Woman Takes First Picture of a Black Hole (apparently)


If you are not actually living in a black hole yourself, and hence out of contact with the rest of the universe, you will know by now that astronomers have just reported the first picture of a black hole, specifically the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy Messier 87. (To be pedantic, it’s the first picture of stuff falling into a black hole, the black hole itself being, well, black. Actually, it isn’t, quite, but never mind).

One is used to experts interviewed on the BBC about anything scientific (well, anything at all really) being women on every occasion it proves possible. This was no exception, local women astronomers being pressed into service yesterday to comment on the achievement. Annoyingly obvious propaganda. One groans and moves on. But press articles have appeared such as the BBC’s “Katie Bouman: The woman behind the first black hole image” and the Mail’s ‘An amazing accomplishment… take your seat in history’: Ivanka Trump and AOC lead the plaudits for humble MIT graduate, 29, who created the algorithm that captured the first EVER direct image of a black hole’.

A whole bunch a female celebs (not noted for knowing anything about science, and caring less) flooded social media to “claim the black hole for woman-kind”. My sarcastic words, sorry, but really that’s a fairly accurate description of the tweets, e.g., “Let’s holla for women in STEM!!”, and “Katie Bouman proved women in STEM don’t just make the impossible, possible, but make history while doing it”, etc. You get the picture. One person – obviously a vile misogynistic troll -complained that they were unnecessarily making a purely scientific achievement a matter of gender. Well, they were. Indisputably. The twitterati didn’t see it that way. Surprise!

Knowing that this was a large international collaboration, I expected that the team involved would be very large. It is often the case in these situations that the leader of the collaboration acts as a figurehead to take the credit (and who then will invariably emphasise that it was a team effort). But that wouldn’t do. The Director of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, Shep Doeleman, is a bloke. That wouldn’t do at all. Somewhere along line the media lighted upon a suitable female candidate for glory. As leader of the image algorithm team, Katie Bouman was a suitable choice. She, in best tradition, immediately deflected the credit to her team of computer scientists. Quite right too. But the media, and social media, are determined to make her their hero of choice, whether she likes it or not.

Anyone who has worked in teams knows that there tends to be one or two people who are the linchpins. Is Katie such a person, or was it members of her team that better fit that description? Outsiders will never know, and nor does it much matter – to outsiders. Those in the know, know. But even if we knew who were the key players in the algorithm team, that leaves….everyone else. And how many people are there in the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration? Rather a lot.

Let’s take a look at the scientific papers themselves, should we? Six papers were published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on the 10th April 2019. They were,

All six papers are formally authored by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. I include the complete list of names below. There are 348 people in the Collaboration. Not just one woman. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were some women astronomers a bit pissed off that a computer scientist is getting all the credit. Interdisciplinary jealousies can be much more significant than anything to do with gender.

Anyone who wants to work out the male: female ratio in that list, be my guest. I can’t be bothered.

The media are comparing Katie Bouman with Margaret Hamilton who, apparently, “wrote the code that put a man on the moon”. I vaguely recall there were some other people involved in that too.

The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

  • Kazunori Akiyama
  • Antxon Alberdi
  • Walter Alef
  • Keiichi Asada
  • Rebecca Azulay
  • Anne-Kathrin Baczko
  • David Ball
  • Mislav Baloković
  • John Barrett
  • Dan Bintley
  • Lindy Blackburn
  • Wilfred Boland
  • Katherine L. Bouman
  • Geoffrey C. Bower
  • Michael Bremer
  • Christiaan D. Brinkerink
  • Roger Brissenden
  • Silke Britzen
  • Avery E. Broderick
  • Dominique Broguiere
  • Thomas Bronzwaer
  • Do-Young Byun
  • John E. Carlstrom
  • Andrew Chael
  • Chi-kwan Chan
  • Shami Chatterjee
  • Koushik Chatterjee
  • Ming-Tang Chen
  • Yongjun Chen
  • Ilje Cho
  • Pierre Christian
  • John E. Conway
  • James M. Cordes
  • Geoffrey B. Crew
  • Yuzhu Cui
  • Jordy Davelaar
  • Mariafelicia De Laurentis
  • Roger Deane
  • Jessica Dempsey
  • Gregory Desvignes
  • Jason Dexter
  • Sheperd S. Doeleman
  • Ralph P. Eatough
  • Heino Falcke
  • Vincent L. Fish
  • Ed Fomalont
  • Raquel Fraga-Encinas
  • William T. Freeman
  • Per Friberg
  • Christian M. Fromm
  • José L. Gómez
  • Peter Galison
  • Charles F. Gammie
  • Roberto García
  • Olivier Gentaz
  • Boris Georgiev
  • Ciriaco Goddi
  • Roman Gold
  • Minfeng Gu
  • Mark Gurwell
  • Kazuhiro Hada
  • Michael H. Hecht
  • Ronald Hesper
  • Luis C. Ho
  • Paul Ho
  • Mareki Honma
  • Chih-Wei L. Huang
  • Lei Huang
  • David H. Hughes
  • Shiro Ikeda
  • Makoto Inoue
  • Sara Issaoun
  • David J. James
  • Buell T. Jannuzi
  • Michael Janssen
  • Britton Jeter
  • Wu Jiang
  • Michael D. Johnson
  • Svetlana Jorstad
  • Taehyun Jung
  • Mansour Karami
  • Ramesh Karuppusamy
  • Tomohisa Kawashima
  • Garrett K. Keating
  • Mark Kettenis
  • Jae-Young Kim
  • Junhan Kim
  • Jongsoo Kim
  • Motoki Kino
  • Jun Yi Koay
  • Patrick M. Koch
  • Shoko Koyama
  • Michael Kramer
  • Carsten Kramer
  • Thomas P. Krichbaum
  • Cheng-Yu Kuo
  • Tod R. Lauer
  • Sang-Sung Lee
  • Yan-Rong Li
  • Zhiyuan Li
  • Michael Lindqvist
  • Kuo Liu
  • Elisabetta Liuzzo
  • Wen-Ping Lo
  • Andrei P. Lobanov
  • Laurent Loinard
  • Colin Lonsdale
  • Ru-Sen Lu
  • Nicholas R. MacDonald
  • Jirong Mao
  • Sera Markoff
  • Daniel P. Marrone
  • Alan P. Marscher
  • Iván Martí-Vidal
  • Satoki Matsushita
  • Lynn D. Matthews
  • Lia Medeiros
  • Karl M. Menten
  • Yosuke Mizuno
  • Izumi Mizuno
  • James M. Moran
  • Kotaro Moriyama
  • Monika Moscibrodzka
  • Cornelia Müller
  • Hiroshi Nagai
  • Neil M. Nagar
  • Masanori Nakamura
  • Ramesh Narayan
  • Gopal Narayanan
  • Iniyan Natarajan
  • Roberto Neri
  • Chunchong Ni
  • Aristeidis Noutsos
  • Hiroki Okino
  • Héctor Olivares
  • Gisela N. Ortiz-León
  • Tomoaki Oyama
  • Feryal Özel
  • Daniel C. M. Palumbo
  • Nimesh Patel
  • Ue-Li Pen
  • Dominic W. Pesce
  • Vincent Piétu
  • Richard Plambeck
  • Aleksandar PopStefanija
  • Oliver Porth
  • Ben Prather
  • Jorge A. Preciado-López
  • Dimitrios Psaltis
  • Hung-Yi Pu
  • Venkatessh Ramakrishnan
  • Ramprasad Rao
  • Mark G. Rawlings
  • Alexander W. Raymond
  • Luciano Rezzolla
  • Bart Ripperda
  • Freek Roelofs
  • Alan Rogers
  • Eduardo Ros
  • Mel Rose
  • Arash Roshanineshat
  • Helge Rottmann
  • Alan L. Roy
  • Chet Ruszczyk
  • Benjamin R. Ryan
  • Kazi L. J. Rygl
  • Salvador Sánchez
  • David Sánchez-Arguelles
  • Mahito Sasada
  • Tuomas Savolainen
  • F. Peter Schloerb
  • Karl-Friedrich Schuster
  • Lijing Shao
  • Zhiqiang Shen
  • Des Small
  • Bong Won Sohn
  • Jason SooHoo
  • Fumie Tazaki
  • Paul Tiede
  • Remo P. J. Tilanus
  • Michael Titus
  • Kenji Toma
  • Pablo Torne
  • Tyler Trent
  • Sascha Trippe
  • Shuichiro Tsuda
  • Ilse van Bemmel
  • Huib Jan van Langevelde
  • Daniel R. van Rossum
  • Jan Wagner
  • John Wardle
  • Jonathan Weintroub
  • Norbert Wex
  • Robert Wharton
  • Maciek Wielgus
  • George N. Wong
  • Qingwen Wu
  • Ken Young
  • André Young
  • Ziri Younsi
  • Feng Yuan
  • Ye-Fei Yuan
  • J. Anton Zensus
  • Guangyao Zhao
  • Shan-Shan Zhao
  • Ziyan Zhu
  • Juan-Carlos Algaba
  • Alexander Allardi
  • Rodrigo Amestica
  • Jadyn Anczarski
  • Uwe Bach
  • Frederick K. Baganoff
  • Christopher Beaudoin
  • Bradford A. Benson
  • Ryan Berthold
  • Jay M. Blanchard
  • Ray Blundell
  • Sandra Bustamente
  • Roger Cappallo
  • Edgar Castillo-Domínguez
  • Chih-Cheng Chang
  • Shu-Hao Chang
  • Song-Chu Chang
  • Chung-Chen Chen
  • Ryan Chilson
  • Tim C. Chuter
  • Rodrigo Córdova Rosado
  • Iain M. Coulson
  • Thomas M. Crawford
  • Joseph Crowley
  • John David
  • Mark Derome
  • Matthew Dexter
  • Sven Dornbusch
  • Kevin A. Dudevoir
  • Sergio A. Dzib
  • Andreas Eckart
  • Chris Eckert
  • Neal R. Erickson
  • Wendeline B. Everett
  • Aaron Faber
  • Joseph R. Farah
  • Vernon Fath
  • Thomas W. Folkers
  • David C. Forbes
  • Robert Freund
  • Arturo I. Gómez-Ruiz
  • David M. Gale
  • Feng Gao
  • Gertie Geertsema
  • David A. Graham
  • Christopher H. Greer
  • Ronald Grosslein
  • Frédéric Gueth
  • Daryl Haggard
  • Nils W. Halverson
  • Chih-Chiang Han
  • Kuo-Chang Han
  • Jinchi Hao
  • Yutaka Hasegawa
  • Jason W. Henning
  • Antonio Hernández-Gómez
  • Rubén Herrero-Illana
  • Stefan Heyminck
  • Akihiko Hirota
  • James Hoge
  • Yau-De Huang
  • C. M. Violette Impellizzeri
  • Homin Jiang
  • Atish Kamble
  • Ryan Keisler
  • Kimihiro Kimura
  • Yusuke Kono
  • Derek Kubo
  • John Kuroda
  • Richard Lacasse
  • Robert A. Laing
  • Erik M. Leitch
  • Chao-Te Li
  • Lupin C.-C. Lin
  • Ching-Tang Liu
  • Kuan-Yu Liu
  • Li-Ming Lu
  • Ralph G. Marson
  • Pierre L. Martin-Cocher
  • Kyle D. Massingill
  • Callie Matulonis
  • Martin P. McColl
  • Stephen R. McWhirter
  • Hugo Messias
  • Zheng Meyer-Zhao
  • Daniel Michalik
  • Alfredo Montaña
  • William Montgomerie
  • Matias Mora-Klein
  • Dirk Muders
  • Andrew Nadolski
  • Santiago Navarro
  • Joseph Neilsen
  • Chi H. Nguyen
  • Hiroaki Nishioka
  • Timothy Norton
  • Michael A. Nowak
  • George Nystrom
  • Hideo Ogawa
  • Peter Oshiro
  • Tomoaki Oyama
  • Harriet Parsons
  • Scott N. Paine
  • Juan Peñalver
  • Neil M. Phillips
  • Michael Poirier
  • Nicolas Pradel
  • Rurik A. Primiani
  • Philippe A. Raffin
  • Alexandra S. Rahlin
  • George Reiland
  • Christopher Risacher
  • Ignacio Ruiz
  • Alejandro F. Sáez-Madaín
  • Remi Sassella
  • Pim Schellart
  • Paul Shaw
  • Kevin M. Silva
  • Hotaka Shiokawa
  • David R. Smith
  • William Snow
  • Kamal Souccar
  • Don Sousa
  • T. K. Sridharan
  • Ranjani Srinivasan
  • William Stahm
  • Anthony A. Stark
  • Kyle Story
  • Sjoerd T. Timmer
  • Laura Vertatschitsch
  • Craig Walther
  • Ta-Shun Wei
  • Nathan Whitehorn
  • Alan R. Whitney
  • David P. Woody
  • Jan G. A. Wouterloot
  • Melvin Wright
  • Paul Yamaguchi
  • Chen-Yu Yu
  • Milagros Zeballos
  • Shuo Zhan
  • Lucy Ziurys

3 thoughts on “Woman Takes First Picture of a Black Hole (apparently)

  1. Immortal Guard

    What a joke. 348 scientists 95% of whom are men, being lead by a men as team lead, and these jokers headline that woman takes picture of the blackhole. Thanks for your posts, and pursue of truth.

    Reply
  2. Groan

    Takes me back to the “Space Race” where local papers and even national news would be full of “widgets made in Bolton vital to Apollo mission” headlines. Always gave me a chuckle.

    Reply
  3. AJ

    If you read the imaging paper you will discover that there were already well established algorithms falling into two broad categories that were used to reconstruct the images of the area around the black hole. Four independant teams were set, two for each broad category to independantly reconstruct images. This was to try to guard against the possibility that the image created would an artefact of the reconstruction process rather than a reflection of the data.

    It is clear from the references that Dr. Bouman has worked in this field for some time and has authored significant papers so her contribution is not negligible but the impression given was that the algorithm she created was a breakthrough without which imaging would not be possible. In fact the imaging teams built on well known algorithms to create the images. This was not trivial or straightforward and involved a lot of skill and judgement as evidenced by four different teams who created four different images.

    The issue is the misrepresentation of the effort of a large team, which built on the work of a much larger group of predecessors as the result of one heroic woman as part of a wider pattern of sexist propoganda. It is interesting to compare her treatment to the disgraceful treatment metted out to Matt Taylor.

    Reply

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