Thursday was a great day of feminist victory for the World to see, including me, in Brazil. This time, the news on mainstream media, including CBS News, Yahoo News, BBC News, New York Post and many others, in English, as well as MSN, Revista Galileu and many others, in Portuguese and quite surely in every other language on Earth – was about “Katie Bouman, the woman behind the first photograph of a black hole”. The picture of amazed Katie after looking at her work on a computer screen won the media, following the black hole photograph.
On Brazil’s Facebook, a feminist’s empowered post went viral:
For the first time in History, astronomers achieved to present the first image ever of a black hole. The deed is considered one of the greatest landmarks in Physics in this century.
The project was led by a woman, HER NAME IS KATIE BOUMAN!
Gonna have to put up with the power of women in Science. 👊❤
Someone gloriously commented: “Cry sexists”! Sorry, patriarchs. It’s over. Gonna have to put up with it.
That lunatic fantasy of oppressed women for ever stepping on the privileged, oppressor men has finally come to real life. No woman can do anything anymore without automatically becoming a pawn in this carcinogenic political war on men. Your girls will be the future and your boys, the past. Insert here all other intersectional diatribes you want.
That was reposted on our own local biggest regressive leftist page on the also regressive leftist Facebook: Quebrando o Tabu.
Then controversy followed, coming straight from the internet darkest cesspools of hate: The allegation that Katie Bouman was being credited for someone else’s work. Isabel Togoh from the also-regressive leftist Huffington Post reported; the horrific misogynist attack against the dreams of poor, heroic little girls of becoming scientists started on Reddit, where an user had written:
Notice something? Yeah, that woman wrote about 2,000 lines of code total. Another guy wrote over 850,000. Katie barely worked on the project at all until late last year, Andrew Chael worked on it relentlessly from it’s conception.
If anyone deserves the credit, it’s him
Chael was memefied with the prints suggesting the very little contribution of Bouman. This is one of the memes:
Chael reacted on Twitter, I’m not reposting all his 8 tweets here. He said that even though he was the main code writer, there was not 850,000 lines, but 68,000, many of which were on the software and he doesn’t care how many he personally authored. He doesn’t care, but he says he is the main writer, ok? He also added that he is a homossexual, a very pertinent bit of information for the discussion when you want to signal that you are a minority and minorities support minorities and are supported by just everyone, of course, as an obligation.
Anyhow, what actually matters: what is truth in this little, epic, quantum, conspirational, disinformative, culture war story? Was Bouman the giver of the first black hole photo to Humanity or not? Did she take the credit off Andrew Chael, who then defended her because she is his boss, or because gays and women and people of color must unite against the hateful oppressors and lie? Such a huge mess, it looks like a worldwide surge of insanity.
Let us take five minutes to unravel this interstellar mystery.
There are many sources for those interested in details, but I favor Sarah Mervosh, who already said almost it all for the New York Times, under the oh-so revealing title of “How Katie Bouman Accidentally Became the Face of the Black Hole Project”, and with a very entertaining contextualization:
As the first-ever picture of a black hole was unveiled this week, another image began making its way around the internet: a photo of a young scientist, clasping her hands over her face and reacting with glee to an image of an orange ring of light, circling a deep, dark abyss.
It was a photo too good not to share. The scientist, Katie Bouman, a postdoctoral fellow who contributed to the project, became an instant hero for women and girls in STEM, a welcome symbol in a world hungry for representation.
Public figures from Washington to Hollywood learned her name. And some advocates, familiar with how history can write over the contributions of women…
Yes, really. Hero for women and girls, a world hungry for representation, history writes over the contributions of women. No surprises – I mean, as in that Radiohead’s No Surprises song.
Nevertheless, excusing the pararreligious framing of the story, she did bring facts. Doctor Bouman is a young scientist who collaborated in an important work for any person on the planet interested in Science. She was part of a team of 200 other scientists all over the world. They were 40 women and 160 men. You might hear about some of the 39 other women from now on.
Is she “the woman behind the black hole photograph”, though? No.
Was she the leader of the project? Also a no. The Black Hole Project is an initiative of the Harvard University, leaded by Astronomer Shep Doeleman, from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
She did lead one major subgroups, or one of them, then? Again that will be a no. Doctor Bouman lead a group which was developing an imaging software to create a Black hole photograph and did a Ted Talk about it. But that software was not used to create this photograph, Mervosh says.
Seeing herself referred to as “the woman behind the black hole photograph” by the MSM, Bouman diplomatically mentioned on a post on Facebook that “No one algorithm or person made this image, it required the amazing talent of a team of scientists from around the globe and years of hard work to develop the instrument, data processing, imaging methods, and analysis techniques that were necessary to pull off this seemingly impossible feat”.
Katie Bouman used her now famous photo on her Facebook page, captioning: “Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed.” Someone commented: “That’s a pretty humble description. Isn’t it first EVER picture of a black hole, in addition to being first one you ever made?” To which she replied:
Actually no, there were a number of us that all squeezed into the room and pressed go on our computers at the exact same time! We didn’t want any one person or algorithm to be the first one to make the image. Shout out to Andrew Chael Michael Johnson, Kazu Akiyama, Daniel Palumbo, Lindy Blackburn, Maciek Wielgus, Sara Issaoun, and many others!
By the way, Andrew Chael didn’t write more than 850,000 lines of code. Any github user, or the page guides.github.com, can tell you that “commit” means saving changes, no matter how many, or what changes you make in your work. It does not mean “one line of code added”. As a comparison, you could write one 35 lines article for your website, “commit” (post it) one time, then make 50 changes on it, adding 3 lines to the text itself, and “commit” (save the new changes in the post) 15 times.
Conclusion: The mainstream media basically used a selfie of Doctor Katie Bouman to fabricate the narrative of the woman leader taking over science, who this cruel, patriarchal world of oppressive, white, straight, angry, misogynistic men would have to put up with. She is not the woman who gave the first ever photograph of a black hole to humanity. She did not lead the project. She did not lead a major subgroup in the project. She didn’t take credit for David Chael’s work either. She never claimed to be the woman behind anything, on the contrary – and that is why she will not have at least other 199 scientists refuting her.
Here is a simple, yet legitimate suspicion, since I did not care to dig up timeline and names: someone loved her selfie so much, he/she extrapolated the facts and from there the media entered ctrl+v mode in domino effect. That would not be the first time. Add to that Bouman having starred in a TED Talk on exactly her leading a team that worked on a black hole imaging software development and voilá! The media and the feminists on social media let themselves into this alternative reality, diverse from the real world of the scientists in the project.
According to Sarah Mervosh, the one in the NY Times, Katie Bouman said she had to turn off her phone because of the so many messages she was receiving on Wednesday. She was quoted as saying “I’m so glad that everyone is as excited as we are and people are finding our story inspirational,’’. “However, the spotlight should be on the team and on no individual person. Focusing on one person like this helps no one, including me.”
“Other women on the project also celebrated this week as years of hard work were finally made public”, Mervosh countered, and I quote in italics.
A few edits were made in this article after its publishing and it was first posted on AVfM in Portuguese.