Sexist Trolls Undermine Katherine Bouman's Role In Black Hole Image

Katie Bouman is a postdoctoral fellow with the Event Horizon Telescope. She has gained overnight fame because of her significant contributions to bringing the world's first image of a black hole.   ( California Institute of Technology )

Many people were excited about the very first image of a black hole, as well as about the young woman who was instrumental to capturing it. But just as fast as Katherine Bouman’s fame came overnight, so did the trolls who tried to undermine her role in the feat, passing all credit onto a colleague of hers in the Event Horizon Telescope team, Andrew Chael, who happens to be a white male.

But the trolls picked the wrong scientists to mess with, and Chael quickly fought back.

Sexist Internet Trolls

This past week, people worldwide were awed with the very first image ever taken of a black hole. Not only that, Bouman, the 29-year-old postdoctoral fellow who is a part of the team who worked hard to capture the image, also became famous overnight because of her contribution to the scientific breakthrough.

However, just as soon as her fame came, so did sexist internet trolls. Memes comparing Bouman and Chael immediately surfaced on Twitter and on Reddit, suggesting that it was actually Chael who was key to the algorithm, but he was not getting any credit for it. In fact, it was even suggested that Chael wrote 850,000 of the 900,000 lines of code in the algorithm.

Team Effort

Even for Chael, it was clear that his name was being used to push a sexist agenda, and he immediately went to Twitter to defend Bouman’s work. In a Twitter thread, Chael clarified that the numbers in the misleading posts were wrong, and that they were exaggerated.

He defended Bouman, saying that her work was as vital to achieve their goal as the work of many other members of the team. He also criticized those who used his name to push a sexist agenda, especially in a field that is already dominated by males. Furthermore, Chael notes that as an openly gay man, he, too, is underrepresented in the field.

Earlier this week, Bouman has also stated that it was not just one person who was responsible for the image, but a whole team of talented people who have been working hard for years.

Despite the backlash, Chael hopes that Bouman’s contribution to the effort will inspire other women to pursue astrophysics and astronomy.

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