Sexist trolls on Twitter and other social media platforms tried to create a false narrative around female scientist Katie Bouman's contributions to the historic event

April 12, 2019 08:15 PM

After scientists released the first-ever image of a black hole on Wednesday, Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old computer scientist, quickly became a social media darling for her part in the historic event.

Bouman created the algorithm that made it possible to assemble the photo, according to the Washington Post, and is a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She had been working on the algorithm for almost six years, beginning when she was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed,” Bouman wrote on social media of the image, which shows a black hole outlined by emission from hot gas swirling near its event horizon.

But as Bouman’s role in the photograph became publicized, a group of Internet trolls tried to discredit her by pushing the narrative that Andrew Chael, a male scientist on the team, had more to do with the project, CNN reported. Chael should instead be receiving the praise instead of her, they believed.

According to the outlet, the trolls pushed social media posts that claimed Chael had solely written “850,000 of the 900,000 lines of code” that helped to create the image.

That’s when Chael fought back.

“So apparently some (I hope very few) people online are using the fact that I am the primary developer of the eht-imaging software library… to launch awful and sexist attacks on my colleague and friend Katie Bouman,” Chael wrote in a Twitter thread on Thursday, before adding, “Stop.”

“Our papers used three independent imaging software libraries (including one developed by my friend @sparse_k),” he continued. “While I wrote much of the code for one of these pipelines, Katie was a huge contributor to the software; it would have never worked without her contributions and the work of many others who wrote code, debugged, and figured out how to use the code on challenging EHT data.”

Chael continued to set the record straight — saying that the code for the image software only contained 68,000 lines and not “850,000,” as the trolls tried to assert.

“So while I appreciate the congratulations on a result that I worked hard on for years,” he added. “If you are congratulating me because you have a sexist vendetta against Katie, please go away and reconsider your priorities in life. Otherwise, stick around — I hope to start tweeting more about black holes and other subjects I am passionate about — including space, being a gay astronomer, Ursula K. Le Guin, architecture, and musicals.”

RELATED: Internet Hilariously Reacts to First-Ever Black Hole Photo: ‘The Literal Embodiment of Evil’

After putting the trolls in their place, Chael said he hoped all of the discussion around black holes and Bouman will inspire other women to take up studying fields encompassing science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

“I’m thrilled Katie is getting recognition for her work and that she’s inspiring people as an example of women’s leadership in STEM. I’m also thrilled she’s pointing out that this was a team effort including contributions from many junior scientists, including many women junior scientists,” he wrote. “Together, we all make each other’s work better; the number of commits doesn’t tell the full story of who was indispensable.”

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