Reports about a 14-year old girl from Aurangabad in Maharashtra being selected as a panelist on NASA’s “MSI Fellowships Virtual Panel” is a hoax, the Astronomical Society of India has said. The reports suggested that she was selected to the panel based on her research paper that was published in a journal and later accepted by NASA.

The Astronomical Society of India, however, pointed out several discrepancies in the documents furnished by the girl, including purported emails and a certificate sent by an entity posing as NASA.

“There are too many bad journals lurking in the back alleys of academic publishing, looking to exploit unsuspecting authors,” the Astronomical Society said in a release detailing the discrepancies in the documents. “...This is called ‘predatory publishing’ in academic circles.”

The matter was first tweeted about by news agency ANI on August 19.

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

(Image courtesy: Astronomical Society of India)

In subsequent tweets, the news agency reported that the purported panel meetings of NASA were held between July 12-July 16. ANI also tweeted screenshots of correspondence between the girl and an email ID “NASA.Reviewer”.

(Image courtesy: Astronomical Society of India)
(Image courtesy: Astronomical Society of India)

What’s amiss in the documents?

As far as the research paper is concerned, the Astronomical Society of India traced back the details of the purported journal in the ANI tweets to a list of predatory journals.

The astronomy body also said that the girl’s research topic of “black holes and god” was likely to be rejected by scientific journals “in the initial scrutiny itself”.

“Any argument connecting two unrelated concepts like black holes and god will be just a speculative play on words, which doesn’t qualify as physical evidence,” they said.

Social media users also pointed out indications that the journal mentioned in the tweets was not a recognised one.

A certificate titled “proposal research 2020” purportedly issued to the girl by NASA, carried the name of a “Jim Bridestine” as the “CEO & President” of NASA, even as the American space agency does not have such a designation. The other name on the certificate is “James Federick”.

“The two names appear to be a rip-off of the name of a former NASA administrator James Frederick Bridenstine, who was often called Jim by his colleagues,” the Astronomical Society of India said in its release.

Social media users also pointed out that another document titled “certificate of achievement” carried a template that is commonly available on graphics designing websites.

The emails sent to the girl purportedly by NASA also appear to be dubious, starting with a spelling error in the subject line in one of them. The email confirming the girl’s selection as a panelist reads: “URGERT ACTION REQUIRED”.

“It is impossible that NASA or any other credible agency would invite a 13-14 year old non [American]-citizen student, who has no academic pedigree, to evaluate serious research proposals,” the Astronomical Society of India noted.