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The curious case of fake NASA geniuses (openthemagazine.com)
140 points by Brajeshwar 34 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 87 comments

Oh boy. I get to tell a story that I've wanted to tell to HN forever. I grew up in no-where America, population 1,000, 100 miles from the nearest city of 10,000.

One day in High School a new teacher is hired in a quick hurry to replace someone who quit. The man shows up to teach biology wearing a NASA jacket and spends the entire first hour of class explaining all of the work he has done for the agency. He also insists we call him, "Dr. J, because I have enough class credits to have a PhD".

The story could be 100 paragraphs of weird twists and turns, but the short of it is that the guy was a total fraud and had only once volunteered for a citizen science project. One of the things about rural schools is that they're often desperate for teachers, so he got to hang around "teaching" biology until he threatened to shoot some kids and he was finally fired.

"Dr. J, because I have enough class credits to have a PhD"

Oh, if only it were that easy....

My unwritten dissertation is also giving me a look from the corner of the Desktop.

My wife gets pissed off by the "all but thesis" crowd. The thesis is about 80% of the work!

As to "threatened to shoot some kids," I say, in honor of the great Norm MacDonald, there's two sides to every story.

I mean, I'll give you (and Norm) some credit here.

Hick kids are brutal if they smell you're a fraud. Let's just say the kids were not kind to Dr. J. They loved to push his mental limits, that were pretty flimsy from the start.

I prefer film producer Bob Evans version - "There's three sides to every story, your side, my side and the truth".

The book about him, The Kid Stays in the Picture, is one hell of a ride.

Fake it until you make it. Gosh, maybe I have seen this somewhere else too.

I mean if you count teaching high school in a town of 1,000 people in the middle of nowhere "making it" then yes, I suppose so.

What's wrong with teaching high school? In a (presumably) less-advantaged area?

What do you count as making it?

The person likely had unachieved dreams of actually earning a PhD and working at NASA, so I doubt they'd describe working for a pittance in a rural high school as "making it" either.

Nothing wrong with it. I just don’t think it is what most people would call “making it.”

I personally consider “making it” being happy with what you’re doing, even if most other people wouldn't consider it "making it."

But if you're someone who goes through the effort to lie about working for NASA and all that, I'm guessing this wasn't their idea of making it.

Nothing. There is just no competition to be able to do so.

You definitely don’t need to fake anything about nasa to get a job there either.

Not that

I'm skeptical of anybody trying to guide attention to their PhD even if properly acquired. I'm currently working with such a guy - he's the pest.

I have a wonderful colleague who has a PhD in mathematics and never tells anyone about it. I sort of love calling him Dr. just to push his buttons because he is the opposite of a person who guides others attention to his work. He often deserves so much more credit.

Crazy read. But should one not be in jail for threatening to shoot kids vs getting fired?

There's a related phenomenon with young women claiming they're training to be the first person on Mars. They, and usually their parents, carefully craft a media personality where editors and readers fill in the blanks to assume the "astronaut in training" is part of NASA. That the agency exerts little control over its name and logo makes this much easier to accomplish. If a media organization goes through the effort of contacting NASA, they will be told that the "astronaut in training" is not affiliated with NASA. That these young women (for some reason I've yet to see this media manipulation work for young men) attend Space Camp gives them something with NASA on it they can point to so others will make the erroneous assumption they're in NASA astronaut training.

As far as I can tell, nothing they're doing is illegal. Anyone can say they're training to go to Mars. Anyone can buy NASA t-shirts and any child can attend Space Camp. NASA doesn't regulate the use of its name in twitter and Instagram account names. In most cases it appears that the media either doesn't look very deeply into verifying these people are who they're presenting themselves to be or are willing participants in deceiving the public themselves. It makes for a nice article or fills airtime to have on a teenager in a flight suit covered in NASA patches talking about inspiring other youth to follow their path to becoming an astronaut.

But at least the young people in the article and the ones posing as "aspiring astronauts" have more common sense than the young lady who lost her internship with NASA because she was slinging profanities at a member of the agency's advisory board while celebrating her appointment.

The most famous example being Alyssa Carson [1]. These frauds exist for a reason, there's an huge (and legitimate) demand for covering women in space.

I guess Peggy Whitson isn't sexy enough be on cover of magasines, so journalists need to find instagrammable faces.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurabegleybloom/2019/07/13/mee...

She (her parents?) monetized it well: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alyssa-carson-87b874152/

I like how her list of accomplishments starts with "witnessing 3 Space Shuttle launches.": https://nasablueberry.com/about/


At least she has a writing career to fall back on.

"Always follow your dream and don’t let anyone take it from you.” — Alyssa Carson

I think Sian Proctor and Hayley Arceneaux actually would count as the latest American women in space and they were just on the cover of Time.

> A visual prototype of Horizn ONE, the world's first space luggage, due out in 2030

This is too much ........

They would release it sooner, but the fusion minireactor is not ready yet.

I have also noticed this. One in particular who I followed because they posted a bunch of really excellent astronomy photos and had an exuberance for space flight recently “got accepted” to “go to Mars” and now they “live on a faux mars base in an inhospitable climate” in order to “train for life on Mars.”

It’s unclear if it’s real or fake, but their “qualifications” seem to be number of social media followers, so it doesn’t seem actually real.

I’m not complaining, cool story and photos, but I’m sure it’s all performative so I follow it as one would a cool fiction podcast or something.

Sounds like that particular person has their love of astronomy to fall back on. For those whose entire identities are wrapped up in being an astronaut that they have little to no chance of being, it's going to be rough when the spotlight moves elsewhere.

I’m trying to think of a more asinine and performative reason than revoking a job offer because the youthful recipient flung a few profanities around in celebration of the moment. This is how you preserve a monoculture, folks.

In followup, the advisory board member in question, evidently not such a stick-up-the-ass authoritarian as NASA’s decision makers, was dismayed by the revocation not the exuberance.

>In followup, the advisory board member in question, evidently not such a stick-up-the-ass authoritarian as NASA’s decision makers, was dismayed by the revocation not the exuberance.

Yep, I did a quick Google too.

Full quote: "I learned she had lost her offer for an internship with NASA. This I had nothing to do with nor could I since I do not hire and fire at the agency or have any say on employment whatsoever. As it turned out, it was due to the NASA hashtag her friends used that called the agency's attention to it long after my comments were gone," Hickam wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

Hickam also shared that he is "certain she deserves a position in the aerospace industry and I'm doing all I can to secure her one that will be better than she lost," and has "talked to the folks that had to do with her internship and made absolutely certain that there will be no black mark on her record."

I sent HH an email out of the blue a few years ago with my thoughts on why the space shuttle was not a good design, and he was kind enough to write a nice reply. So I've always thought well of him.

Things like him replying are what fosters future scientists/thinkers IMO. Passion should be nurtured.

Would it be ok to ask you your thoughts about the space shuttle? Is that weird? I really apologize if so.

I told him that obviously the critical expense of getting to orbit was weight. (Of course, I didn't actually tell him anything he didn't know.) Wings, rudder and landing gear are heavy and expensive and are only useful for the last few seconds of flight. All that dead weight did was subtract from what the machine could do in orbit. I said the only thing one really needed to bring back was the crew, and an Apollo capsule would do just fine for that.

He agreed, and said he'd argued similarly.

Musk had an even better idea. Bring the ordinary booster rocket back without wings, rudder, or landing gear by using a bit of extra fuel at the last moment to kiss the landing pad rather than smash it. That empty tin balloon of a booster isn't going to fall that fast or need that much fuel to do it.

Right on, I appreciate it. I can't believe even HH was arguing for this stuff and NASA was just like 'eh'.

I don't like Elon, his methods, or his companies, but I am grateful for the progress his engineers have wrought!

Also have you seen the launches in person? Here we have some that look like glowing floating balls of plasma. When SpaceX was first doing tests everyone was outside thinking it was aliens or a bomb, it was that far outside anything people had ever seen before.

I like Elon, his methods, and his companies. He's a grown up Tom Swift. If he was a science fiction character, I'd dismiss him as unbelievable. I hope he gets to Mars before I run out of time.

I can definitely appreciate that. Maybe I should restrict my feelings to the man himself and not his job and his companies.

I met him while I was in high school and spent an hour or so talking to him with a few other students. Great guy!

One the one hand it's sad, on the other hand I understand why they did it. Astronauts are, for better or worse, the public face and PR of NASA, which is a an agency subject to social and political winds of the times, but has for the most part placed itself apolitically and kept astronauts as heroes that both sides can agree on (as long as we can forget a short period where adult diapers where in the public consciousness).

The thing that makes it such and achievement (that it's a select group of exceptional people) is also the thing that puts extra expectations on how you can act or what you can be involved in. It might be better if it were not that way, but the reality is that astronauts are not chosen based on skill and capability alone.

Perhaps they're chosen for their ability to cuss like a sailor in the cockpit? (John Young and Gene Cernan both served in the navy)


Thomas Stafford drops plenty of F-bombs in the Apollo–Soyuz mission transcripts too, which are faithfully recorded in the NASA archives for posterity.

The Apollo 10 transcripts are an absolute gem.

During lunar orbit, they discovered a rogue poop floating in the cabin [1]:

> Stafford: Who did it? (Laughter)

> Cernan: Where did that come from?

> Stafford: Give me a napkin quick, there's a turd floating through the air.

> Young: I didn't do it. It ain't one of mine.

> Cernan: I don't think it's one of mine.

> Stafford: Mine was a little more sticky than that. Throw that away.

> Young: God almighty.

> Stafford: What do you see?

> Young: Nothing, that's enough for me.

> Cernan: Yes.

> Young: Nice going there.

> Cernan: No more turds are going to fit in there.

> Stafford: Is that waste compartment full?

> Young: No, hell; there's nothing in there.

> Cernan: It goes all the way down to the...

> Cernan: Hell, when I got in there, I had to stick my hand in there and [garble] - He put it in the bag, didn't he? You guys been trying to stick it through there with your fingers?

A few more choice quotes [2]:

> Stafford: [Garble] about that ascent stage. You know that? [Garble] son of a bitch [garble] screwed, you know? But that son of a bitch - John?

> Young: [Garble] burn [garble] God. What the hell is this shit? What? What is that crap those things [garble]? [Garble] putting my [garble].

> Young: Oh, what a life, being a spaceman. Wish I could have been a professor or something.

John Young was also the star of another great moment in NASA history, when he smuggled a corned beef sandwich onboard Gemini III [3]:

> Grissom: What is that?

> Young: Corn beef sandwich

> Grissom: Where did that come from?

> Young: I brought it with me. Let's see how it tastes. Smells, doesn't it?

> Grissom: Yes, it's breaking up. I'm going to stick it in my pocket.

> Young: Is it? It was a thought, anyway.

> Grissom: Yep

> Young: Not a very good one.

> Grissom: Pretty good, though, if it would just hold together.

[1] https://history.nasa.gov/afj/ap10fj/as10-day6-pt28.html

[2] https://history.nasa.gov/afj/ap10fj/as10-day6-pt27.html

[3] https://historycollection.jsc.nasa.gov/JSCHistoryPortal/hist... (page 45)

Oh my God I'm crying! I had no idea these even existed, thanks for the reading material.

Not a lot you can do once they're already in space, yeah?

I bet you there was some PR person at NASA cussing them out when they heard/saw those too.

As for being faithfully archived, well we already have enough moon landing conspiracists without giving them more "evidence" of stuff being hidden during space missions.

I like these stories, but I think this is more a hallmark of a bygone era. If I remember correctly, the average age of NASA during Apollo was mid-twenties. Now (at least in certain orgs within the agency) it’s nearly double that

>Astronauts are, for better or worse, the public face and PR of NASA

She was selected for a student internship, not for training in the astronaut corps

It's all related, and just a matter of magnitude. NASA is very specific about how they want their employees representing themselves when it reflects on the agency.

I'm not saying it's justified, but I don't doubt they're overly cautious by nature and if they have a chance to remove a risk prior to any real investment, they're more likely to take that route.

It’s not really different than other companies outside of astronauts and some people working in, say, educational outreach. For the vast number of employees, there’s no sort of restrictions or even discussions about what’s said outside of the legal concerns (e.g., using NASA titles to convey a position of agency, Hatch act, etc.)

The real mistake here is was made by a potential intern who was not yet hired. It’s like making a mistake on probation, you likely have very little recourse. It’s completely different for regular civilian employees

>Astronauts are, for better or worse, the public face and PR of NASA, which is a an agency subject to social and political winds of the times,

And having someone with the demeanor of Cardi B on the team would be bad for their PR mission how?

Because they've always marketed astronauts as paragons of virtue and skill, and something that any parent would be happy to have their child strive for. As soon as any one of them behaves in a way that any of those parents may disagree with, they're dirtying that public image in the eyes of some.

NASA is obviously acutely aware of how precarious their funding often is, so walks a fine line in an attempt to make the only critique against them purely budgetary and not political. Like it or not, showing too much personality allows one side or the other to start positioning you as a piece for or against their agenda (and of course the other side will take the opposite stance), making it a political issue even if it's ridiculous to think of it as so.

>attempt to make the only critique against them purely budgetary and not political.they're dirtying that public image in the eyes of some.

Yet they drew plenty of non-budgetary criticism for rescinding her internship, so it doesn't seem like that worked out for them.

NASA has far more astronauts than it needs. During the Shuttle era, they had about 150 and they were busy. Today, they have about 44. A few of them get to go to the Space Station on Space-X rockets.

Right now, there are no astronauts in training, although they are starting a new group in December from people who applied early this year. Not because they need more, but because they need younger ones.

If you want to go to Mars, you're probably better off going to Space-X.

Russia is sending a film director and actress to the ISS on October 5th.

Yeah, would you look at that. One of them got a BS Forbes article written about herself. This is wild.

What do you think the deal is here? Social climber parents who believe their own BS? Kid wants to make it as an influencer and this is just a handy, vacant persona to step into?

Two of the most prominent of them started when they were pre-teens so I'm guessing a parent was pushing them, perhaps to live their dreams vicariously though their child. But as they got older, it should have been clear to the teens, especially when they got to college, that they were part of a deception. Guess once you're on the world stage, it's hard to step out of the spotlight and go back to being just another face in the crowd, especially if you've never been just another face in the crowd. As the media's attention moves on to someone else, there's a good chance they're going to suffer some crushing psychological harm.

Yeah, I'm sure there's some sort of psychological reckoning to be had there.

There was a recent in-depth thread on avweb about teen girls trying to fly around the world in small planes.

Besides the ones who have died (Dubroff, etc.), it turns out none had the training to reasonably attempt the flight.


Besides the high risk to themselves, those flights involve SAR from various nations and often flow and landings at large airports with airliners, which those entities never asked to get involved with.

As an aside, the US Navy ended up searching for Amelia Earhart, so that shows the disruption of these flights.


This news outlet ANI seems to have done no research at all into these claims before publishing the story. According to their statement they did not contact NASA until the 26th, a week after publishing the original story. Only then did every detail fall apart:

- NASA never accepted a paper from the girl, and the screenshots shown were authored by IJSER which could have been Googled to show that they will accept anything

- The certificates shown in the original story were obviously fake not just in appearance but the names and positions from the people at NASA do not exist, like "President & CEO" of NASA, which could have been Googled

- NASA never gave any funding to the girl, so even the basic idea of the story that has a paid job with NASA is false, let alone the claim that they were paying for her to come to the US

They only contacted NASA a week after publication, and now they insist that "a large part of her story is verified and authentic" and rests all the blame on the girl saying "she duped us." I can't help but feel that this national story would have never existed if the publication did their jobs, a story that will now follow the girl as long as people remember this.

Children have vivid imaginations and often haven't quite figured out that dreaming about something isn't enough to make it happen. That the news agency would try to shift blame on to her is disgusting. Children some up with stories about their imagined life all the time, what kind of journalist takes a child's story, especially about the extraordinary, as questionable fact?

> a story that will now follow the girl as long as people remember this.

Which will be forever, as the Internet never quite forgets. Or she’ll change her name.

I grew up in India until the age of 18. I remember that NASA's brand name was so strong that frequently it was claimed to be an Indian-run US agency. Our science teacher would tell us how NASA is comprised of 90% Indian immigrants. This was in late 90's. The tone was to not be scournful of NASA, but instead of pride. Indians feel proud of NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) that have left the nation for better - from Scientists to CEOs. I don't mean to offend anyone but this was a first hand experience growing up in India.

That's fascinating that NASA has developed such a reputation in India, especially when India has their own full-fledged space program. I watched Chandrayaan-2's descent and nearly teared up watching the controllers observe and process the failure. I can understand pride people have for successful NRIs, but India is a country with such potential, that it makes me hope the country's best will aspire to work at the IRSO, if they don't already.

Due to our Colonial history, the hankering for "International Recognition" is very strong in Indians. NASA has been turned into a "Brand Name" and bright (not necessarily qualified) kids want the stamp. Hence lacking accessibility/resources/education they can only invent an imaginary persona for themselves and advertise it with the Internet. To them it is more akin to status posturing/posing within a group. With the rise of Social Media it has gotten much much worse since there is no longer any difference between "Fame" and "Notoriety"; everybody wants to be "Noticed" and become an "Influenzer".

PS: One of my classmates(an average student) from college had a interest in Astrophysics and would often checkout the books of Arthur Eddington/John Wheeler etc. It was evident that he was fascinated by it but simply wasn't suited/qualified to read much less understand it.

I agree with this characterization. I understand the allure and the intent was perhaps use NASA branding as a tool to inspire kids in the classroom. I was certainly inspired at the time. However, I do think there are better ways to do this than make up stories and statistics.

> it was claimed to be an Indian-run US agency. Our science teacher would tell us how NASA is comprised of 90% Indian immigrants.

If they were proud about that, wait until they hear about ISRO! Especially their first mission to Mars. [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Orbiter_Mission

In late 2000s the 'figure' was down to 30%. I don't know why.

I feel this is a little harsh. There are plenty of wealthy or politically connected or just very charismatic people in the US that do the same thing. I can think of 5 peers that followed a similar path. Not at this scale, as far as I know, but slimy. Using one kind of power to gain influence in acadamia. Heck, there are plenty of buildings built to get kids into US institutions. But it cuts both ways, if I recall correctly a Yale couldn't get into the university which bore his name, and wound up going to Saudi Arabia on behalf of standard oil.

Proof of education is really hard. Some people can just do the work, Ramanujan or Einstein might be a good example. Some people fake it, and do good work. I don't have a great example for this, but I'd guess 20% of post docs feel like they're in this category. Most people just grind it out.

I think academia is in a tough spot. It appears to beat people into submission around academic honesty. That's not great, but at least sorta effective for enforcing the rules.

I guess the only takeaway I can offer is, if you have the opportunity to play poker with advanced academics, you should take the chance. They're super smart, and super dangerous. But they've also got some big blind spots, and no interest in fixing them.

> Heck, there are plenty of buildings built to get kids into US institutions.

My grandfather used to be an admissions tutor at Cambridge (in the UK), and he always fondly remembered telling various people "thank you very much for donating to build us a new library, and, by the way, your son didn't get in".

That was probably true in the U.S. even 40 years ago. But that time has passed.

Good on your Grandpa! Lots of historical systems only work because the whole system is trustworthy. I imagine it would take some serious courage in any of Cambridge's 800+ years to rub a petite bourgeoisie's nose in their attempted bribe.

Haha, it ran in the family. His brother ran Rio Tinto's operations, I think it was in Africa, and he would constantly be receiving gold watches and other gifts in the post, which he diligently sent back.

I think in that day and age, you were raised with this kind of Platonic education in how to use your power responsibly. One downside of increasing social mobility and introducing more of a meritocracy is that we haven't introduced a replacement for the humanistic education which instilled those ideals in people.

Edit to add: It does go the other way too. I know of someone whose dad was Rothermere, who owns the Daily Mail and perhaps some other newspapers. He was pulled in by the master of an Oxford college shortly before his son graduated, and told (with a nod and a wink) that he would be wise to continue his funding of various scholarships, since they knew he had another son who was nearing university age.

I think it's just hard. a few hundred people will sort themselves out into a structure. Monarchy was unquestionably shitty, but it was a really great path to say, I work for a guy who works for a guy who works for a guy who works for the king, and by Devine right, you have to pay taxes. Some random person has the authority and responsibility to do X. Corporations pretty much work this way with a king (or a queen) and a court of advisors.

We haven't quite figured out how to organize 100 million or a billion people. I think the UK made some fantastic improvements. Parliament is a little ridiculous but an improvement over god said The king is anointed by god, so his blood is special and can make decisions by Devine right.

I think the US did a little better, requiring less trust. I think our system is fraying, but maybe we can find a patch. Adams was a notorious smuggler, how much corruption can you tolerate when you put that kind of person in power?

Corruption is a thing that we live with, I don't think it can be cut out of the hearts of man. Maybe we can set things up in such a way that is survivable even if a random official doesn't have the pride and honor of your grandfather.

If it was easy, it wouldn't be a problem. I don't have an answer. If I were you I'd be proud of your family. They sound like the kind of folks that, in their eyes, do their best to do the right thing.

"Guns, Germs and Steel" has a very succinct take on the origins of this: while people are hunter-gatherers, everyone contributes to food and decision making, and the entire focus is on the immediate needs of the present. As soon as agriculture is invented, people settle in one place, not everyone now needs to be involved in food production so there is a labour surplus and people can start to specialise in eg crafts (pottery, metallurgy). This is the point at which civilisation can kick in, but it is also the point at which you get kings and priests, who are like the craft specialists in that they are fed by the community, but unlike the craft specialists they don't actually create anything useful in return. In my mind it's a form of parasitism that will inevitably spring up spontaneously once any human society reaches that point.

Yup, we share this issue with India and probably most of the world. The rural/urban divide is also something of a global problem. Education was tough to come by before the internet made it into the woods.

You're poker comment's right on. I have a bright family. Plenty of doctorates and but most went into industry, not academia. The blind spots are still there.

>> Never mind that US citizenship is a prerequisite for working at NASA.

No. It is far more complicated than that. Plenty of non-Americans work at NASA. Most are paid by other agencies or are in complicated contractor roles, but they are working in the same spaces at NASA. Such people have been a large part of the program since the very early days.

"In April 1959, the “brilliant and professional” Canadians, who made up a third of the Space Task Group, arrived at the Langley Research Center in Virginia to begin their new careers. [...] One of those brilliant engineers was a man from Kamloops, B.C. named Jim Chamberlin."



"he is often cited as an example of Canadian brain drain to the U.S. In the early 1960s, he was one of the key people that proposed and moved that Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) was the best option for landing a crew on the Moon"

A lot of ITAR-restricted roles require being a US citizen or green card holder.

> "In April 1959, the “brilliant and professional” Canadians, who made up a third of the Space Task Group, arrived at the Langley Research Center in Virginia to begin their new careers. [...] One of those brilliant engineers was a man from Kamloops, B.C. named Jim Chamberlin."

Not sure where they got the "third" figure. That sounds a little over the top. And it neglects that a lot of them were also American Citizens to begin with.

What's interesting is that it wasn't really a brain drain: Canada decided to stop it's domestic airplane program and all these engineers were pretty much out of a job.

Same thing is happening today to the Canadian aerospace sector with the CSeries saga. Trudeau immediately bowed down to Trump when tariffs were imposed, despite later being thrown out in courts. All he did was to basically threaten to not buy Boeing fighter jets and instead get f35 from Lockheed (which he was contractually obligated to anyways). No support for the industry, nothing. And that was for a flagship prestige technological project.

I still don't understand why he reacted so submissively to Trump. Having the CSeries sold to Airbus at a huge discount was foolish: The plane already had a profitable amount of orders. Now Europeans are reaping the benefits.

My wife and I had an odd experience when we visited India several years ago. We met a lot of children, and many of the girls, approx 10 or 12 years old, were full of questions to my wife about her career -- what did she do for a living, how did she get to become a professional, what kind of school? Whereas anywhere else, kids are just kids and interested in kids things, girls everywhere we visited there were concerned about their future jobs. It was a little depressing. It seems there is a lot of pressure on children, maybe especially on girls, in India? That seems supported by the stories in this article as well.

This is not limited to India. In many countries with not great records on women's rights, dramatically more women go into STEM. Female participation rate in CS programs in Thailand with 55%, Guyana with 54%, Malaysia with 51%, Iran with 41%, Zimbabwe with 41%, and Mexico with 39%.


The US was at 26% a few years ago, and it's gone down since then.

It is hard for me to relate with the cut-throat culture of many Asian countries, but every time I read articles like these - it strikes me that there are a lot of very smart and very hard-working people in said Asian countries - but many of them simply can not afford to luxury of following their passion - even after getting accepted to some prestigious school, because the goal is to maximize ROI.

Then again, I'm from a wealthy western country with practically zero poverty and little classism - so what seems to me like a total rat race, and lots of wasted talent, is probably perfectly normal to others. So you end up with people that are probably smart and drive, but still seek out BS like this - just to get ahead of the competition.

> a wealthy western country with practically zero poverty and little classism

If you don't mind me asking, which country is that?

Actually I remember a similar case a couple of years ago here in Greece. A woman lied about various scientific credentials and even claimed that she worked for NASA (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleni_Antoniadou).

The problem with that case is not only that she lied, but that everybody blindly believed her without checking any of her claims. She was interviewed by the media, was awarded various awards (for her "research") and was invited as a member to scientific comittees! They even made a barbie dοll modeled on her! Even more outrageous was that the greek gonvermnent and government-controlled media used her as an example of achievement to pass some kind of funny "being the best (αριστεία in greek)" agenda.

When I was kid my dream I was to be NASA engineer.. from kindergarten to high school if you asked me what you wanted to do I would say work for NASA building rockets!!. Heck no joke I am wearing a shirt right now I got Kennedy space center with all the shuttle's on it. We were visiting Disney world when the last shuttle was on the Launchpad. Convinced them to drive out for the day to check out. Got vip tour and everything best thing ever. Then I read up more about the challenger diaster and was heartbroken. Swore off NASA except for JPL. Thought about working for SpaceX but did not want suffer under them. I am really hoping by the time I am 50 or so I can pay to do a few Orbits around the world. I would pay atleast 100k of today money for it.

I think all these fake NASA geniuses in India happens because of competitive pressure. Score 99% in exams is not good enough anymore, you have to standout. And what better way to standout as an exceptional student by claim that you are a NASA genius.

Even small time/low tier colleges in India are creating fake "NASA Challenges" to boost student intake and their bottom lines.

Yes, we do see these "prodigies" pop up from time to time in India. Reminds me of Ankit Fadia[0] from the 2000s and more recently of "Drone" Prathap[1]. These charlatans get their airtime mostly because of severe lack of due diligence by media.



I worked for NASA, and, having gotten to know myself quite well, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

"There are few resources on the ground, and especially outside of major cities, for students who are keen to pursue different fields of study like astronomy and astrophysics."

There are no jobs in AY, either. Even at Caltech, the AY students knew that there were no jobs in it upon graduation. Hence, they were double majors, AY for fun and another for a job.

If you still really want a job in AY, a more realistic approach would be to first become a cryptocurrency billionaire, then use the money to fund your own orbiting space telescope.

This is such a sad story. The TL;DR version is that people outside the cities of India seek to improve their standing in life by asserting scientific prowess and lying about their achievements. In the US a similar effect can be seen by people cheating on standardized tests, and faking their "origin story" to get accepted into "good" Universities.

What is sad is that people could be doing the work that their lying implies but they don't. And that seems tied to the expectations set for them which value "scores" over "ability."

My daughter in grade school conspired with a friend to cheat on a test. I found out about it and was really angry with her. We sat down and I tried to patiently explain that I didn't care if she got B's and C's and D's if she had actually worked to learn the material. And if the material wasn't understandable to come to me and we would brainstorm and implement ideas that would try to break through that impenetrability. That experience helped shut down misconceptions that my "pride" in my kids was because they scored highly on tests, and replaced it with an understanding that what I was proud of was how much they had learned and how much effort they put into that understanding.

That leads to the second thing which saddens me about this article is that the "problem" of praising scores over abilities and effort is with the parents and not the children. An outreach program to parents is unlikely to succeed if they are of the mindset "Well the other parents are going to cheat and their children will get the top spots while my child tries to get their honestly? No way, I'm not a sucker."

I've known people who put so much effort into cheating that it would have been easier for them to just do the work required to get there honestly.

That reminds me of the kid in Florida who's gotten busted three or four times after setting up and running his own medical clinic as a fake MD. He even billed insurances. It takes a lot of work to set up your own clinic! It makes me wonder if he applied himself to academics instead of the fraud if he would have been able to get into and graduate med school. https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/state/fake-teen-doctor-ar...

In my case, I am a high school dropout with a GED, and a bit of tech school. I've looked up a lot of noses, during my career.

I've never hidden the fact, but also never made a big deal of it (until now, because I am no longer looking for work). I don't mind saying it, because it may help folks that are struggling, to power through the bad times, and help folks who want to hate me, to have something to latch onto (you're welcome).

If you don't have educational cred, people treat you like garbage. I can understand why folks would do the "stolen valor" thing. I also think it's idiotic. You'll get called on your BS, sooner or later. Even if you never do, you’ll spend your whole life, looking over your shoulder.

I’ve never claimed qualifications that I can’t back up, but I also have a great deal of very real material, available to peruse[0]. The fact that almost no one ever actually looks at it, tells me that it’s fairly easy to slide by, on BS. I’m an awful liar, so it’s important that I have something to show. It’s funny, when people actually start looking at my work, I get very surprised reactions. They just assumed I was idly boasting. That sort of makes me sad. I feel like Integrity and personal Honor are anachronistic.

In my case, I'm smarter than the average bear. I've also got a real knee-jerk reaction to being bullied and challenged. It helped me to power through the shitstorms. The best way to get me to do good work, is tell me that I'm not worthy. I'll master the job, just to shove it down your gob. I feel that all the adversity helped me to be a top-shelf engineer. I could never convince anyone before the fact. I had to present people with fait accompli; which also means that I’ve had a lot of my work shitcanned. That which does not kill you, leaves you weak and exhausted, or something…

I'm not 100% sure what the answer is. Maybe if education could partner more with vocation. I'm not bitter for not getting a chance at an Ivy-League school, like my older siblings (I actually did quite well, despite); but I know that my path would have been a lot smoother, with the sheepskin. I credit the redneck tech school that I attended for teaching me some serious work ethic, and that was probably the best education I had.

Almost everything I have learned in my career has been since leaving school (and it's still going on, now).

[0] https://stackoverflow.com/story/chrismarshall

I've known a number of people who either had only a GED or a high school diploma who were amazingly talented. The flip side of exam based evaluation practiced by Universities is the work based evaluations practiced by trade unions. I had a summer job where I got to work with some masons who constantly amazed me with their skill, their depth of knowledge, and the quality of their work. And none of them had more than a high school education and at least one had immigrated with about an 8th grade education.

I have similarly worked with both software and hardware engineers who developed their skills entirely self taught and I have always felt that a trade union approach could be a good way to both hone one's craft and eliminate the shenanigans that goes on with degree comparisons.

The current state of affairs, especially with regard to software and qualifications, does not feel tenable long term. I would hire a high school drop out who was a software journeyman over someone who lied and cheated their way through a four year degree program any day of the week. But we don't have such programs yet.

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