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Something nice happened last week: for the first time in the history of humanity, a team of scientists were able to take a picture of a black hole, confirming Einstein’s theory of general relativity a century after he came up with it. They literally did something that people thought may be completely impossible.
So nice! But of course, we can’t have nice things, can we? And so the Internet went to work.
Here’s how it went down. Early in the morning on April 10th, astronomers announced they had captured the image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy. This exploded all over social media, where shortly thereafter a 2nd related photo started going viral: that of a very happy Katie Bouman. It was accompanied with this message: “Congratulations to Katie Bouman to whom we owe the first photograph of a black hole ever. Not seeing her name circulate nearly enough in the press.
Amazing work. And here’s to more women in science (getting their credit and being remembered in history).”
All of that is true! We do, in part, owe Katie Bouman for this incredible discovery, and women who have contributed to science have often been purposely forgotten in the past.
But from there, the story got spun a bit more and more — one of the top replies to that post is another reading, “Meet Katie Bouman She wrote the Algorithm which produced the first-ever image of a black hole.”
That’s less true. As Bouman herself stated, she was one of 200 hardworking scientists who collaborated on several algorithms, which together were able to stitch together the picture in question.
Bouman was experiencing what men in the sciences (and elsewhere, to be honest) have experienced for millennia: suddenly getting credit for an act that was cooperative. John Glenn is famous for going to space, but the science that got him there was the direct result of hundreds of people, including Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier but if you think he had jack shit to do with the design and development of the Bell X-1, you’re sadly mistaken.
Rarely is any great scientific achievement the result of one person’s efforts, especially these days, but it’s human nature to want to put a person on a pedestal. And considering the injustices faced by female scientists for so long, it’s understandable that people were eager to share information about Bouman.
And of course, Bouman delivered a TEDx talk about her work on this project a few years ago, providing a really easy-to-understand explanation of how they we re creating the image and why it’s such a momentous undertaking, so it’s even more understandable that people would want to celebrate her.
Unfortunately for Bouman, that came with a huge backlash that started almost immediately after her picture went viral. The misogynists of Reddit put on their detective hats and went to work, scouring Github for proof that Bouman didn’t write the code in question. They decided that Bouman should get no credit, and that it should actually go to Andrew Chael, a male member of the team, who they claimed wrote 850,000 of the 900,000 lines of code in the algorithm. They claimed this was proof of political correctness run amok, and that Bouman was stealing credit she didn’t deserve just because she’s a woman.
Chael, to his credit, immediately took to Twitter to debunk this. The final code only had about 68,000 lines, first of all. Second of all, he pointed out that Bouman took the lead on developing the system that combined all three algorithms into one cogent framework. Finally, he pointed out that he is an out gay man (who works with LGBTQ STEM students to help them succeed), so he himself is one of their much-feared “political” SJW scientists.
Sadly, this hasn’t been enough to stop the misogynists of the internet. Men in his replies are commenting things like, “Of course she deserves credit but spinning it into a female success story is forcing a narrative on a project that many other faces including yourself deserve just as much if not more credit for.” They don’t seem to consider the problem when other (male) scientists get a disproportionate amount of credit for their work on a collaborative project — is John Glenn an example of a male success story?
Or this guy, who says “Unless I misunderstood, a team of people did the massive amount of work together yet one of them gets the spotlight because she’s a woman and the ideology needs to propagate. It’s terribly sad that she’s being used as a tool.”
Bouman didn’t get the spotlight just because she’s a woman — she got the spotlight because she did some incredible work on a fascinating project and someone posted a very cute photo of her looking excited about it. And yes, it’s fun to see someone achieve something in their field, especially when that field has been overtly hostile to people like them for several centuries. That doesn’t make her a “tool,” and the only sad thing is that now she has the internet’s worst misogynists coming after her claiming she’s taking credit she doesn’t deserve.
Katie Bouman was instrumental in achieving something humanity has literally never been able to do before and which we thought was impossible, but instead of being able to celebrate that accomplishment, she is being burned in effigy by misogynists. That’s sad, dude on Twitter who isn’t even using his real name or photo and considers himself the “Chuck Yeager of the mind.” Oh, the irony.
And those are the “normal” guys. The ones who are “just asking questions.” They are the forerunners of the truly fucked up assholes who are also out there badgering Bouman, like the “pickup artist” Roosh V who tweeted to his fans, with zero proof, “The viral black hole “photo” was originally released in 2017! The incredibly talented female superhero scientist with advanced algorithms merely inverted the image in photoshop. Yesterday’s release is yet another globohomo psyop to emasculate men.”
Well men, do you feel emasculated by the fact that one of the 200 people who took a picture of a black hole are women? Well, what about when I tell you that FORTY of them were women??? I’ll give you a moment to adjourn to the bathroom to seek out your masculinity. I assume you think it’s in the bathing suit area but I’ll leave you to it.
The one remaining good thing about all this is that Katie Bouman doesn’t have a Twitter account, so I hope she’s somewhat insulated from all this abuse. And I hope she goes on to do more amazing things that will continue to piss off the manbabies of the world, because it seems we need a few more things like this to happen before misogynists realize that women in the sciences are here to stay, and we’re not going to let their achievements be forgotten.