Internet trolls undermine role of female scientist in black hole photo

When internet trolls tried to detract from Katherine Bouman’s rise to stardom for her part in creating the first image of a black hole, her colleague quickly shut them down.

Bouman, 29, created one of the algorithms that led to the groundbreaking black hole image. She also helped develop the imaging and verification process.

However, a nasty corner of the internet tried to downplay Bouman’s role and started spreading posts claiming that Andrew Chael — a white male scientist — was actually the mastermind behind the project.

The misleading posts, on Reddit and Twitter, said Chael alone had authored “850,000 of the 900,000 lines of code that were written in the historic black-hole image algorithm!”

However, the effort quickly backfired.

Though it may have been nice to receive more recognition, Chael immediately took to Twitter to explain that the online trolls had exaggerated his contributions, and he defended Bouman’s work. In addition, Chael said that as an openly gay man, he is also an underrepresented demographic in STEM.

“Once I realized that many online commentators were using my name and image to advance a sexist agenda to claim that Katie’s leading role in our global team was invented, I felt I should say something to make it clear I rejected that view,” Chael told CNN.

Chael disputed the incorrect posts

“I did not write “850,000 lines of code” — many of those “lines” tracked by github are in model files,” Chael said in his tweets. “There are about 68,000 lines in the current software, and I don’t care how many of those I personally authored.”

The Harvard University graduate student also criticized the sexist attacks against his colleague, especially when science is such a male-dominated field.

“While I appreciate the congratulations on a result that I worked hard on for years, if you are congratulating me because you have a sexist vendetta against Katie, please go away and reconsider your priorities in life,” Chael wrote.

Chael wrote the code for one of three scripted code pipelines that scientists used to transform telescope data into a coherent image.

He hopes Bouman’s story inspires more women to seek out opportunities in radio astronomy.

“I still recognize that we as a collaboration and a field have work to do to build that representation ourselves,” Chael told CNN.

Bouman has emphasized collaboration

Though Bouman has received a lot of attention, she has maintained that the black hole image was the product of teamwork.

“No one of us could’ve done it alone,” Bouman told CNN. “It came together because of lots of different people from many backgrounds.”

The Event Horizon Telescope project was composed of an international team of more than 200 researchers.