This newspaper article from sundaytimes.lk quotes a statement made by a politician in Sri Lanka.

Among the 2,400 scientists at NASA, 263 scientists are Sri Lankan nationals according to Minister of Science, Professor Tissa Vitharana.

Can anybody confirm this? (How to verify this?)

  • 1
    According to the Times of India, 36% are from India.
    – gerrit
    Dec 11, 2012 at 15:15
  • If we assume both of these claims true that would leave around 1300 scientists from all the other countries!
    – CRoshanLG
    Dec 12, 2012 at 3:12
  • 4
    NASA is a US government agency and almost exclusively employs US Citizens. So there are almost certainly not 263 Sri Lankan nationals working for NASA. However NASA also collaborates extensively with foreign agencies, so there may well be a lot of Sri Lankans working at NASA. Dec 13, 2012 at 21:45
  • 1
    @DJClayworth: I know little about the US and Sri Lankan Citizenship laws, but is dual citizenship a possible explanation?
    – Oddthinking
    Apr 7, 2015 at 4:08
  • Maybe NASA has a tracking station in Sri Lanka ... and hires Sri Lankan nationals to man it?
    – GEdgar
    May 13, 2017 at 12:38

1 Answer 1


This is almost certainly not true.

Let's start with basic information, the self-identities ethnicity of NASA employees. Fortunately this was measured for us as part of a diversity survey. Here are the 2015 results.

The graph of ethnicity is a few screens down and shows that around 7% are of Asian ethnicity (what a native Sri Lankan would count as). Clearly this debunks both the Sri Lankan and Indian claims. Note that the claim of Sri Lankan or Indian nationality is narrower than the ethnicity measure. Someone born in the US to one or even two Sri Lankan or Indian parents might claim Asian ethnicity but probably not that nationality.

There is a small possibility of discrepancy in that the survey is of all NASA employees, which would include non-scientists. NASA employees around 18,000 people, not the 2,400 claimed. It is theoretically possible that Sri Lankans or Indians are massively overrepresented in the scientist group. It would however be extremely implausible.

  • 1
    I'm not sure it's extremely implausible. 7% of 18,000 is 1260; the claimed figure of 263 is 20% of that. I don't think it's particularly far-fetched to think that a fifth of the people of Asian ethnicity working for NASA are scientists. (Now, Sri Lankan specifically...)
    – mattdm
    May 14, 2017 at 16:11
  • Sri Lankan specifically is the claim. May 14, 2017 at 16:15
  • 1
    Yeah, the claim seems unlikely on its face, but I think there's room within the numbers you give for it to be better than "extremely implausible".
    – mattdm
    May 14, 2017 at 16:18
  • I'm sticking with the stronger wording because while the figure of 263 is remotely plausible, the claim has an implied percentage (263/2400) which is absolutely not plausible. May 14, 2017 at 16:22
  • 1
    IMO what makes this of dubious relevance is that there may be a much higher proportion of Asians among NASA's scientists than among employees-as-a-whole? The OP is claiming that 11% of the scientists are of Sri Lankan nationality (not "ethnicity", by the way). Who knows, but is the data you gave consistent with the possibility that 60% of all the scientists are of Asian ethnicity?
    – ChrisW
    May 14, 2017 at 18:56

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