March 2, 2016

Indian Media Outlets are full of idiots, no Indian Bengali village kid has won a NASA fellowship

By WiseTechie

It hits you, it hits you hard. While growing up we all had laggards in our classes, while the toppers went on to become doctors and engineers, the laggards went onto become IAS/IPS (through reservations) or become lawyers or become journalists. The fact that usually the worst of the lot become junior journalists can help explain how stupid news stories are published without any corroboration. In some cases publications have been known to copy faking new or the onion verbatim and post it as news.

A couple of days ago, I came across an article on the Times of India (affectionately known as the TOIlet of newspapers in India) around an Indian Bengali village teenager Satparna Mukherjee who claimed to have won a NASA fellowship. I was intrigued, why would NASA be sponsoring a random kid from a non-descript part of India, Don’t get me wrong, Indians are smart, however the kind of shit science we are taught under the aegis of CBSE with very little emphasis on practical aspects leaves little to the imagination of the kid. Serious pure sciences research is non-existent even in Indian colleges. So for a school kid to impress scientists across the world would be a very special feat. And while we are at it, why just shame the kid, lets shame the journalist Saubal Gupta who wrote the piece with no fact checking. Journalism is about fact checking, fact checking and fact checking. Even without contacting NASA, the article reeks of fakeness and smells of deceit, lets go through the article.

The article starts by making an outrageous yet plausible ? claim :

Eighteen-year-old Sataparna Mukherjee, a Class 12 student from a village around 30km from Kolkata, has been selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) for its prestigious Goddard Internship Programme under the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). She is among five scholars chosen from across the world for this programme.
Nasa’s GIP selects five exceptional individuals from across the world every year and funds their entire education after school.

However as someone random on the Internet pointed out, these are only meant for US Citizens. Ms. Mukherjee cannot be by any stretch of imagination a United States Citizen. Also look at the fine editorial work by TOI, NASA is spelled in title case and programme (sic) is misspelled. Here are the requirements directly from the NASA  website.

Eligibility Requirements

  • U.S. citizenship
  • GPA: 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  • High School students
    • At least 16 years of age and a current sophomore, junior or senior
  • Undergraduate or graduate students
    • At the time the opportunity begins, must be accepted/enrolled full-time in an accredited U.S. college or university

The article goes on becoming funnier as you read through it  :

Oxford University, where she she will pursue graduation, post-graduation and PhD (as Nasa faculty) in aerospace engineering at its London Astrobiology Centre.

Umm, why would NASA send her to a UK university and then sponsor her bachelors, masters and PhD in aerospace engineering at Astrobiology center. So many things wrong with that sentence. Aerospace engineering at a Astrobiology center in UK ?

The article then quotes the wonder kid herself :

“It all started in May last year when I was a member of a group on a social networking site where there were many members, including some scientists. One day I shared some of my thoughts on ‘Black Hole Theory’, and one of the members of this group gave me Nasa’s official website and told me to post my findings, which I did.” Sataparna’s paper on Black Hole Theory, and how this could be used to create a ‘Time Machine’, was hugely appreciated. “I am very happy to get this opportunity where I will also work as a researcher at the Nasa centre in London,”

A little jargon here and a little jargon there and our journalist is thoroughly impressed, black hole theory, time machines, loch ness monster and Godzilla. Ofcourse this time she is going to be a researcher at a NASA center in London. Wait, wasn’t she going to study at Oxford ? When did NASA open a center in London ? Even at this point our journalist didnt think something was wrong.

Sataparna will work as an “employee and researcher”, where she will be part of its earth science and technology development programme.

As any class 10 student will tell you aerospace engineering, astro biology, black holes, time machines, earth science are all very different things. How many PhDs is this wonder kid getting ?

“She is a very good student and her ability should not be judged through her marks alone. She is original, and that has made her attain so much.”

This is the quote from her referee at Oxford, a professor in English (yeah right) at some random Bengal college. Physical sciences is one of the few places where marks do have a strong correlation with talent.

Anyway, I do hope she has gotten some kind of admission and this is all a big misunderstanding and this doesnt impact the kid’s career. However one has to wonder about the mental capacity of this journalist and his peers who have not fact checked the story with NASA, or Oxford and have published the news articles with such glaring discrepancies.

What’s funnier are the comments on this article praising the daughter of Bengal and talking about Bengal producing thinkers.