This article was originally published on 20 August 2021. It has been updated on 26 August with the latest developments.
Almost regularly, news of some young prodigy from India getting selected for some coveted NASA program appears in Indian media. However, almost every time, such claims are found to be false later. Therefore, when another story of a teenage girl getting selected for a NASA fellowship programme appeared on media, people started expressing doubt about the same.
On Friday, August 20, news agency ANI had reported that a 14-year old girl named Diksha Shinde has been selected as a panellist on the Minority Serving Institution (MSI) Fellowships Virtual Panel of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The class 10 student has claimed that she was selected for the 2021 MSI Fellowships Virtual Panel in June after the International Journal of Scientific and Engineering Research accepted her research paper on ‘We Live in Black Hole?’ in May 2021.
As per the report, Diksha Shinde said, “I accepted the offer and will start working soon. My job involves reviewing proposals submitted by researchers and describing a collaborative approach to conduct research with NASA and understanding the connection between proposed research area and academic discipline pursuit of the students.”
She said that earlier two of her papers were rejected, which she wrote after reading “many books by Stephen Hawking.” However, her research article on black hole was accepted by NASA in December 2020. ANI also quotes her saying that she “provisionally discovered the ‘Main Belt asteroid’.”
However, many people in social media have expressed doubt about this report, as there are too many unbelievable details, and it looks similar to many such ‘selected by NASA’ story earlier. After the doubts were raised, ANI posted screenshots of alleged correspondence of NASA and IJSER with Diksha. But these correspondences also do not clarify the doubts, and instead create more questions.
Diksha Shinde has claimed that she has been selected in the MSI Fellowships programme of the NASA. The US space agency does have such a programme, but the requirements for the fellowship are much higher than the current qualification of the girl. According to NASA website, to be eligible to even submit a proposal, must have already attended an MSI, must be U.S. citizens or a national who hold a bachelor’s degree earned before Aug. 31, and they must enrol in a master’s or doctoral degree program before Sept. 1, 2021. This clearly shows that a class 10 student is not eligible for this program.
The teenager claimed her paper on black hole was accepted by the International Journal of Scientific and Engineering Research. However, the website of the IJSER has no paper published in her name. According to such a message from IJSER, her paper was selected for publication on Volume 12, Issue 5, May 2021. But when we went through the May edition of the journal, we didn’t find any paper by Diksha Shinde.
Moreover, this is an open-access journal where anyone can publish papers by paying an amount. Almost all reputed journals do not need any payment for publishing papers, but they need payments for accessing the papers.
According to the website, the cost of publishing a standard paper is €65, however, the rate for students and research scholars is €45. This means even if Diksha’s paper was published somewhere by the journal, she had to pay around ₹4000 for the same.
A certificate allegedly issued to Diksha by NASA is also doing the rounds with the ANI logo on it. It has the signatures of NASA CEO and President James Bridenstine and Department Chair James Frederick. However, the organisational structure of NASA does not have the designation of CEO, and the names of the persons are also doubtful. NASA is headed by an administrator, and the post is currently occupied by Bill Nelson. While the two current chairs in the advisory groups are General Lester L. Lyles and Dr Patricia Sanders.
James Frederick Bridenstine was the administrator in NASA from 2013 to 2018, and some netizens believe this name was split into two to create the ‘certificate’ issued to Diksha Shinde.
This is most likely misinformation, @smitaprakash Ma'am. The girl claims in the Lokmat report that she is being paid by NASA to review research proposals! https://t.co/6IkszyyuMr https://t.co/ezUi8SooFc— Ananth Krishna Subhalakshmy (@Ananth_Krishna_) August 19, 2021
The two current chairs in the advisory groups are General Lester L. Lyles and Dr Patricia Sanders.
Another ‘certificate’ issued to the teenager was found made using a stock template, which questions its authenticity. NASA is not known for using stock templates available online.
We also found a LinkedIn account named Dr. Diksha K Shinde, which is believed to belong to the same teenager, who claims to be “Scientific Researcher” at NASA, a very vague designation. Moreover, she has used the Dr. with her name, but the reports say she is a class 10 student. In that account, she posted a certificate, which again was made using a stock template.
With all these, it was initially apparent that Diksha Shinde fell victim to some online fraud, where she was contacted by fraudsters in the name of NASA to extract money. This was seen by many as a story similar to the story of journalist Nidhi Razdan, who had left her job to join Harvard University, only to find later that the offer was fake.
Latest update: NASA clarification, the girl had used fake credentials. Not employed, never paid by them
However, with the clarification by NASA on August 26, things looked different.
US space agency NASA had answered the queries made by OpIndia and other media portals. NASA stated that Diksha had used fake credentials to be selected as a panellist for the selection of proposals under the MSI program. In their statement, NASA said that Diksha was neither paid nor employed by them. Since her credentials were fake, NASA added that they have never published her ‘research paper’ and have never given her any certificates.
As the girl had used fake credentials for applying to be a panellist, NASA said they have started reviewing their verification process for the selection of panellists. They also added that NASA is not funding her trip to the USA.
This was a direct debunking of the girl’s claims as she had claimed before media that she is being paid by NASA, has been selected as a panellist, have written a research paper for NASA and is working for the organisation. She had also shown fake certificates.
Following NASA’s reply, ANI had informed that the teenager had not only duped NASA, but had also duped ANI and many other media organisations. ANI chief Smita Prakash stated that while the claim of being selected as a panellist to review proposals under MSI was correct, which was technically not a fake claim per se, that selection was obtained with the help of fake credentials.
ANI statement on NASA, Maharashtra girl story. She duped NASA into getting on their panel & yes, duped us as well. A large part of her story is verified & authentic but foundational issues fake and nasa admitted it to us as well. In light of new info, withdrawing, error regretted https://t.co/CarjnIiii0— Smita Prakash (@smitaprakash) August 26, 2021
Smita Prakash added that in the light of new information, ANI is withdrawing the story and the error is regretted.