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How Indian teen became a NASA ‘panelist’ and almost got away with it

US space agency explains what happened in the case of Diksha Shinde, 14-year-old who made news last week for being selected as a panelist for NASA's MSI Fellowships Virtual Panel.

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New Delhi: US space agency NASA Thursday claimed that 14-year-old Diksha Shinde, who had reportedly been selected as a panelist by the agency, was short listed based on “false information” provided by her. It further clarified that Shinde had not received any fellowship or funding from the agency.

News reports last week stated that Shinde, who hails from Maharashtra, had been selected by NASA based on her work on blackholes and God. However, users on social media cast doubts on Shinde’s credentials, indicating the claim was fake.

In a statement to ThePrint, NASA said: “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.”

The fellowships seek student-authored research proposals.

“Diksha Shinde was selected as a panelist based on false information regarding her background and credentials,” the statement added. It further noted that NASA is currently reviewing the process of verifying potential panelists’ backgrounds.

The story on Shinde, originally reported by ANI, had gained a lot of attention, and was picked up by several other publications.

As users pointed out discrepancies, such as the fact that only American citizens can send in proposals, ANI said it stood by the story and dismissed implications that it was ‘fake news’.


Also read: NASA announces two new missions to Venus as it seeks to ‘rediscover the planet’


Shinde’s many claims

Shinde had told ANI that her theory on black holes and God was “accepted by NASA after three attempts”, and even claimed she was asked to write articles for NASA’s website.

A screenshot on LinkedIn was shared by an account belonging to ‘Dr Diksha K. Shinde’. The bio for ‘Dr Shinde’ identified her as a ‘scientific researcher at NASA’. However, when ThePrint checked the account, it was unavailable.

It was also reported that Shinde would attend a conference in October, funded by NASA.

NASA clarified that Shinde is neither employed by the agency nor has it awarded her a fellowship, which are opportunities available only to US citizens.

“Furthermore, NASA has not accepted a scientific paper from Shinde 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 statement said.

Several scientists on social media had found Shinde’s claims dubious. Among them, the Public Outreach & Education Committee of the Astronomical Society of India had put out a statement explaining why the story was most likely false.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)


Also read: ‘It’s like science fiction come to life’: NASA engineers tell how Mars missions are pulled off


 

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