The dark saga of Katie Bouman

MIT would eventually clarify that its first tweet had overstated Bouman’s role. Her contributions, while significant to the project, inspired the methods that the team eventually used to construct the final image. Perhaps the narrow spotlight had not sat well with other people on the team and MIT was hearing about it. Or perhaps the institution wanted to deflect further attention from Bouman, whose name, by that point, was being dragged through the mud in other communities.

Internet trolls declared that the credit for the algorithms belonged not to Bouman, but to one of her colleagues—who, coincidentally, happens to fit the classical description of a gifted computer scientist: a bespectacled white man. This man, they said, had written most of the code for the project, not her. Within hours, his visage, buoyed by sexist claims and misogynist commentary, was chasing Bouman’s online.

The colleague, Andrew Chael, defended Bouman. None of the claims was true, he tweeted. “If you are congratulating me because you have a sexist vendetta against Katie, please go away,” he added. It’s difficult to imagine internet sleuths digging for proof of dishonesty if the poster child of the black-hole discovery had looked like Chael. (Chael, in an interview with The Washington Post, called it “ironic” that his new fans chose him, a gay astronomer, as their hero.)