White male scientist slams sexist trolls using his work on black hole project for 'sexist vendetta' against Katie Bouman

Katherine Bouman, a 29-year-old researcher who worked on the crucial algorithm that led to capturing the first-ever image of a black hole, has become the target of online sexist trolls seeking to discredit her work on the historic project.

After the National Science Foundation on Wednesday revealed the first-ever image captured of a black hole, another image began to make the rounds on social media showing Bouman reacting with excitement to the photo of the mass.

The photo that showed Bouman with her hands clasping her face as she reacted to the team’s achievement became an instant symbol for female representation in STEM.

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But since she's received her newfound fame, a number of sexist trolls on Reddit and Twitter have circulated memes contrasting Bouman's work with that of Andrew Chael, a white male scientist who is also a member of the Event Horizon Telescope team behind the black hole project. 

In memes that have quickly gone viral on the platforms, trolls said Chael was actually the one responsible for “850,000 of the 900,000 lines of code that were written in the historic black-hole image algorithm” and had done all of the actual work in the project.

But Chael was quick to correct that narrative, arguing it was sexist, with a thread of his own on Thursday that has since gone viral.

“So apparently some (I hope very few) people online are using the fact that I am the primary developer of the eht-imaging software library ... to launch awful and sexist attacks on my colleague and friend Katie Bouman. Stop,” he began in the Twitter thread.

“Our papers used three independent imaging software libraries (including one developed by my friend @sparse_k). While I wrote much of the code for one of these pipelines, Katie was a huge contributor to the software; it would have never worked without her contributions and the work of many others who wrote code, debugged, and figured out how to use the code on challenging EHT data.”

“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. 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,” he continued. “Together, we all make each other's work better; the number of commits doesn't tell the full story of who was indispensable.”

“So while I appreciate the congratulations on a result that I worked hard on for years,” he added, “if you are congratulating me because you have a sexist vendetta against Katie, please go away and reconsider your priorities in life. Otherwise, stick around — I hope to start tweeting more about black holes and other subjects I am passionate about — including space, being a gay astronomer, Ursula K. Le Guin, architecture, and musicals. Thanks for following me, and let me know if you have any questions about the EHT!”

Chael also made sure to clarify that he did not write "850,000 lines of code" for the project and said "there are about 68,000 lines in the current software, and I don't care how many of those I personally authored."