Sixth grader's internet-famous science project misleadingly promoted as "new"

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This is scientist Zack Jud, posing with a lionfish he caught in a estuary river in 2010 — four years before 6th grader Lauren Arrington, who is now being credited with the discovery.

Jason posted about Lauren Arrington's science fair project here yesterday, and included a short update on this news, but I wanted to do a follow up post about Jud and his work. Not because I want to hate on a little girl, but because I think it's very important to make sure Jud's work doesn't get buried under an understandable impulse to appreciate awesome kids doing science. I'm sure Lauren Arrington made a great science fair project, but her work isn't new and doesn't come as a surprise to grown-up scientists. Particularly not to Jud, who published a peer-reviewed research paper on this very subject in 2011. It also wasn't a surprise to Lauren Arrington's father, D. Albrey Arrington, who was a named author on that paper, though he was not, according to Jud, directly involved in making the discovery. (Note that this is pretty normal for scientific research papers, especially those published by young scientists like Jud.)

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. 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.

That is a very big deal. It's awesome that a kid wants to be involved in science. And it's totally understandable that we, as a society, want to cheer her on and want to hear her story. But those things should not outweigh the fact that somebody else did this research first and that he is now in the truly unenviable position of having his work widely known (super-important for an early-career scientist) but having his name erased from it.

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  1. OK. I'm a little confused. I thought the point of most grade school science projects was to do science experiments. Not necessarily anything NEW - just do experiments, map the data, and report your findings. You know, science!

    So even if her dad said something like, "You know, I know a guy who found lion fish in a fresh water estuary. I think they can live in fresher water than most people think. Why don't we do an experiment where we alter the salinity of the water and track the results?"

    Then then the kid gets a lion fish, repeatedly lowers the salinity, and reports the results. How is that any different than any other experiment?

    It seems to me the problem is the "media" found the story and was like, "OMG, that is so smart. Why didn't anyone think of this before? Hey everyone! Look at what this kid did that no one thought of." with out doing any research to see if she indeed was the first to come up with, vs just repeating a past experiment.

    Or is this more convoluted, where she and/or her dad are claiming originators to the idea? Sort of how like someone takes an old song no one really heard of and it hits big. There is a big difference between others rocketing it to fame, and the band claiming they were the original creator of the song.

  2. She and her dad seem to be claiming discovery.

  3. Well then that's uncool. You don't have to make stuff up to get people to like you. Just be yourself.

  4. As a teacher and a parent science fair veteran, this is one of those projects that reads to me as "the parent did 99% of this." I used to live in Pasadena, CA. One of my daughter's classmates had two parents who worked at CalTech. Her fourth grade project was "Extracting DNA from Plants using Common Household Items", I kid you not.

  5. Take that you little dipshit kid! Learn to peer review! BOOM! IN YO FACE!!!

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