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Indian teen finds fame as NASA panelist, but social media fact check claims ANI report is fake

ANI report says Diksha Shinde was selected by NASA as a panelist for its MSI Fellowships Virtual Panel, but people point out discrepancies on Twitter. ANI stands by report.

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New Delhi: Fourteen-year-old Diksha Shinde suddenly found fame after news reports claimed she had been selected as a panelist by NASA for its Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) Fellowships Virtual Panel.

Wire agency ANI had Thursday reported that Shinde was selected by the US space agency based on her work on blackholes and God.

“I wrote a theory on black holes & God. It was accepted by NASA after three attempts. They asked me to write articles for their website,” Shinde told ANI.

She also said that she worked 12 hours-a-day on her research.

The wire agency reported that Shinde would attend a conference in October, for which NASA would bear all the expenses.

The MSI fellowship by NASA seeks student-authored research proposals from minority serving institutions in STEM programs. Proposals for this year’s fellowship were due on 24 May.

The 14-year-old was hailed by many on social media, but several also found the claims dubious.

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

‘Someone has created a scam’

Among them was Dr Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History.

Dr Faherty’s name features on a certificate purportedly awarded by NASA to Shinde, an image of which surfaced on social media. The image of the ‘certificate of nomination’ was being shared on LinkedIn by an account belonging to ‘Dr Diksha K. Shinde’. The bio for ‘Dr Shinde’ identifies her as a ‘scientific researcher at NASA’.

When ThePrint checked the LinkedIn profile for ‘Dr K Shinde’, it was unavailable.

In a Twitter post Friday, Faherty 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 (sic).”

ThePrint contacted Faherty via email but did not receive a response till the time of publishing this report.

Faherty wasn’t the only one to question the news. Others raised doubts over the authenticity of the certificate.

Among the red flags raised was the fact that screenshots of an email correspondence, allegedly between NASA and Shinde, show the mail is not marked to an official ID and Shinde’s email ID includes letters in uppercase.

‘Not fake’: ANI stands by story

Political commentator Shefali Vaidya asked ANI’s Editor-in-Chief Smita Prakash about the veracity of the story.

In a Twitter post, Vaidya said: “The official MSI Fellowship website states that the candidates must be US nationals/citizens and must hold a bachelor’s degree. Is Diksha Shinde either?”

Prakash responded that the story wasn’t fake and the agency was standing by it.

According to NASA’s website, to be eligible, candidates have to be American citizens or a “national” who holds a bachelor’s degree earned before 31 August 2021. Candidates must also be enrolled in a master’s or doctoral degree program by 1 September 2021, and must be intending to pursue a research-based masters or PhD program in a NASA-relevant field.

Following this, several news publications that posted the story took down their reports citing “factual inaccuracies”.

This included Mint that said the “agency story has been taken down pending review”.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: WhatsApp vs Modi govt: Privacy or politics? This is what they’re fighting over


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