accepted on January 27, 2012.

December 2011

The Sun Sentinel covers Jud's upcoming paper on lionfish movement.

"These fish really stay put, at least in our system," said Zachary Jud, a marine scientist at Florida International University, who has tagged fish to track their movements in the Loxahatchee. "We've had some fish that stayed in the same spot for months. The greatest distance some moved was a couple hundred feet."

Early 2012

Zachary Jud's research on estuarine lionfish is discussed by scientists throughout Florida. According to Layman: "At this point, Zack was becoming very widely known in South Florida (and beyond) for his lionfish research. He gave many community meetings, lectures, etc. across the area. He was a staple speaker at the River Center in Jupiter for instance."

August 2012

As a part of his ongoing fieldwork on the lionfish in the Loxahatchee, Zachary Jud discovers a lionfish more than 4 miles upriver. He writes about it on Craig Layman's lab outreach blog, and sends an email to a group of scientists he think will be particularly interesting, including Albrey Arrington.

Hi folks, I just wanted to share an interesting lionfish observation with everyone. Last week, while conducting oyster reef research on the Loxahatchee River, I found a lionfish 4.1 miles from the ocean. This is almost 3/4 mile further upriver than any of our previous estuarine captures. Bottom salinity at the capture site was 8 ppt, way lower than I'd ever expect to find a lionfish. Additionally, the 8 ppt layer was only about 3" thick, above which, salinity dropped to zero. The fish didn't seem stressed. Check out the whole story (with photos) here at the Abaco Scientist blog: While you're there, poke around for a little bit. The blog is Bahamas-centric, but many of the posts are broadly applicable. Take care, -Zack

On the blog post, Albrey Arrington makes a comment:

Albrey Arrington replying to Zachary Jud's August 2012 blog post about finding lionfish in 8ppt salinity. On August 16, 2012, Florida Weekly covers the lionfish invasion and Zack's ongoing research.

... Mr. Jud began hearing about lionfish off the Carolinas’ coast several years ago. Then came talk of their presence in Florida offshore waters. Might they, he wondered, migrate into the estuaries? Doubtful, he thought, but worth exploring, so in August of 2010 he and his academic adviser, Craig Layman, donned scuba gear for a look-see. Within 10 minutes of entering the water, they spotted and captured lionfish with spear poles and hand nets. “We would snorkel the entire shoreline of the Loxahatchee River during each day of research,” he says. “They like structures. In nature, natural habitat, they like coral reefs, or a rocky overhang or cavern. We find them a lot of times on artificial habitat. Boat racks, shopping carts, piers, dock pilings.” Those lionfish sightings were news. “This is the first documented intrusion of lionfish into an estuarine systems in their invasive range,” Mr. Jud wrote in a paper published in Aquatic Biology. “In total, 211 lionfish were captured in the Loxahatchee River between August 2010 and April 2011.”

Note: ‰ = ppt = parts per thousand, common units when describing salinity

October 2012

Zachary Jud presents his discovery of lionfish in the Loxahatchee as a poster at the 6th National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration, which occurred October 20-25, 2o12 at the Tampa Bay Convention Center.

September - December 2012

Lauren Arrington, the then-6th grade daughter of Albrey Arrington, designs and performs a science fair project to test the salinity tolerance of lionfish. According to a recent interview with The Scientist, "Arrington added that his daughter had read the [2011] 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." Given that Lauren was strictly told that the lionfish could not die during the course of her project, she did not attempt to bring the lionfish below 6 ppt, in the ballpark of the lowest salinity where lionfish had been found in the field by Zachary Jud. Zachary Jud says he was not involved in the experiment's planning or execution (according to Layman: "When she expressed interest, Albrey and I advised her on a possible setup and design for the project."). He also stated that Lauren's work did not impact his own plans to research lionfish salinity tolerance, which would be conducted the following year.

Update: Lauren’s poster in full. Note that it does cite Jud’s 2011 paper, and uses 8 ppt (the minimum field sighting) in her hypothesis. Layman describes her research:

Lauren began to set up her experiment in early September of 2012. She has had an interest in lionfish, stemming from a father and mother with science backgrounds, as well as an extended family with much experience outdoors. When she expressed interest, Albrey and I advised her on a possible setup and design for the project. Lauren set up her experimental tanks on September 8, 2012. In the following days, Lauren carried out the entire experiment from start to finish. She couldn’t do everything herself (e.g., she could not drive the boat to catch her own lionfish), but she carried out the experiment. For instance, she quantified lionfish prey consumption and ventilation rates at the different salinity levels. She made her own observations and recorded her own data.

She presented her findings at the Palm Beach County Regional Science Fair in early December. Her poster, which placed 3rd in the zoology category, cited Jud's earlier work. Update: Lauren's poster in full. Note that it does cite Jud's 2011 paper, and uses 8 ppt (the minimum field sighting) in her hypothesis. Lauren's abstract:

Estuaries are important because they provide shelter and food for juvenile fish. Lionfish (Pterois volitans) are invasive, non-native fish that are a threat to marine ecosystems, because lionfish have been shown to have a direct negative effect on juvenile fish populations. Most lionfish studies have been conducted on coral reefs. To my knowledge, no studies have tested the effect of lionfish in estuaries or how far into estuaries lionfish could invade. Through this project I will determine the lowest salinity that lionfish can tolerate, and show how far up estuaries lionfish could affect other fish. I captured 6 lionfish from the Loxahatchee River, and put each lionfish in a 10-gallon tank. For 7 days I let the lionfish acclimate to the tanks at 25‰. Then for 5 of the lionfish, I lowered salinity from 25‰ to 6‰ over a period of 8 days. Each day I checked the breathing rate, position, activity, and appetite of the lionfish. When I changed salinity from 25‰ to 6‰ and back to 25‰, it did not affect lionfish behavior at all. All 5 lionfish survived 24 hours in 6‰ water and ate voraciously. This project showed lionfish can handle 6‰ water. Therefore, lionfish can be expected to invade estuaries with salinity greater than 6‰. If lionfish invade estuaries and eat all the juvenile fish, then estuaries will no longer act as nurseries.

Layman makes clear that Lauren's experiment was not the same as either of the papers previously published. "Note at this point the difference between our 2011 paper (which, again, Zack is first author on) and this science fair project. The 2011 paper demonstrates lionfish are found in certain areas of estuaries where salinities could be low. Lauren’s project was a laboratory manipulation that explored this field observation further in a laboratory trial."

December 2012

Albrey Arrington emails Zachary Jud regarding his daughter's science fair project studying salinity tolerance in lionfish. “Craig [Layman] told me about the 6 ppt feeding, but I didn’t know she ramped them back up to 27 ppt in 2 hours with no ill effects,” Jud wrote to Arrington in December 2012, according to an e-mail shared with The Washington Post. While the fact that Lauren's lionfish survived at a salinity of 6 ppt was not surprising to Jud (given his earlier discovery of a lionfish at 8 ppt in the field) he did express surprise that the sudden and dramatic salinity change back up from 6 ppt to 27 ppt had no ill effects. “That’s crazy.” Meanwhile, Layman discusses with Albrey and Lauren the possibility of expanding her study, outlining the effort that it would take to do so to Lauren. According to Layman: "Not all that surprising for her age, she did not decide to commit to that effort. But her own decision is the reason she was not included in subsequent research and is not an author on subsequent papers." "This now accelerated Zack and my thinking about the laboratory salinity trials. It had been a couple of years since we expected salinity tolerance publications would come out, so maybe it was time to move forward."

January 2013

Craig Layman posts about Lauren Arrington's study on his lab's outreach blog, linking to prior fieldwork done by Zachary Jud on the estuarine lionfish. "Sixth grader Lauren Arrington’s science fair project has shown something that still hasn’t emerged from the myriad labs now studying the lionfish: data regarding lionfish tolerance for low salinity. This pattern seems obvious from field observations, but I have yet to see a rigorous study on their tolerance limits. As such, a very important study…from a sixth grader!!"

Summer 2013

After discussions about experimental design, Zachary Jud and Craig Layman enlist Patrick Nichols to assist with a study on salinity tolerance. According to Layman "At the beginning of the summer, after we had a basic idea of the research design, the three of us decided Zack would be the lead on the salinity study and I would be the lead on the benthic invertebrate study." Zachary Jud, with the field assistance of Patrick Nichols, conducts lab and field experiments to test the salinity tolerance in lionfish. Patrick heads up the field portion of the experiment, and places 24 lionfish in cages in lower salt areas of the Loxahatchee, recording salinity every 15 minutes and monitoring the fish daily for signs of morbidity and mortality over 40 days. In addition, Zack places 16 lionfish in either 7 ppt or 35 ppt for 28 days in a laboratory setting. "We chose this salinity based on our findings from the in situ cage study (above), in situ observations of wild lionfish at 8‰ (Z. Jud, unpubl. data), as well as the results of a small pilot study that showed lionfish could survive and feed at 6‰ for short periods of time (L. Arrington, unpubl. data)," Zack and his coauthors state in the methods. Once the 28 days were up, Zack slowly lowers the salinity in the tanks in 1 ppt increments every two days to test the very bottom limit at which lionfish can survive for 48 hours. He finds that limit is 5 ppt. The research is concluded by August, 2013.

October 2013

Zachary Jud submits his paper on salinity tolerance in lionfish.

February 2014

Zachary Jud's research on salinity tolerance in lionfish is published in the journal 

Environmental Biology of Fishes

Online First on February 7, 2014The study abstract:

The ongoing invasion of non-native Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois spp.) represents a significant ecological threat throughout the Western Atlantic and Caribbean. As a generalist species, lionfish have been able to rapidly colonize a wide variety of ecosystems, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, the sea floor at depths as great as 300 m, and even brackish estuaries. While lionfish have been encountered in a number of estuarine systems, the spatial distribution of lionfish in estuaries is likely limited by the species’ ability to tolerate low salinities. Here, we experimentally identify minimum salinity tolerance in lionfish by measuring survival salinity minimum—the lowest salinity at which all individuals survive for 48 h. Additionally, we examine whether long-term exposure to low (but sub-lethal) salinities has negative effects on lionfish. Field observations in the Loxahatchee River estuary (Jupiter, FL) showed that lionfish can survive brief exposure to salinities as low as 1 ‰. At one estuarine location, fish survived exposure to salinity fluctuations of ~28 ‰ every 6 h for several days. In laboratory trials, survival salinity minimum for lionfish was 5 ‰; however, some individuals survived at 4 ‰ for up to 94 h before dying. Lionfish that were held at 7 ‰ for 28 days showed no differences in mortality, behavior or growth, when compared to control fish held at 35 ‰ (typical ocean salinity). This broad salinity tolerance may allow lionfish to colonize estuaries throughout their invaded range, and may facilitate dispersal across the Amazon-Orinoco plume. Because of the ecological and economic importance of estuaries, this facet of the lionfish invasion warrants further study.

In the acknowledgements section, Lauren Arrington is mentioned: "Lauren Arrington (King’s Academy, West Palm Beach, FL) conducted preliminary laboratory experiments that helped give rise to our experimental design." According to Zack, the acknowledgement was added not because Lauren contributed to the design, but instead because he thought it would be "the coolest thing" for a 12 year old to be mentioned in a scientific paper. Her data on the six lionfish she studied were not used in the paper.

March 2014

On March 25, 2014, Zachary Jud successfully defended his doctoral dissertation entitled "Anthropogenic Disturbances in Estuarine Ecosystems: The Effects of Altered Freshwater Inflow, Introduction of Invasive Species, and Habitat Alteration in the Loxahatchee River, FL"

May 2014

Lauren Arrington's school contacts Craig Layman about her project after learning of her acknowledgements in the 2014 paper. According to Layman:

Sometime in late May I was contacted by King’s Academy, Lauren’s school. They had seen Lauren was acknowledged in our paper and wanted to ask some questions. I assume that the King’ Academy press release led to the June inquiries I received from the Palm Beach Post and FL Sun Sentinel. They also both released articles. I was not happy with the way I was quoted in these early articles. So after those, I fielded only sporadic questions here and there from media outlets. I have declined or ignored many, many, interview requests since.

June 18, 2014

The Sun Sentinel covers Lauren Arrington's science fair project, interviewing Lauren, her father, and Craig Layman.

... Craig Layman, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, called Lauren's work "one of the most influential sixth-grade science projects ever conducted." He said it demonstrated something scientists should have done years before. "Her project was the impetus for us to follow up on the finding and do a more in-depth study," said Layman, who with graduate students from Florida International University had been researching lionfish in the Loxahatchee River. "We were the first paper that published the salinity of the lionfish, and it was all because of what she had done with her science project." ... She got the idea for her project after constantly seeing the red and white, garishly decorated lionfish in Palm Beach County waters. She found out from her dad, an ecologist, that they were taking over Florida's reefs and gobbling up native fish. "I wanted to do something about them," said Lauren, who is now 13 and lives in Jupiter. "So I was kind of throwing ideas at my dad." ... "We were completely dumbfounded," said Lauren's dad, Albrey Arrington, director of the Loxahatchee River District. "We did not expect that at all."

Because the science fair guidelines specified that students would be excluded if animals in their experiments died, they stopped the experiment there and released the lionfish. ... The extension of Lauren's study, conducted by Layman and his students, was published this year in the Environmental Biology of Fishes. They were able to bring the salinity all the way to zero, finding that lionfish can tolerate a minimum salinity of 5 parts per 1,000 and even withstand pulses of freshwater. Lauren's name is mentioned in the acknowledgments section of the research paper. "Sometimes it takes someone outside of science – or a student – to look at something in a different way," Layman said. ... "It certainly was not what we expected, not the results and not the outcome," her dad said. "It was true science — we got the unexpected."

June 26, 2014

The Palm Beach post publishes a story on Laura Arrington's science fair project and her acknowledgement in Jud et al. 2014. "Through long hours of research the Jupiter resident proved that lionfish certainly can live in nearly pure freshwater, which means they are more of a threat than expected," writes Dianna Smith. "No one knew this before. Not even prestigious Florida scientists who have studied this ecosystem for years."

July 1, 2014

After several initial reports of the science fair project appear, Zachary Jud becomes increasingly concerned that his discovery of lionfish in the Loxahatchee and his 2014 study are being misattributed, particularly to his advisor, Craig Layman. He emails Albrey Arrington at 6:24 PM:

Hi Albrey Lauren must be so excited that her science fair project is getting so much attention! She's really mature and well spoken on'd never know that she's only 13. She certainly has big things ahead of her. Did Bethany from Science News for Students ever get into contact with her? I noticed that in the original story, my four years of lionfish research were attributed completely to Dr. Layman, instead of Dr. Jud. I'm sure it was an oversight when you guys were talking to the reporter, but as future interview opportunities come up, it would be nice if the Loxahatchee lionfish research program was represented properly as my work. My discovery of lionfish at Coral Cove prompted our initial search of the estuary in 2010. My discovery of a lionfish 4+ miles upriver at 8 ppt gave Lauren a potential topic for her project. My published laboratory and field study acknowledged Lauren. She did great work following the original discovery, and I really love that her project is bringing so much new attention to the lionfish issue and the Loxahatchee. It's just a little disappointing to see my work discussed in the media, but have it attributed to another scientist. I know you are best friends with Craig (and will probably forward this to him), and he did coauthor the paper as my advisor; however, the work was my own. At this pivotal point in my career, even a tiny bit of exposure (particularly when associated with Lauren's neat story) could help me land a job. Since Lauren's story came out, I've had at least a half dozen friends and colleagues email me wondering why I wasn't mentioned. This is still 100% Lauren's cool story and it is completely fine if my name isn't mentioned at all...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. I hope you understand where I'm coming from. Take care, -Zack

Albrey responds to Zack's email at 8:52 PM:

Zack, 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'. I get your point of view, and I hope you understand we have not ignored your role. Albrey

July 7, 2014

Lauren and Albrey Arrington appear in a CBS interview on Lauren's science project. In the introduction, CBS states "A Florida teen's experiment turned into a real breakthrough, surprising even seasoned researchers." They go on to describe how Lauren got started on her project: "The sixth-grader was fishing when she saw saltwater lionfish in fresh water." "People knew that they could eat all the little fish in the ocean," Lauren says into the camera. "But then, I was like, well what about the rivers?" After describing Lauren's experiment, the reporter speaks to Albrey. "So no one really knew that lionfish were a threat in rivers like this one?" the reporter asks. "They didn't. We certainly did not understand that. Lauren's research showed they are." "Shortly after, PhD level scientists started replicating Lauren's original experiment," the reporter explains. "She's now credited for making this scientific breakthrough." "Real scientists took your data and used their data in their studies. What did you think when you heard that?" the reporter asks. "One—they copied it," Lauren replies. "And two, they proved I was right. So, it's pretty cool."

July 20, 2014

As media reports continue to pour in, few mention Zachary Jud's initial discovery of the lionfish or that he performed the salinity trials, let alone contacting him, even though he is the lead author of the paper that acknowledged Lauren Arrington. One notable exception is the coverage at Eureka!Lab by Bethany Brookshire. According to Zack, the article "was by far and away the best coverage of Lauren's science fair project." At 5:31 PM, NPR covers the story.

Lauren Arrington's sixth-grade research project is cited in a science journal. When 12-year-old Lauren Arrington heard about her sixth-grade science project, she knew she wanted to study lionfish. Growing up in Jupiter, Fla., she saw them in the ocean while snorkeling and fishing with her dad. Her project showed that the lionfish can survive in nearly fresh water. The results blew away professional ecologists. The invasive species has no predators on the Florida coast, so if they were to migrate upstream in rivers, they could pose a threat to the ecosystem. "Scientists were doing plenty of tests on them, but they just always assumed they were in the ocean," Lauren, now 13, tells NPR's Kelly McEvers. "So I was like, 'Well, hey guys, what about the river?' " In the beginning, she wanted to conduct her test by placing the lionfish in cages at different points in the river, but she had to simplify the project. "It was just a small, sixth-grade project, and I really didn't have all the tools necessary," she says. Her dad, who has a Ph.D. in fish ecology, suggested that she put the fish in tanks instead. Lauren then put six different lionfish in six different tanks where she could watch her subjects closely. Lauren was given a strict set of rules by the science fair organizers. The most important one: Her fish could not die.

Lauren Arrington's science project lowered the salinity in tanks and showed that lionfish can live in nearly fresh water. Lionfish had been found to live in water with salt levels of 20 parts per thousand. But no one knew that they could live in water salinity below that. One of the six lionfish was her control fish, and the rest were the experimental fish. Every night for eight days, she would lower the salinity 5 parts per thousand in the experimental tanks. On the eighth day of her experiment, she found her experimental fish were living at 6 parts per thousand. She was amazed. Her research did not stop there. Craig Layman, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, confirmed Lauren's results. "He credited a sixth-grader for coming up with his idea," Lauren says ecstatically. Layman's findings were published this year in the science journal Environmental Biology of Fishes. Lauren is mentioned in the acknowledgments. Lauren's father says he talks about science with her a lot. "We're a science bunch of dorks in our family," he tells McEvers

The news media explodes with coverage of the story, largely citing NPR's report.

July 21, 2014

Exasperated after the NPR coverage, Zachary Jud puts a public post on his Facebook wall asking his friends and colleagues for their insights.

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. This picture was taken in 2010, when I first discovered lionfish occupying estuarine habitats - 3 years before the little girl's "discovery"

In less than 24 hours, the Central Florida Aquarium Society discusses Zack's post under the headline: Was Lionfish Research Hijacked by 12-Year Old from Palm Beach Florida? (post has been removed, however, you can read it here) Soon, io9 covers the controversy in a post titled: Sixth-Grader May Have Stolen Credit For Marine Biologist's Lionfish Research Neither contacts Zachary Jud, Craig Layman, Albrey Arrington or Lauren Arrington directly.

July 22, 2014

News of the 'scandal' spreads rapidly, with more than a dozen news outlets covering Zachary Jud's Facebook post within a day. Sixth grader's internet-famous science project misleadingly promoted as "new" says BoingBoing. Sixth grader accused of stealing lion fish research from grad student says UPI. Marine biologist says 6th-grader stole his idea, says Fox News. Sixth Grade Girl’s Viral Science Fair Project May Have Plagiarized Previous Research, says The Mary Sue. None seem to contact Zachary Jud, Craig Layman, Albrey Arrington or Lauren Arrington directly for comment.

July 23, 2014

Zachary Jud and Albrey Arrington begin to weigh in on the dispute. TheBlaze reports in Why a Scientist Is Now Attacking a 13-Year-Old’s Science Fair Research as ‘Unethical’:

... 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.”

Over at The Scientist:

... 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.”

And finally, at the Washington Post:

... Albrey Arrington, Lauren’s father, had remained publicly silent about Jud’s contentions. But in an interview with The Post on Wednesday, he said that Jud’s claims shocked him. Until a few days ago, he said, he and his daughter and Jud were good friends doing science experiments together. “When I first kind of told my daughter what was happening, she looked at me honestly with a confused look and said, ‘I thought Dr. Jud and I were friends,’” Arrington said. It wouldn’t be the first time that scientists have disputed the origins of a discovery. But it could very well be the first time that a 13-year old was caught in the middle. ... In an interview Wednesday, Jud said that he and his adviser had planned experiments testing the salinity levels lionfish could tolerate — long before Lauren’s science project. “I tend to overstate the excitement and importance of kids’ discoveries,” Jud said by telephone. ... Her father blames the media’s tendency to sensationalize stories for the error. “Clearly she did not discover lionfish were in the estuary,” he said. “I totally agree with Zack’s contention. All of the authors on that 2011 paper discovered lionfish in the estuary. Lauren predicted experimentally how far up the estuary they could invade.” Arrington said he is well aware that news organizations have latched on to Lauren’s “feel good” story, which has nothing to do with lionfish or salinity levels or even, really, science. He said both he and Lauren have repeatedly mentioned the work of Jud and his former adviser Layman in interviews, but that it’s rarely the focus of media coverage. Jud, on the other hand, believes the omission has been too consistent for it to have been an accident. “There were so many media stories that completely left my work out of the picture that I find it hard to believe that it is a media problem,” Jud said. “This has been one of the most disappointing experiences in my academic career.” The disagreement between Jud and the Arringtons has taken an acrimonious turn, and Arrington said he views them as an “attack” on his young daughter. Jud said that he feels “terrible” that Lauren has been caught in the middle, but his issue, he said, is not with the media attention she’s received. He said he’s worked hard to encourage young scientists throughout his time as a graduate student at Florida International. “The story should be about how my research, which I spent years doing, is being intentionally swept under the rug,” Jud said. According to her father, Lauren is aware of the controversy but has taken it in stride. “Everyone who has read my story is reading his paper,” she said, according to her father. In an e-mail to The Post, Jud’s former adviser, Layman, said he will publish a full timeline of events on his blog by the end of the week. He declined to speak about the issue further. “This story,” he said, “has gotten out of hand.”

July 24, 2014

And that brings us to today. I will continue to update this timeline as events unfold. Update: Coverage of controversy continues. According to the Daily Mail, "Scientist insists 13-year-old girl ripped off his research with groundbreaking science project that has ecologists in awe".

July 27, 2014

NPR weighs in on the controversy their article helped spawn: How Our Story About A Child's Science Experiment Sparked Controversy

A story that ran last Sunday on All Things Considered about a sixth-grader's science fair project has elicited not just criticism but controversy. Since the student's project built on the work of scientists, she's been accused this week of being a"plagiarist" who "ripped off" earlier work. We think those charges are not just overblown but inaccurate.

The NPR story continues with a discussion of the timeline:

Jud's own work in 2011 notes, "There is no published record for salinity tolerance in lionfish." In other words, it wasn't clear whether the lionfish could live in water with much lower levels of salt than in the ocean, which was important for determining how far inland the species might go. "All lionfish were captured at [at least] 0.5 m in depth, suggesting that they may avoid lower-salinity surface waters," the paper states. In a 2010 interview with the Palm Beach Post, Jud said that "our theory is that the water is saltier at the bottom" of the Loxahatchee River, where he found that the lionfish was living. In a 2012 paper, Jud and his coauthors say there might be more saline content upriver than expected, as they had found "a strong salt wedge" and the salinity at their study site was nearly as high as seawater. Long story short: It appears that at that point, Jud and his colleagues still weren't sure whether the lionfish could survive in freshwater or had found sources of high-saline water well inland.

[Scientific note: the previous work by Jud et al., both in 2011 and 2012 (as well as unpublished field notes mentioned in this timeline and in the methods of the 2014 paper), measured the salinity where the lionfish were caught. So NPR's statements that "it wasn't clear" and that the scientists "still weren't sure" are factually inaccurate, as they were certain that lionfish could survive in 8 ppt.] Given that NPR originally credited the Jud et al. 2014 study to Layman, this is what they had to say about their lack of credit to Jud:

As for Jud's contention that NPR and other media outlets "intentionally" left his name out of the coverage about Lauren, it's simply not in the nature of journalism that all science stories would credit all the important work in the field, in the way a scientific study would do.

It is unclear whether this is meant to explain why they chose to cite Jud's work as Layman's, or is simply meant as a statement of why they did not feel the need to fact-check their article with other scientists or against the literature.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2023 Kalmbach Media Co.