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NASA Says 14-Year-Old Girl's Selection Was Based on 'False Information'

In an email conversation with The Quint, NASA said that the girl's selection was based on "false information".

Updated
WebQoof
7 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Several news agencies published the story of a 14-year-old girl from Aurangabad, Maharashtra as someone who was selected as a "panellist on the MSI Fellowships Virtual Panel of NASA".</p></div>
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On 19 August, news agency ANI published a story of a 14-year-old girl from Aurangabad, Maharashtra after she purportedly got selected as a "panellist on the Minority Serving Institution (MSI) Fellowships Virtual Panel of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)."

The story caught attention when several users on Twitter started pointing out the glaring discrepancies in the story, questioning the selection process which was not in line with NASA's official procedure.

We reached out to NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement and found that the youngster's selection was based on "false information regarding her background and credentials."

A public affairs officer at NASA, too, confirmed that the organisation had not accepted a scientific paper from the girl nor had it presented her with any other accolades, as put out by ANI.

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14-YEAR-OLD SELECTED BY NASA – A STORY THAT CAUGHT ON!

Several media organisations picked up the story posted by ANI, including Times Now, NDTV India, ABP News, News18, Amar Ujala, Aaj Tak, Economic Times, and Free Press Journal among others.

The girl was quoted by ANI as saying, "I wrote a theory on black holes and God. It was accepted by NASA after three attempts. They asked me to write articles for their website."

The news agency also put out screenshots of the girl's communication with NASA and the "certificates of achievement" that she had purportedly received from NASA.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>An archive of the post can be found <a href="https://perma.cc/BAD8-5VZP">here</a>.</p></div>

An archive of the post can be found here.

(Photo: Twitter/Screenshot)

  • 01/02

    An archive of the post can be found here.

    (Photo: Twitter/Screenshot)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>An archive of the post can be found <a href="https://perma.cc/BAD8-5VZP">here</a>.</p></div>
  • 02/02

    An archive of the post can be found here.

    (Photo: Twitter/Screenshot)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>An archive of the post can be found <a href="https://perma.cc/BAD8-5VZP">here</a>.</p></div>

Talking to ANI, the minor had also said that "she was selected as a panellist for the 2021 MSI Fellowships Virtual Panel in June". She mentioned that NASA was going to bear all expenses for a trip to the US in October.

In the news report, she also mentioned her paper on “Black holes and God” was selected by a journal called “International Journal of Scientific and Engineering Research” (IJSER). The title of the research paper was "We Live in Black Hole?"

'SELECTION BASED ON FALSE CREDENTIALS': NASA

We reached out to NASA for a comment on the matter and an official told The Quint's WebQoof team via email that the minor was selected as a 'panelist' through a third-party service, but her selection was "based on false information regarding her background and credentials."

"In May 2021, NASA's Office of STEM Engagement sought applications through a third-party service for expert panelists to review a series of proposals and applications for NASA Fellowships with Minority-Serving Institutions. She was selected as a panelist based on false information regarding her background and credentials. NASA is currently reviewing the process of verifying potential panelists' backgrounds," the NASA PAO told The Quint.

"The matter has also been referred to the agency's Office of Inspector General. Shinde is not employed by NASA nor has the agency awarded her a fellowship, which are only opportunities available to US citizens," the spokesperson added.

The spokesperson also confirmed that NASA had not accepted any scientific paper from the girl as claimed by her in the news reports nor presented her with any other accolades. The mail also dismissed the claims that NASA is funding a trip to the US.

We have reached out to NASA to get a confirmation on who provided the false information on the girl's credentials.

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RED FLAGS AND HOW THINGS DON'T ADD UP!

Questions were raised by several social media users, including some scientists, on the selection of the girl.

A Twitter user named Ananth Krishna Subhalakshmy (@Ananth_Krishna_) pointed out that the IJSER paper mentioned in the ANI tweet could not be found in their May edition.

Associate Professor at The Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education Aniket Sule told The Quint that IJSER was part of what was called a 'predatory journal'.

A post written on The Public Outreach & Education Committee of the Astronomical Society of India's website raised some red flags with respect to her selection as a panellist.

The ASI post said, "It is impossible that NASA or any other credible agency would invite a 13-14 year old non-citizen student, who has no academic pedigree, to evaluate serious research proposals."

CERTIFICATES MADE ON CANVA TEMPLATE?

In the second tweet that ANI posted, one could see two certificates awarded to the girl.

One of the certificates claimed to be an award for "NASA Proposal Research 2020".

This certificate was signed by two people – Jim Bridestine, whose designation was mentioned as CEO and President, and second person was called James Federick, who was referred to as the Department Chair.

We checked NASA's website and didn't find any mention of a CEO or President in the organisation. We also conducted a keyword search for James Federick and NASA and found that he was the 13th Administrator of NASA who was in office from 23 April 2018 to 20 January 2021.

Interestingly, James Frederick and Jim Bridenstine seem to be the same person. According to his profile put on the NASA's website, James Frederick was also known as Jim Bridenstine.

The second one was a "certificate of achievement" for "winning 1st place in NASA PROPOSAL RESEARCH 2020-21 contest". Social media users pointed out that the certificate was made using a template available on Canva, a graphic designing platform. One of the signatories on this certificate was "Chris Evans".

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Certifcate shared on ANI seemed to be a template available on Canva.</p></div>

Certifcate shared on ANI seemed to be a template available on Canva.

(Photo:The Quint)

Another certificate shared on a LinkedIn account made in her name was signed by Dr Jacqueline Faherty, an astrophysicist at American Museum of Natural History. When social media users reached out to Dr Faherty, she denied having signed any such certificate.

The LinkedIn account has now been deleted.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>An archive of the conversation can be found <a href="https://archive.is/pqSh4">here</a>.</p></div>

An archive of the conversation can be found here.

(Photo: Twitter/Screenshot)

The certificate purportedly signed by Dr Faherty also turned out to be a template available on Canva.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Certifcate shared on LinkedIn was also made using a template available on Canva.</p></div>

Certifcate shared on LinkedIn was also made using a template available on Canva.

(Photo: Twitter/Screenshot)

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WHAT DID THE GIRL AND HER FAMILY HAVE TO SAY?

We also reached out to the girl and her family to verify the claims made on the news reports. During our conversation with her, she repeated the version that was put out by ANI and other news channels.

She sent us 27 screenshots that included those of email correspondence with NASA officials and senior academic researchers in different US universities.

She also sent us screenshots of Zoom meetings that she attended with some senior researchers. The Quint could confirm that some of the people in the zoom call were indeed senior professors in American universities. We reached out to a few of them but are yet to hear back from them.

We also found her profile on Instagram where she had documented all her Zoom calls in stories and posts and had thanked the people in the calls, referring to them as "mentors". The screenshots included one of a call with current NASA administrator Senator Bill Nelson, done on 22 July.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>The screenshot of a call with current NASA administrator Senator Bill Neson from on 22 July, posted on her Instagram account.</p></div>

The screenshot of a call with current NASA administrator Senator Bill Neson from on 22 July, posted on her Instagram account.

(Photo: Instagram/Screenshot)

She also shared with us a screenshot of a bank account transfer of $675, which is equivalent to a little over Rs 50,000.

She said that she got the money for attending the panel meetings and said that she would be getting it every time she attended a meeting. According to her, she was on the panel to scrutinise papers submitted by PhD scholars.

When we asked her about the certificates and the errors in the names, she dismissed the question by saying that it was provided for her achievements and were not related to the MSI Fellowship.

We reached out to the family again after we got a comment from NASA but the family has refused to comment any further.

Further, we have not been able to independently verify who provided the false information to NASA. As stated above, we have sought this clarification and are awaiting a response.

INDIAN MEDIA'S TRYST WITH MISINFORMATION RELATED TO NASA

This is not the first time Indian media has fallen for a fake story linked to NASA.

This story is eerily similar to one that broke in March 2016, which was pointed out by several social media users. An 18-year-old girl from West Bengal, Sataparna Mukherjee, had claimed that she had received the "NASA Goddard Internship Programme under the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)."

The story was covered by several news organisations as a "good news" feature.

The claims were dismissed by NASA and they said that they didn't have any record of her getting an internship/scholarship with the organisation.

The common thread in both the cases was "Black Hole". Like the Aurangabad girl, Mukherjee too had claimed to have written a paper on "Black Hole Theory" and its use in making a time machine, as per a report in The Times of India.

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Therefore, while it is true that the 14-year-old class 10 student was indeed selected as a panelist by NASA, her selection was, however, based on false background information and credentials.

(Editor's note: The story has been updated to add that we reached out to the family for a comment.)

(Not convinced of a post or information you came across online and want it verified? Send us the details on WhatsApp at 9643651818, or e-mail it to us at webqoof@thequint.com and we'll fact-check it for you. You can also read all our fact-checked stories here.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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