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On Lionfish, research, and science fairs
July 22, 2014 6:10 PM   Subscribe

Last month, a twelve-year-old girl named Lauren Arrington was credited with research showing that lionfish, an invasive species, were surviving in water with a much lower percentage of salinity than was thought possible.

Not mentioned, however, was the previous research done by a grad student named Zack Jud, who published on the topic in 2011. This omission is curious, because Lauren Arrington's father was an author on that paperr. Judd has been distressed to discover this as the story has gotten a lot of play in the media without his name or research getting any mention and he has commented on his Facebook, wondering how to respond to this without quashing a young girl's scientific curiosity.

Lionfish Previously
posted by PussKillian (82 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by figurant at 6:31 PM on July 22 [51 favorites]


Yah, I feel sorry for Jud. As he put it, "Anything I say will come off as an attempt to steal a little girl's thunder…" When really, it seems to be an extreme case of Parental Involvement In School Projects.

That said, she did demonstrate Lionfish happily adapting to even lower salinity than Jud did (not sure if it's a significant amount or not.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:33 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


The theft and erasure of Jud's work and publishing career is the problem, not parental over-involvement.
posted by clockzero at 6:39 PM on July 22 [17 favorites]


Ok, now that I'm depressed, can we have a reverse bait-and-switch FPP? One that starts off sounding depressing and shitty, but is inspiring and awesome below the fold?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:42 PM on July 22 [11 favorites]


That said, she did demonstrate Lionfish happily adapting to even lower salinity than Jud did (not sure if it's a significant amount or not.)

Well from what I understand of her methodology it would be difficult to assign significance given the low sample number and blatant pseudo-replication.

Decision; major revisions required.
posted by Jimbob at 6:45 PM on July 22 [5 favorites]


He makes a further statement in the comments on his Facebook post:

I already contacted her dad (who I know well) and very delicately voiced my concerns. He told me "they're more interested in hearing from a real professor, not a grad student" even though he knew that I had my Ph.D. and that it was 100% my research.

I can't even imagine. I've seen the girl's story on Facebook, so the least I can do is share his side.
posted by pemberkins at 6:46 PM on July 22 [25 favorites]


Dad sounds like a douchewad. Hope she gets out of her childhood with her curiosity intact.
posted by emjaybee at 6:48 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


Giving credit where credit is due and not rip off someone else's idea as you pose for a newspaper article is a mighty powerful and important lesson and now Lauren Arrington is learning that lesson in public. Her father is a professor and should know how to mentor by now. He did not do his daughter any favors...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:51 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


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.

I can't even
posted by pemberkins at 6:56 PM on July 22 [7 favorites]


Wait I thought that stealing the research of grad students was a time-honored tradition among academics, the father is just preparing his daughter for the cutthroat world of academia

But all kidding aside it sounds like the father is kinda a dick and let's be honest if he had a student pass off someone else's work probably would have no problem referring them to the university for censure but his daughter is somehow immune to the need to cite? Sounds like it was a great way to distinguish the daughter without actually having to do all the requisite research.

Unfortunately it seems like it's going to distinguish her for other reasons.
posted by vuron at 6:58 PM on July 22 [5 favorites]


Clearly there is only one way to solve this: Low salinity cage match!!!
posted by symbioid at 7:09 PM on July 22 [4 favorites]


Here's the science fair story on NPR, which does not mention Jud, and the discussion continues in the comments.
posted by PussKillian at 7:12 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


The theft and erasure of Jud's work and publishing career is the problem, not parental over-involvement.

No grant agency is going to be okay with anybody citing a sixth-grade science fair project. I'm not in Jud's field but I imagine he'll be okay with letting the literature record speak for itself regarding priority in future proposals. In the popular media, though, he's screwed.

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.

This can be safely ignored. There are standards for scientific authorship, and part of that is being involved with that particular work and not merely having done similar work in the past. That's what citations and acknowledgements are for.


I don't hold this against the girl at all. Having judged science fairs before, I'm impressed when a sixth grader demonstrates an understanding of basic lab safety; I certainly wouldn't expect them to know all about publication ethics, especially if they have an overzealous academic parent feeding them misinformation. Assuming she did most of the work herself, she should still feel proud for accomplishing something interesting in its own right without listening to a bunch of adults trying to put it in the wrong context.
posted by anifinder at 7:17 PM on July 22 [8 favorites]


Ok, now that I'm depressed, can we have a reverse bait-and-switch FPP? One that starts off sounding depressing and shitty, but is inspiring and awesome below the fold?

Are you listening, Buzzfeed? We make this so damn easy for you, you bastards!
posted by clockzero at 7:24 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


And the Lionfish claim yet another victim. They must be stopped.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:29 PM on July 22 [10 favorites]


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.

This can be safely ignored. There are standards for scientific authorship, and part of that is being involved with that particular work and not merely having done similar work in the past. That's what citations and acknowledgements are for.


I am also in the sciences and I'm aware of how authorship works, but it still makes me feel sad for Jud.
posted by pemberkins at 7:32 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


Aw geez. This is sad for the girl. It's not like this was all her idea, and now this will be the top story when people Google her name forever.

The initial story really reminded me of my own science fairs of so long ago. Specifically, about how ~Hailee's dad was a doctor and her family had a color printer (essentially unthinkable for the hoi polloi in 1995ish), so of course she would always place well at the science fair- not only did her dad study research methods for 10+ years and totes do all the work for her, she also had the coolest poster! So unfair, you guys!~

(The hypocrisy of the fact that I accepted my set design major mother's assistance on my many diorama projects never occurred to me.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:46 PM on July 22 [5 favorites]


"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?' "

oh, Lauren...
posted by Bwithh at 8:11 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


I maybe have more rage about this than is reasonable, but it's always really annoyed me when professors bring their kids into work to use lab equipment for their science projects. I don't know how the judging goes -- maybe those kids don't always win like I think they do -- but it seems ridiculously unfair.

(One prof at my husband's grad school would always bring his kids in but then make one of his students spend the day running samples with them. Classy.)
posted by gerstle at 8:11 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


I already contacted her dad (who I know well) and very delicately voiced my concerns. He told me "they're more interested in hearing from a real professor, not a grad student" even though he knew that I had my Ph.D. and that it was 100% my research.

I can't even imagine.


Oh, I can. /gradlyfe
posted by kagredon at 8:27 PM on July 22 [8 favorites]


Fwiw, lionfish are delicious and flaky, and taste good fried on a bun. And you're doing your part to thin out their numbers a little.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:45 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


but it seems ridiculously unfair.

It's only unfair if you consider "winning" to be actually "winning." For the rest of the students and parents, merely participating is reward enough (well, actually, as a parent, science projects make me tired).
posted by KokuRyu at 8:47 PM on July 22


It's only unfair if you consider "winning" to be actually "winning."

There is no such thing as bad publicity......
posted by rough ashlar at 8:52 PM on July 22


There is no such thing as bad publicity......

Sometimes there is.
posted by goethean at 9:02 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


Father. Fired. Now.
Bonus points: Jud gets his job.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:03 PM on July 22


Ok, now that I'm depressed, can we have a reverse bait-and-switch FPP? One that starts off sounding depressing and shitty, but is inspiring and awesome below the fold?

Animal control officers found a sick stray Chihuahua in the jaws of a pit bull... Turns out they are best friends.
posted by mcmile at 9:11 PM on July 22 [16 favorites]


Not every man's little girl can be a real princess. Some have to settle for international scientific renown.
posted by fredludd at 9:22 PM on July 22 [4 favorites]


Jud wasnt the only person to report Lionfish were seen in rivers. Jud never did the aquarium study, though he claims he planned to. Jud isnt the only scientist studying Lionfish impacts on ecosystems.

Lauren did a simple science fair project. Some grown ups chose to cite her project as an inspiration for their research. The popular science press ran with it and muddled things as they always do. Are we going to apply the same standard to every person who ends up with their research covered in New Scientist? It seems weird that we would start with the 6th grader?

Also Jud isnt an impartial witness and his statements about what Lauren's father said to him should be considered with that in mind.
posted by humanfont at 9:24 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


This is just a very puzzling story to me. That CFLAS link links to papers that "prove" Jud's priority, but I think there's still a way in which Lauren's project did something new. It sounds like all three adults (grad student Jud, his advisor Craig Layman, and Lauren's dad) knew that lionfish were invading the river, and therefore had reason to suspect the fish could tolerate lower salinities than previously suspected. But Jud and Layman hadn't yet done the exact experiment Lauren did, to demonstrate the salinity they could tolerate. So then when Jud and Layman publish a paper six-to-nine months later running the same kind of experiment to determine the salinity more precisely, they credit Lauren's experimental design in the Acknowledgements section of their paper. So far this all seems fine.

But the problem seems to come when Layman (and/or Lauren's dad) talks to the press?

He presents himself as just a professor who was inspired by Lauren's work, not mentioning that she relied on his and Jud's previous work and that he works with her dad. And he gently oversells her contribution. And then the press really oversell her contribution, taking it to the point of "she discovered the fish were in the river" which is just false.

I don't really understand why Layman would undersell the work of his own grad student. I wonder if this is mainly a press-oversimplifying-for-a-better-story issue. If so, Layman should be coming out strong in defense of his grad student's contributions/priority.

-

I went through some (but not all) of the papers trying to sort out which claims are supported by the published record.

In August 2010, Jud and Layman were the first to identify lionfish in an estuarine (i.e., lower salinity) environment in the western Atlantic or Caribbean. So, definitely false that Lauren discovered the fish in the river.

In the 2011 paper that Lauren's dad is listed as co-author on ("Recent invasion of a Florida (USA) estuarine system by lionfish Pterois volitans / P. miles"; Aquatic Biology), there's this about salinity:
While there is no published record for salinity tolerance in lionfish, their presence in the Loxahatchee River suggests that the species may be able to behaviorally (or physiologically) handle fluctuating estuarine salinities. We believe a salt wedge and associated salinity stratification, common in estuaries (Simpson et al. 1990), may have provided a stable high-salinity benthic refuge for lionfish when surface salinities were reduced. All lionfish were captured at ≥0.5 m in depth, suggesting they may avoid lower-salinity surface waters. Even during a period of extremely high fresh-water inflow associated with a passing tropical storm, we continued to observe lionfish in the Loxahatchee River.

Despite record cold water temperatures during the winter of 2010 (Loxahatchee River District unpubl. data), water temperatures in the section of river inhabited by lionfish remained above the species’ lethal minimum temperature of 10°C (Kimball et al. 2004). As such, wintertime low temperatures appear to be an insufficient barrier to the permanent establishment of lionfish in South Florida and Caribbean estuaries. Additional laboratory experiments are needed to determine physiological tolerances (salinity, temperature) in estuarine lionfish.
So, as of 2011, they knew a lab experiment to determine salinity was needed. Perfect, natural science project. Not clear to me if Jud did such an experiment before Lauren.

The second article adduced as evidence for Jud's priority ("Site fidelity and movement patterns of invasive lionfish, Pterois spp., in a Florida estuary", Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 2012) doesn't really address salinity AFAICT. In this paper there is no experiment or observation on the question of what level of salinity the fish can tolerate - there is observation of where the fish are in the river, and they mention salinity only to say that there's a "strong salt wedge" in the main place where they observed the fish and they don't believe that variations in salinity influenced the locations of the fish they observed.

Lauren's science project was done in "late 2012", presumably results given at science fair in spring 2013?

Then in Oct 2013, Jud and Layman publish a paper on salinity tolerance in lionfish, which credits Lauren in the acknowledgments: "Lauren Arrington (King’s Academy, West Palm Beach, FL) conducted preliminary laboratory experiments that helped give rise to our experimental design." So, that seems like a modestly-scoped acknowledgment, not like later statements in the press about how "it's all because of her" or similar broader claims.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:38 PM on July 22 [18 favorites]


And of course, she's been overselling it herself. Three big false claims from the NPR story:
"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?' "
[...]
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.
[...]
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.
Her dad and Layman should be stopping this kind of misrepresentation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:25 PM on July 22 [10 favorites]


Additional quote I missed from the 2011 paper (written by Jud but with the other two adults as co-authors):
From January 2010 to April 2011, water temperatures in the section of river where lionfish were collected ranged from 12.2 to 34.4°C, and salinities (~1 m below surface) varied from 5.8 to 38.6 ‰. Lower salinities were common during the wet season (June to October), concurrent with the first third of our lionfish sampling period. Extreme low salinities (i.e. less than 10%) were limited both temporally (hours to less than 1 d) and spatially (the upstream datasonde only). During the wet season, the estuary was stratified, with a thin (~0.25 to 0.5 m) layer of turbid freshwater floating over a layer of clear, higher-salinity water.
So Jud (and Layman and Lauren's dad) had already observed lionfish in salinity 5.8, over a year before Lauren did her project.

Comments on the NPR article say that Lauren's experiment used a method that Jud had already used; I haven't found this in the papers yet, though.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:58 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


In the same paper they also wrote
We believe a salt wedge and associated salinity stratification, common in estuaries (Simpson et al. 1990), may have provided a stable high-salinity ben- thic refuge for lionfish when surface salinities were reduced
It seems to me that she demonstrated that the fish could live without this refuge. That is a significant finding.
posted by humanfont at 12:02 AM on July 23


"Her dad and Layman should be stopping this kind of misrepresentation."
They are so conspicuously the source of this, listen to Albrey Arrington here clearly lie his ass off on camera.

This is a grownup failure, constructed by grownups, sold to the media by grownups, and described to her by grownups that she should have a reasonable expectation of trusting in an act of intellectual theft that she is just an unfortunate pawn in. In that video you can see a sixth grader sounding as innocently foolish as awesomely enthusiastic sixth graders should sound when placed on national television, what is so disturbingly awful is Layman and Arrington's bold plagiarism and viciously intimate betrayal of a student.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:44 AM on July 23 [13 favorites]


"It seems to me that she demonstrated that the fish could live without this refuge. That is a significant finding."
How much of the finding could be plausibly described as hers and not her father's aside, it is not the finding that her father was presenting and coaching her into presenting.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:47 AM on July 23


Really this is just an especially awful example of the same damn story, "Kid's non-professional parents make discovery/contraption/process where whatever is original is not any good while whatever is good is not at all original," "Kid's parents pass off someone else's work as the kid's," "Kid shows scientists trivial thing that anyone with a basic working knowledge of the subject can see as either obvious or inherently flawed," and "Rich, white, western kid shows people in the third world how to live better in some way that falls apart with a moments thought or has already been done for generations" that is constantly retold by the media. It is just yet another function of that strange kind of science reporting where journalists, lacking any real education in science themselves, ignore real scientists to find children operating on a level they can understand. Facebook is full of this shit, and the whatever always inevitably boils down to nothing of real value with some middle school science teacher or well connected parent pulling the strings, but it never matters because neither the journalists nor the audience have any background to know any better. The only way to learn science is to do science, which even grade school kids are perfectly capable of doing, but it is a strange kind of crankery that presents what they accomplish as having value it does not have.

The toxic dynamic created by imposing a hero's journey narrative that never fits onto children is only more depressing for how there really are a lot of kids doing good and useful citizen science, from the HHMI's phage hunters to kids participating in a wide array of honest ecology projects. Child scientists are not an appropriate demographic for this kind of attention, particularly when it comes from journalists who are too naive and/or themselves dishonest enough to not smell the bullshit.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:52 AM on July 23 [7 favorites]


I wonder if this is the Dad's get-the-kid-an-Ivy-League-or-equivalent-full-ride-scholarship plan
posted by Bwithh at 3:08 AM on July 23


They are so conspicuously the source of this, listen to Albrey Arrington here clearly lie his ass off on camera.

Wow that is damning.

Also - Lauren's lionfish project only got third place at the science fair? I wonder what #1 and #2 prizes went to.
posted by Bwithh at 3:12 AM on July 23


Former science fair kid here, winning does have significance and impact for kids and their families. Not just press but other awards such as, Westinghouse and in the cutthroat world of elite college admissions a few crucial points going your way. I was always envious of kids whose families had the resources to get them lab access not to mention the local university libraries.

Gender also subtly figures into this, young girl in STEM competition with resourced father.
posted by jadepearl at 3:57 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


The story I saw earlier about the girl and her research only tangentially mentioned her father being a scientist in the field, but that was enough to make my bogosity-sense start tingling. The story didn't mention Jud and his prior work.

This is a big mess.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:50 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


"Also - Lauren's lionfish project only got third place at the science fair? I wonder what #1 and #2 prizes went to."
Having volunteered to judge a couple, the relationship between parents and a science fair project should often be at least a little complex and also significantly flexible to allow kids to have to most educationally rewarding experience they are developmentally ready for, but so much of this reeks of pure project capture. Her idea just happened to fill a small hole in active research that her father was tangentially involved in? If the basic question asked by the research was not hers, and as the NPR story mentions her plan for the research was scrapped and replaced by her father, which of the ideas exactly authentically came from her? When asked away from the parent, as she was on camera, the kid involved has significant misunderstandings of the context of the project? How much of the project exactly does she understand and how much of the non-trivial amount of work involved in building and maintaining a tropical marine aquarium did she actually do?

Men with relevant doctorates in their 50s have no business competing with sixth graders and the question of how to assess these projects becomes a huge pain in the ass for judges who are there to build up the skills, dispositions, and confidence of kids - not further inflate the ever so delicate egos of parents. It looks like the judges here did what we did, give the projects high marks while being careful to not allow them to progress forward and become the same pain for the next set of judges. When this happens, as much as the kid may not understand the presented context of the work, they still get every bit as excited and invested while they still learn quite a bit from it, which is still worth rewarding. The mess that parents living vicariously through their kids make ends up being unfair to everyone involved and there really are no good solutions.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:28 AM on July 23 [12 favorites]


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.
I'm impressed at Dr. Zud's restraint.
posted by vapidave at 6:08 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


Lobstermitton thanks for such a thorough background on the literature
posted by rebent at 6:14 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


Child scientists are not an appropriate demographic for this kind of attention, particularly when it comes from journalists who are too naive and/or themselves dishonest enough to not smell the bullshit.

Especially since journalism is plagued by idea thieves and see nothing wrong with it. You can either work hard or steal to free up time to scam your way to the top. I had ideas stolen quite frequently over the years and know the score.

This is a girl who already has advantages of having a parent who is an expert, thus giving her access to a lab as well as knowledge. To then steal another person's idea and then go public as if it was all her own -- I am sorry, I am sure if some kid ripped her off she would be howling bloody murder. Dad knows better and so does she.

It is not scientific curiosity that is the pressing problem, but her lack of moral curiosity that concerns me...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:15 AM on July 23


To then steal another person's idea and then go public as if it was all her own -- I am sorry, I am sure if some kid ripped her off she would be howling bloody murder.

I would be pretty pissed off too, but as this one's not my idea I can step back and remind myself that it would be very unusual for a student at this level to have any idea how big a deal this is. I teach at UG level and we have to put a fair amount of effort into teaching about acknowledging sources properly and backing up ideas by building on what has gone before. I wouldn't typically expect them to have a full idea of what is and isn't acceptable. Dad though? What the heck is he thinking?

A good opportunity for some father-daughter joint learning.
posted by biffa at 6:48 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


They are so conspicuously the source of this, listen to Albrey Arrington here clearly lie his ass off on camera.

For a minute there I hoped that she would somehow be able to put this behind her and live a fulfilling life working in whatever field that interests her, but now it's obvious to me that her father is the douche that we all think he is and his impact on her future will probably be detrimental for some time to come.

She'll probably spend more time than she should trying to explain away that one time when her father lost his mind and was unable to curb himself when subjected to scrutiny.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:26 AM on July 23


Yeah, nice work on that detailed summary, lobstermitten. Maybe you should send that to the grad student?

In case it wasn't clear from my comment above, I meant that the theft and erasure was being perpetrated by the shitbag professors here, not the girl, whose wonderful enthusiasm for science and discovery I sincerely hope won't be tainted by this unethical chicanery.

Good science is so important, and making it in academia is so hard. The professors here are doing a grave disservice to their profession at every level in addition to unjustly and recklessly sullying the graduate student's reputation.

And it didn't need to be this way! This Arrington guy could have even been a little over-involved in his daughter's project while still giving credit where it is due. The whole thing is such a gratuitous travesty.
posted by clockzero at 7:54 AM on July 23


As much as NPR is so often at the ass end of the either too naive to know any better or too dishonest to care spectrum of science journalism, this is still a new low for them. How could this deuchebag have not reeked of his deuchiness? So much is this story is just so immediately implausible and so trivially falsifiable that I don't get what even they could have been thinking.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:14 AM on July 23


Well, apparently their job description doesn't entail asking questions like "Does this even make any goddamn sense? Is the person making this claim a disinterested party? If not, how do we know there's a real story, or what the truth is?" before disseminating information. That would immediately discount most news stories or imply time-consuming gratuities like investigation, critical thinking, fact checking, etc.
posted by clockzero at 8:28 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


I'm not a scientist, but from my field of expertise let me just say that the media reporting and repeating this story would have had zero interest in the version in which a girl's father worked with a grad student on an issue of fish salinity tolerance and then passed on the idea to the girl so that she could do some quasi-independent stuff on it for a school science fair. The media invented this story and then almost certainly coached Lauren (and her dad) on what to say to give it legs.

Dad is still a total tool, but Jud's research would never have gotten widespread attention anyway. Now that it has due to the sixth-grader angle, Dad and Lauren should be offering up copious mea culpas (because the media that invented the story never will) but again, dad seems like a dick.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:19 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


Dr. Jud is the one who decided to cite a 6th grader's science fair experiment in the paper where he was the lead author. It was a great PR strategy and it has gotten his paper tons of attention. Now he has some sour grapes because the journalists didn't call him and instead relied on quotes from the Professor overseeing his research and the child/father combo.
posted by humanfont at 9:59 AM on July 23


he didn't cite. he acknowledged it in the acknowledgements section, which is a big difference.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:13 AM on July 23 [7 favorites]


A difference which is utterly lost on the readers, as is the long slog of research in obscurity rather than a big eureka moment that gets lots of attention.
posted by humanfont at 10:16 AM on July 23


In case it wasn't clear from my comment above, I meant that the theft and erasure was being perpetrated by the shitbag professors here, not the girl, whose wonderful enthusiasm for science and discovery I sincerely hope won't be tainted by this unethical chicanery.

The kid is twelve. She's old enough to know what she's doing. Plagiarism as a concept is introduced in school by that time. Her dad might be the instigator, but she's a willing collaborator.
posted by winna at 10:18 AM on July 23


Uh, no, I guarantee you that the readers of whatever journal that was published in know the difference between a cite and an acknowledgement.


Honestly the idea that thanking a friend's kid in a science journal that is probably read by like three dozen people is a PR strategy is absolutely laughable.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:19 AM on July 23 [10 favorites]


The kid is twelve. She's old enough to know what she's doing. Plagiarism as a concept is introduced in school by that time. Her dad might be the instigator, but she's a willing collaborator.

I appreciate what I interpret as moral seriousness which doesn't gratuitously let the girl off the hook here, despite the fact that I disagree with the way blame is assigned.
posted by clockzero at 10:28 AM on July 23


Humanfront, grad students rarely have much more than a ceremonial role in authorship decisions. But even so, he had an absolutely reasonable expectation that including her in the, meaningless to actual academic things, acknowledgements would do nothing more then show what the whole exercise actually was: a way for the girl to show off how much parental involvement she has to anyone credulous enough to think that was cute. Established scientists are extraordinarily hard for students to day no to. It is absurd to think that he could have conceivably benefited in any way from putting her name in it.

What we have from Arrington on camera is unambiguous academic and professional misconduct.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:31 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


It is absurd to think that he could have conceivably benefited in any way from putting her name in it.

Since he was obviously aware of her experiment and doing a similar one, he kind of had to.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:34 AM on July 23


The real agent behind the experiment was already on the authors list
posted by Blasdelb at 10:37 AM on July 23


pemberkins: I've seen the girl's story on Facebook, so the least I can do is share his side.

I saw the original story of the girl's "discovery" on Facebook and elsewhere, and then my sister-in-law, who is now a full-fledged professor, posted the story about the grad student on Facebook. Her adviser chimed in and said it's not uncommon for advisers to "make use of" a grad student's research and claim it as their own (but said she didn't do that to my sister-in-law). Gradlyfe, indeed.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:57 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


I love little scientists. They give me hope.

This debacle, not so much.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:08 AM on July 23


Her adviser chimed in and said it's not uncommon for advisers to "make use of" a grad student's research and claim it as their own

My late master's advisor, the late Jim Boen, said this behavior was tantamount to child abuse.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:12 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


This is a grownup failure, constructed by grownups, sold to the media by grownups, and described to her by grownups that she should have a reasonable expectation of trusting

Yes, absolutely - I didn't mean to imply otherwise. The dad should be stopping Lauren from saying stuff to journalists that is false; he should be the one supplying the moral compass and scientific standards here, and he isn't, and that is his failing not hers.

I did a multi-year big-deal science fair project, with my dad's intensive involvement, in which I really did do all the work but I could not have done it 100% solo. It was a great, great experience. I learned more -- about scientific method and standards, how to cite previous work, how to explain the background of a project and make clear what was a new contribution and what wasn't, how to talk to an audience of adults about an involved and serious project where I was more knowledgable than they were, etc -- in doing that project than I did in any school science class. Science fairs are great, and involved parents are great. But it's not great when a dad sets his daughter up to be dishonest on a national stage - that is shameful and I can't imagine what he's thinking.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:14 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


The concept that this was really the girl's experiment was already pretty laughable. It was an experiment that required animal subjects, probably had a four-digit price tag, posed danger to the researcher, and required fairly advanced marine aquarium skills just to keep the lionfish alive in the first place (and even more so to keep them alive under adverse conditions). There is no way a 12-year old was the prime driver behind it at any point.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:53 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


I was crazy for fish in my youth and at her age had 6 aquariums going including two salt water tanks. I grew up pre-Internet and in the middle of nowhere with a library card and the guy at the pet-store who really didn't know shit to help me figure it out. I think that you are vastly overestimating the technical skills required to do this.
posted by humanfont at 12:00 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Maybe Lauren can get together with that girl whose dad made her a weird libertarian princess to just hang out and complain about their parents together, that would make this slightly more tolerable.
posted by elizardbits at 12:02 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


I don't know how the judging goes -- maybe those kids don't always win like I think they do -- but it seems ridiculously unfair.

I judged a state science fair last year and we absolutely downweighted kids who clearly had excessive parental involvement in their projects, for whatever that's worth. They still got recognized, but we gave first place to a kid who had very clearly done their own work. The organizers explained it to the judges in terms of privilege: even if one kid's work is clearly more impressive in objective terms, we had to consider how much help they had getting there and not just directly compare their outcomes.

To assess that, we asked the kids about the details of their work, compared the sophistication of their answers to the written material, directly asked if their parents helped, stuff like that. Professor parents were the biggest red flag, especially if the work was in their field. There were a few other tip-offs, like copy/pasted material they couldn't explain. Parents were not allowed on the floor during judging, but I'm not sure if that's standard or not.

Evaluating how much help they'd had was by far the toughest part of judging, especially since I was an overearnest, overachieving Lisa Simpson type as a kid and really wanted to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. In any event, rest assured that it's taken into account and might even receive the most attention of any of the judging criteria.
posted by dialetheia at 12:04 PM on July 23 [5 favorites]


In the CBS news video, the footage of her with the tanks and sitting at a table with posters in the background looks to me like it was shot at her dad's office - it's a college building, or a researchy building, with lab tables. I suppose it could be at her school, since it's a private school? But they did the project in a place where they had 24 hour access, since she describes them changing the salinity at night.

And I think it's actually fine, completely fine, for a student to get that kind of logistical help from a parent in doing a project. The core of the science project is "here's the question, what level of salinity can they tolerate, okay how do I design an experiment that will measure this and control the relevant variables, and now I will do all the legwork on running the actual experiment, and analyze and present the results in a standard way." It's fine if a parent can help with materials and expertise to support the kid doing those things, and I even think it's great if a parent can help by talking in depth about experimental design, for example talking about other variables to control, etc. I think it's okay if a parent nudges a kid toward a topic by discussing an unsolved question in an area they are working on, as happened here on the most charitable interpretation.

(None of this is "fair," because all kids don't have access to equal parental resources. But that just means the schools shouldn't make the science fair count for anything real, or we should find a way to offer extracurricular support/resources for the kids who don't luck out in the parent-scientist department. It doesn't mean, to me anyway, that there's anything unethical going on.)

So I don't think the mere fact that the project required expensive materials or aquarium-keeping skills to get off the ground is a problem. It would be a problem if (a) she didn't really come up with the experimental design herself, or (b) she didn't really do the hands-on experiment herself, or (c) she didn't understand some key part of the science. But as far as we know, (a), (b), (c) were not the case here - as far as we know, she designed the experiment and ran it and understands it.

Instead, the real problem we're seeing in the media stories is (d) she/her dad are overstating her contribution, by saying that she was the first to think about lionfish in rivers, or that she was doing something no ecologist had known needed to be done. Those things are false and they know it. They're misrepresenting the position of her research relative to the state of the field when she started, they're not (as far as we know) misrepresenting what her actual project was or how much of it she did herself.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:20 PM on July 23 [2 favorites]


humanfont: I was crazy for fish in my youth and at her age had 6 aquariums going including two salt water tanks. I grew up pre-Internet and in the middle of nowhere with a library card and the guy at the pet-store who really didn't know shit to help me figure it out. I think that you are vastly overestimating the technical skills required to do this.

It's not as if it was a kid with one saltwater tank with one lionfish. It's one kid who can go out and capture lionfish AND afford five saltwater tanks AND maintain five saltwater tanks AND carefully control the salinity AND not possibly let any of them die AND analyze and write up the result. It's an implausible level of expertise and resources for a 12-year-old. When you consider that the father is a fish ecologist, which possibility seems more likely?

Also, that they conducted this experiment with the restriction that none of the fish could die is interesting. That they agreed to that restriction and held to it should demonstrate that they already knew the lionfish could survive in that salinity, which certainly points to pre-existing research they were aware of.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:22 PM on July 23 [4 favorites]


The Blaze has done some more investigating
“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.
posted by humanfont at 2:50 PM on July 23


WaPo: The ‘breakthrough’ sixth-grade science project at the center of a fight over scientific glory
posted by polymath at 8:18 PM on July 23


Ok, so in that Washington Post story:
“Clearly she did not discover lionfish were in the estuary,” [Lauren's dad] 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.
Plus it says Layman will post his version of events later in the week.

I hope that they can work something out diplomatically so that Jud and Lauren both come out of this okay and with the record set straight in a calm clear way without either side rousing any more torches and pitchforks.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:27 PM on July 23


Blasdelb - So much is this story is just so immediately implausible and so trivially falsifiable that I don't get what even they could have been thinking.

I think you might be on to something! Later this week she will reveal via Twitter that the whole thing was a meta experiment into the poor quality of science reporting in the mainstream press. It was satire. Her dad is the unwitting pawn in all this, believing that she really wanted to win the science fair prize, whereas in fact she just wanted to take him down a peg or two. Too many family dinners dominated by his pompous self-congratulatory stories.
posted by asok at 6:41 AM on July 24 [3 favorites]


This only just keeps getting worse,
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.
Now even The Scientist is selectively quoting Jud and completely ignoring the actual problem so as to frame the story as being about sour grapes rather than the unambiguous plagiarism by adults that started all of this.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:22 AM on July 24 [3 favorites]


Latching on to the edited, selective and possibly out of contect quotes by Lauren and her father is a dubious standard off evidence for plagarism. The paper that launched this story was written by Jud. The science fair project acknowledged his research.

When one looks at the facts here, Jud's beef seems mainly that he isnt geting enough attention from the media. He feels omitted. And he is omitted not by some conspiracy to remove his contributions, but by the basic mechanics of celebrity.
posted by humanfont at 8:55 AM on July 24


Just Because People Keep Asking….
Posted by laymanc [Jud's Supervisor for the research]

What a shitty fucking cop out.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:53 AM on July 24


humanfont: "When one looks at the facts here, Jud's beef seems mainly that he isnt geting enough attention from the media. He feels omitted. And he is omitted not by some conspiracy to remove his contributions, but by the basic mechanics of celebrity."
Dipshit Reporter: "So no one really knew that lionfish were a threat in rivers like this one?"

Arrington: "No, They didn't. We certainly did not understand that, Lauren's research showed they are."
Is unambiguous and damning.

Jud's beef, whether he is media aware enough to adequately communicate it or is just being that selectively quoted, is that Arrington was lying to sell the fruits of his research as if they were his daughter's. This is wrongful appropriation, plagiarism in the most clearest sense of the word, and it is ridiculously toxic to scientific communities.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:53 AM on July 24 [3 favorites]


I find that response by Layman to be pretty good, actually. It would better if it included some words of praise for Jud as a researcher, beyond just-the-facts statements about what he found when. But at least it does lay out what Jud found when, and narrowly delimits Lauren's contribution. It also makes sense to me that this whole thing started from a press release by Lauren's school.

It is somewhat disappointing to me that Layman and Lauren's dad told her how to design the experiment. That seems like it's the one main area where you'd expect a kid to do her own intellectual work, and the acknowledgement in the later paper had led me to think her experimental design influenced theirs -- but it sounds like it was just her finding that influenced their experimental design.

It's good that they asked her if she wanted to go all-in on doing a bigger study and explained to her how much time that would take. So, if that's correct, she does have an understanding of how her work is different from what a real publishable study involves, and she just didn't talk about that - or it was edited out - in interviews.

From a PR point of view, it probably makes the most sense for Jud to accept something like this account and lay blame on the media at this point, and say something like "Lauren is a terrific young scientist and I hope she continues her studies. I wanted to ensure the record reflects my work on this important issue, rather than obscuring it in the name of a good story. I thank Dr Layman for speaking out against the ways he was misquoted." or something like that.

Unless Layman has a history of doing this kind of thing to his grad students, or there's some reason to think he was deliberately undermining Jud, it it plausible to me that the media could be the source of a lot of the incorrect info... and it's probably better diplomacy-wise for Jud if that is the case.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:27 AM on July 24


it's not simply that the media left jud's name out; it's that she continued to characterize his discovery as her own lightbulb moment:

"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?' "
posted by fallacy of the beard at 2:08 PM on July 24


Yeah, I agree. She and her dad should make a statement that that was false, and she overstepped, and she wants Jud to have full credit for his earlier discoveries that led to her being able to do her project. Her dad has already said (to WaPo) that she didn't discover the fish in the river.

I just think a graceful public retraction of the overstepping parts, without pressing for a bigger mea culpa, is probably the best bet for both Jud and Lauren coming out of this without bad knock-on effects.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:13 PM on July 24


Arrington: "No, They didn't. We certainly did not understand that, Lauren's research showed they are."

A more technical explanation would be that lionfish had been found in estuaries and rivers, but that previous research by Jud, Layman and Arrington had hypothesized that the fish were able to be there only because of the presence of areas of high salinity which enabled them to live for short period of times in the fresher waters.
If this hypothesis is true, then the nature of their threat to estuaries and river systems is limited. However if it is false the fish don't need a refuge then they will be able to spread much more deeply into the river systems and present a far greater threat to river ecosystems

So Lauren devised (probably with help from the scientists) a very simple experiment to prove if the fish needed these saltwater columns to survive in estuaries or if they could live in lower saline environments. Her experiment demonstrated the later and thus helped the scientists understand the potential impact.

The suggestion that Arrington's quote above was unambiguous plagiarism, is simply not true. Her research did change their understanding of how the fish might impact the river systems. The statement is correct.

In my personal direct experience when one is interviewed for a new story much of what you say ends up on the cutting room floor. Questions will often be asked many times to get the right shot and a concise answer. Imperfect answers which you later cringe at are not uncommon. Details, hedging and qualifications/disclaimers for your answer will be lost in this process.

Given the environment of these kinds of human interest focused interview, I think it is absurd to use it as the basis for a plagiarism allegation.
posted by humanfont at 2:18 PM on July 24


Weirdly, it looks like Arrington signed the Discovery Institute anit-evolution petition, though there are many people on the list who were fooled into it.

D. Albrey Arrington Ph.D. Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences Texas A&M University
posted by Blasdelb at 1:47 PM on July 26


It appears you are now desperate to find some other reason to hang him. Let it go.
posted by humanfont at 3:46 PM on July 26


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