In April of this year, scientific history was made in the first-ever picture of a black hole. This represents the first visual evidence that these massive and massively dense space objects exist. In order to capture the image, scientists used an array of high-powered telescopes located around the globe to effectively create an earth-sized telescope. The task also involved a significant amount of math and computer programming.
Media outlets reported that a graduate student named Katie Bouman had been instrumental in the success of the project through her work on an algorithm she led the creation of while she was a graduate student at MIT. Such recognition would be great for any scientist, but it was particularly significant given the lack of women in STEM fields.
Unfortunately, internet trolls were quick to attempt to discredit and diminish Bouman's contribution in what her colleagues saw as sexist attacks. "[A] nasty corner of the internet tried to downplay Bouman's role and started spreading posts claiming that Andrew Chael—a white male scientist—was actually the mastermind behind the project," said Michelle Lou and Saeed Ahmed in an article for CNN. "The misleading posts, on Reddit and Twitter, said Chael alone had authored 850,000 of the 900,000 lines of code that were written in the historic black-hole image algorithm!'"
However, these attempts were thwarted when Chael himself took to Twitter to defend Bouman and her contribution to the project. Chael, an openly gay man, said he is also an underrepresented demographic in STEM fields and felt the need to stick up for his female colleague.
While it's admirable to see Chael come to Bouman's defense, it's unfortunate that it was necessary in the first place. Women are already underrepresented in STEM fields and abuse by trolls to discredit the accomplishments of women in these fields certainly doesn't contribute to closing that gap.
We applaud Bouman's work and hope she is just one of many women, and other underrepresented groups, whose accomplishments are given the credit they deserve. Be inclusive!
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