On August 19, 2021, ANI, a news agency, tweeted a story about a 14-years-old girl, from Aurangabad who has been selected as a panelist on ‘NASA’s MSI fellowship virtual programme’.
The Tweet also quoted the girl who said, “I wrote a theory on black holes & God. It was accepted by NASA after 3 attempts. They asked me to write articles for their website.”
We, first of all, noticed that the image shared by ANI of the certificate purportedly issued by NASA had no signature or stamp on it. While certifications from any such organization will have the signature and stamp of the authorized person on them.
We also saw that the topic which was mentioned by her, i.e; ‘Theory of black holes and God’ is a philosophical or theological topic and does not come under scientific research, thus the chances of NASA approving any such topic is also negligible.
We also found that for a person to be eligible for NASA Fellowship Activity he must be a US Citizen or a ‘national who holds a bachelor’s degree earned before Aug. 31, 2021; candidates must be enrolled in a master’s or doctoral degree program no later than Sept. 1, 2021, and intend to pursue a research-based Masters or Ph.D. program in a NASA-relevant field.’
The last certificate shows the names of two NASA authorities Jim Bridenstine and James Federick. While Former is listed as CEO & President, we found there is no such position at NASA. Also, Also, Jim Bridenstine former NASA administrator who was known as James Frederick Bridenstine, and was often called Jim by his colleagues. Hence, the two names appear to be a rip-off of the name of a former NASA administrator James Frederick Bridenstine.
Jackie Faherty, a Senior Scientist in the Department of Astrophysics and the Department of Education at the American Museum of Natural History, also tweeted and said that the girl was scammed. She said, “I don’t know why my name got tied into this but someone has created a scam using a 14 yr old girl in India and her dream of being a scientist. If Diksha really has a passion for Astronomy she can reach out to me and I’ll find some legitimate pathways for her passion.”
I don't know why my name got tied into this but someone has created a scam using a 14 yr old girl in India and her dream of being a scientist. If Diksha really has a passion for Astronomy she can reach out to me and I'll find some legitimate pathways for her passion. https://t.co/VLmtwRBmsg
— Jackie Faherty (@jfaherty) August 20, 2021
The story was called out by many as fake. However, ANI’s Editor-in-Chief Smita Prakash has tweeted and said that ANI stands by the story. She Tweeted, “The story is not fake. We stand by it.”
The story is not fake. We stand by it.
— Smita Prakash (@smitaprakash) August 20, 2021
Media organization like LiveMint has taken down the story citing that the story needs to be reviewed due to factual inaccuracies.
Also, the International Journal of Scientific and Engineering Research (IJSER) comes in a list of predatory journals. Predatory journals are the ones that take advantage of authors by asking them to publish for a fee without providing peer-review or editing services.
We also found The Wire, in one of its articles titled, ‘The UGC deserves applause for trying to do something about research fraud’, mentioned that IJSER seems to be a fake journal. The article read, ‘IJSER publishes across nearly all disciplines, which is another known marker of a fake journal. In many cases, the articles are nonsensical. Many are plagiarised or are crude copy-and-paste efforts. And this is just one journal among thousands that are operating to serve academics from around the world.’
Update: A NASA spokesperson told fact-checking website BOOM, “In May 2021, NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement sought applications through a third-party service for expert panellists to review a series of proposals and applications for NASA Fellowships with Minority-Serving Institutions. [Name redacted] was selected as a panellist based on false information regarding her background and credentials. NASA is currently reviewing the process of verifying potential panellists’ backgrounds.”
“The matter has also been referred to the agency’s Office of Inspector General. [Name redacted] is not employed by NASA nor has the agency awarded her a fellowship, which are only opportunities available to U.S. citizens. Furthermore, NASA has not accepted a scientific paper from [name redacted] or presented her with any other accolades. Any claims that NASA is funding a trip to the U.S. for her are also false,” the spokesperson added.