The scientist behind the black hole photo was attacked by sexist trolls, and her male colleague was not having it
When a team of scientists released the first-ever image of a black hole on April 10th, the history-making picture spread across the internet like wildfire. It didn’t take long, however, for news to break that a 29-year-old scientist named Dr. Katie Bouman had played a key role in developing the image. And—unfortunately—this also means sexist trolls soon came out in full force.
To recap, Bouman led the development of an algorithm that helped compile the final image. She started work on the project three years ago as a graduate student, and she was one of 200 scientists working on the team that released the picture of the black hole. Her role was crucial to the project, but she made sure to note that it was a team effort, telling CNN: “No one of us could’ve done it alone.”
However, some online are arguing that Bouman got credit that she didn’t deserve, claiming on Reddit that a white male Harvard graduate student named Andrew Chael “wrote 850,000 out of the 900,000 lines of code in the historic black-hole algorithm.” Chael took to Twitter on April 12th to clear up these misconceptions and to defend Bouman. In a thread, he wrote that he was the primary developer of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) imaging library, a fact that some are using “to launch awful and sexist attacks” on his colleague.
Chael clarified that the black hole image used three different imaging libraries, and stressed that Bouman’s contributions were incredibly important to its completion. He noted that the project, as a whole, was a team effort.
"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," he added. "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. Together, we all make each other's work better; the number of commits doesn't tell the full story of who was indispensable."
He further explained that while Bouman’s attackers have credited him with writing “850,000 lines of code,” much of that was in model files—not the final product. He noted that the final software consisted of about 68,000 lines of code and wrote, “I don’t care how many of those I personally authored.”
We applaud Chael for standing up for his colleague, and we hope the trolls get the message loud and clear now.