Startling lionfish discovery made in 6th grader’s science project [Updated]
Winning first place is all well and good in the sixth grade science fair, but when your discovery shocks an entire field of researchers, you’ve reached a whole new level of achievement.
Scientists have been frantically researching lionfish, the scourge of the Atlantic ecosystem, for years now, so it’s particularly shocking that twelve-year-old Lauren Arrington was the first to realize the invasive species could survive in a nearly freshwater habitat, a big problem in Florida, where Arrington lives and there are no natural predators.
“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?’ “
Her findings were confirmed by North Carolina State’s Craig Layman, and published in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes.
Hope she at least got ice cream for that project.
Oh well, never let it be said that sixth-grade science projects aren’t plagued with the same issues as science at the higher levels.
It appears that Arrington’s work was already done, and by none other than the grad student who did the bulk of the research for a paper on which her father’s name was listed but for which he did little, if any, of the work.
According to Fischer Aitchtuoh of the Central Florida Aquarium Society, and subsequently reported at io9:
D. Albrey Arrington, the father of Lauren Arrington, appears as an author on this paper released June 2011. He had absolutely nothing to do with the research however, he was clearly aware that lionfish were found in low salinity parts of the estuary years before the science fair project was carried out. By this time, Jud had planned on running salinity tolerance trials for quite a while before Arrington executed her project, invalidating the premise that any related research had been ultimately replicated or expanded upon by ecologists. Jud’s work further revealed wild lionfish in salinities in as low as 8 ppt, just a hair above the young girls 6 ppt “breakthrough” in captivity.
A subsequent paper that Jud published in 2012 that documented movement patterns of lionfish within the estuary. The “discovery” was made years before the science fair project was carried out. Arrington’s project lowered the salinity bar from 8 ppt (Jud’s previous finding, which Arrington knew about) to 6 ppt. Jud subsequently demonstrated that lionfish could survive in salinities as low as 5 ppt for extended periods of time, and as low as 1 ppt for brief periods (in the wild, around low tide during the wet season).
Zack Jud, the student in question, emphasizes that the last thing he wants is to discourage a young girl pursuing science or demonize her in any way, but credit should go where credit is due.
Maybe Zack and Lauren should have a talk over that ice cream.
Startling fish discoveries.
Photo credit: Paula Whitfield NOAA, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research DOC. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration., Graphics credit: Canva
Posted by Kate Rinsema