Online trolls hack the image of a scientist to attack Katie Bouman; they choose the wrong astrophysicist



While the world was amazed this week by the first image of a black hole, a new star was born here on Earth: Katherine Bouman, 29, a postdoctoral researcher who developed an essential algorithm to capture this breathtaking visual.

In every nook and cranny of the Internet, however, this sudden fame of a young woman in a male dominated field has not been able to last. A fix was quickly found at Andrew Chael, another member of the Event Horizon Telescope team, Caucasian and male.

On Reddit and Twitter, the memes quickly became viral, contrasting with Bouman and Chael, who – according to the viral images – was actually responsible for "850,000 lines of code out of 900,000 written in the historical algorithm of black hole images ! ". The implication was clear. : Bouman, pushed by an agenda-based media, was getting all the attention, but Chael had done all the work.

That's totally wrong, Chael said Thursday night at Twitter viral thread of his own. Not only are the statements of the same not correct, but Chael, as an openly homosexual man, is also part of an under-represented demographic group in his field.

"Although I appreciate the congratulations for a result on which I have worked hard for years, if you congratulate me because you have a sexist vendetta against Katie, please go away and rethink your priorities in life, "he tweeted.

It is unclear exactly when and where the reaction against Bouman began. Chael got wind of it from his friends who alerted him to a Reddit post. An article on the R / Pics Subreddit blog drew hundreds of comments and thousands of positive votes before it was published. Many criticize Bouman at his expense, said Chael, a 28-year-old graduate student in the physics department at Harvard University. As one stakeholder complained, "Katie has been declared responsible for the code everywhere, but if this guy has done all the work, he seems a little lame, he will not be recognized."

"It was obviously upset by the fact that a woman became the face of this story and who decided:" I will find someone who reflects my story instead, "said Chael in an interview at the Washington Post.

Identical memories quickly spread to Twitter, where an answer was: "Andrew Chael did 90% of the work. Where is his credit? "

These claims are false, said Chael. He certainly did not write "850,000 lines of code", a false figure probably from GitHub, a web-based coding service. And, while he was the main author of a software that was working on black hole imaging, the team used several different approaches to avoid bias. His work was important, he said, but Bouman's presence was also essential as it helped bring all the teams together.

"Katie has been a huge part of our collaboration at every stage," said Chael.

In reality, selecting a scientist in a gigantic and interdisciplinary group like the Event Horizon Telescope project is bound to create misunderstandings. Many who shared an equally viral image of Bouman shaking hands in joy at the sight of the black hole erroneously left out thinking that she was the only one responsible for the discovery, an idea that the Harvard-Smithsonian postdoctoral researcher Center for Astrophysics tried to correct.

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

But those who sought to diminish Bouman's work – particularly by giving Chael a boost – presented an absurd argument, said the astrophysicist. The New Mexico native is on the list of LGBTQ scientists in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics and advises Harvard homosexual undergraduates.

"Yes, it was ironic that they choose me," he says.

Chael said he felt encouraged to see Bouman's work presented as a source of inspiration. He hopes that this will lead to more women in the departments of astrophysics and astronomy.

"I do not want to downplay the fact that it's a very male-dominated community, especially radio astronomy," said Chael. "There is [fewer] women that even in other areas of astronomy, on which we must work hard to change. "

"Katie and several other women scientists on our team are incredible leaders in this effort, and I hope this can be a chance for all of us to talk about doing better."

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Story of Tim Elfrink.


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