Black Hole Scientist Defends Female Colleague Against Sexist Trolls

Science

After sexist social media trolls tried to diminish the role of computer scientist Katie Bouman in capturing this week’s first-ever image of a black hole by claiming a male colleague did most of the work, that coworker blasted them in a now-viral Twitter thread.

Harvard graduate student Andrew Chael, a member of the international team that took the historic photo, stood up for Bouman Thursday night against the sexist smears, explaining that her work was key to developing an algorithm for capturing the image.

“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 set the record straight, explaining that Bouman, an assistant professor at Caltech, helped develop the algorithm while a postdoctoral fellow at MIT. He praised her “as an example of women’s leadership” in science and technology fields.

“While I wrote much of the code for one of these pipelines, Katie was a huge contributor to the software,” Chael explained. “It would have never worked without her contributions and the work of many others.”

Over 200 scientists worked on the Event Horizon Telescope, a global collaboration that captured the black hole image.

Chael debunked the claim that he wrote “850,000 lines of code,” explaining that “many of those ‘lines’” are taken from existing “model files.”

“There are about 68,000 lines in the current software, and I don’t care how many of those I personally authored,” he wrote.

Chael suggested in his Twitter thread that the sexist trolls appear to have picked him as a prop to support their false narrative.

“It was clearly started by people who were upset that a woman had become the face of this story and decided, ‘I’m going to find someone who reflects my narrative instead,’” Chael told The Washington Post Friday.

He added that it “was ironic that they chose me,” because, as a gay man, he is also part of an underrepresented group in the field of science.

“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,” Chael wrote. “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.”

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