Online trolls hijack the image of a scientist to attack Katie Bouman; They choose the wrong astrophysicist

While the world was staring this week at the first image of a black hole, a new star was born here on Earth: Katherine Bouman, 29, a postdoctoral researcher who developed an algorithm that was key to capturing the impressive visual image.

However, in the ugly corners of the Internet, this sudden fame for a young woman in a field dominated by men could not be sustained. Quickly a corrective was found in Andrew Chael, another member of the Horizon Telescope team of the event, which is white and masculine.

On Reddit and Twitter, the memes quickly went viral comparing Bouman with Chael, who, according to the viral images, was actually responsible for "850,000 of the 900,000 lines of code that were written in the historic black hole imaging algorithm! " The implication was clear: Bouman, driven by a news medium driven by the agenda, was receiving all the attention, but Chael had done all the real work.

That's completely wrong, Chael said Thursday night in a Viral Twitter thread of your own. The affirmations in the meme are not only incorrect, but Chael, as an openly gay man, is also part of a demographic that is not well represented in his field.

"While I appreciate the congratulations for a result that I worked hard for years, if you congratulate me because you have a badist vendetta against Katie, please go and reconsider your priorities in life," he wrote.

It is not clear exactly when or where the reaction against Bouman began. Chael learned about it from friends who alerted him to a Reddit publication. A publication on the r / pics subreddit attracted hundreds of comments and thousands of "upvotes" before it was removed, and many criticized Bouman in his charge, said Chael, 28, a graduate student in the department of physics at Harvard University As one commentator complained, "Katie has been stuck everywhere as responsible for the code, but if this guy did almost all the work, it seems a bit horrible that he is not recognized."

"It clearly started when people were upset because a woman had become the face of this story and decided:" I will find someone to reflect my narrative, "Chael said in an interview with The Washington Post.

The identical memes spread quickly through Twitter, where one response was: "Andrew Chael did 90% of the work, where is your credit?"

Those claims are wrong, Chael said. Certainly, he did not write "850,000 lines of code", a false number that was probably extracted from GitHub, a web-based coding service. And although he was the lead author of a piece of software that worked on obtaining black hole images, the team used several different approaches to avoid bias. His work was important, he said, but Bouman's was also vital, as it helped unite all the teams.


See a black hole for the first time in images from the Horizon Event Telescope.

The long-awaited cosmic portrait belongs to the black hole in the center of Messier 87, the largest galaxy we know, about 54 million light-years away.

"Katie was a big part of our collaboration at every step," Chael said.

Indeed, selecting any scientist in a mbadive interdisciplinary group effort such as the Event Horizon Telescope project is intended to create misunderstandings. Many of those who shared an equally viral image of Bouman clutching his hands in joy at the sight of the black hole were mistaken in thinking he was the only person responsible for the discovery, an idea that the postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has attempted. to correct.

"No algorithm or person made this image," Bouman wrote on Facebook, "it took the incredible talent of a team of scientists from around the world and years of hard work to develop the instrument, data processing, imaging methods and the methods of badysis that were necessary to achieve this seemingly impossible feat. "

But those who tried to diminish Bouman's work, especially while improving Chael instead, were making an absurd argument, the astrophysicist said. The New Mexico native is on the list of LGBTQ scientists in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics, and advises homobadual students at Harvard.

"Yes, it was ironic that they chose me," he said.


LIGO scientists hear that black holes merge for the third time

The detection occurred on January 4 after LIGO detected gravitational waves 3 billion years away.

Despite speaking out against the backlash, Chael said he was encouraged to see Bouman's work as inspiration. She hopes that she will lead more women in the astrophysics and astronomy departments.

"I do not want to minimize the fact that it is a community dominated by men, especially radio astronomy," Chael said. "Exist [fewer] women there that even in other fields of astronomy, we have to work hard to change. "

He added: "Katie and several other scientists from our team are simply incredible leaders in this effort, and I hope this is an opportunity for all of us to talk about how to do it better."

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Tale of Tim Elfrink.

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