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6th grader may have plagiarized viral science project

Lauren Arrington, a 12-year-old Florida girl, made a big splash when she appeared on CBS and NPR to discuss her school science project, which found that deadly saltwater lionfish can survive in near-fresh water and are invading estuaries along the Southeast coast of the U.S. But a former grad student, who worked for a friend of the girl’s father, now claims authorship for the research, dating back three years prior.

Zack Jud, who has since graduated with his Ph.D., published a paper in 2011 detailing his discovery of lionfish living in low-salinity estuarine habitats. Lauren’s father, fish biologist D. Albrey Arrington, was one of the authors named on the paper, although he apparently had nothing to do with the research.

Frustrated, Jud recently complained on a Facebook post that “years of groundbreaking work on estuarine lionfish are being completely and intentionally ignored.” 

Though not wanting to discourage the girl’s love for science, “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,” he added.

In response to the controversy, the girl’s father said in an email that Jud’s 2011 paper did not “experimentally define where in the river lionfish can live (i.e., what is the lowest salinity lionfish can live in).” He said that Lauren’s project reduced the salinity of captive lionfish even lower than what Jud had found in the field, down to six parts per 1,000.

He also said that Lauren cited Jud’s paper in her Science Fair report and display, which “adequately provided credit to the authors of the 2011 paper.”

In support of Jud’s claim to the research, the Central Florida Aquarium Society lists a dozen sources showing his research and publications preceded Lauren’s science fair project.