Hat tip: Charles, Jaime, Rick, Connor, Samwise...
I haven't dedicated a special blog post to this topic but it seems like a classic story at the intersection of recurring themes of this weblog – and the questions have apparently been answered.
OK, who created the first photograph of the black hole?
Everyone who has a clue about this Big Science knows that the number of workers has been large – 348 folks in this case (click for a full list) but the lists contain roughly hundreds if not one thousand names in similar cases (and 2x 3,000 both for ATLAS and CMS) – and, while the individual contributions have been extremely unequal, many folks in this large set were really essential. The Event Horizon Telescope Wikipedia page describes the collaboration as one including 13 stakeholder institutes plus almost 100 "affiliated" institutes.
Some of the senior members of the collaboration were presenting the science during the press conference on Wednesday; see a list of some senior names here. Like in almost all similar experiments, men represented an overwhelming majority of the researchers.
But aside from the actual reality, there also exists an alternative reality. If you Google search for the words "katie bouman behind black hole" without the quotes, you will get dozens of clear and happy titles, especially at servers of news outlets that love to pretend to be trustworthy.
Here is a collection of several of these "trustworthy" sources and their titles:
BBC: Katie Bouman: The woman behind the first black hole imageWell, the Phys.org title is particularly nice. ;-) You could expect Phys.org to be the most objective, most measured, least political, and most technical source – but you would be disappointed and writers at similar places are sometimes even worse than those in the generic, non-technical press. And yes, like Greta Thunberg, of course, she was quickly pre-nominated for a Nobel prize, too.
CBSnews: Meet Katie Bouman, the 29-year-old scientist who helped make the world's first black hole image
CNBC: Meet the 29-year-old woman behind the first-ever black hole image
Independent: Katie Bouman: Who is the scientist behind the first image of a black hole?
Guardian: Katie Bouman: the 29-year-old whose work led to first black hole photo
ABC.net.AU: The black hole image came thanks to student Katie Bouman, half a tonne of hard drives and a big coincidence
Phys.org: Scientist superstar Katie Bouman designed algorithm for black hole image
At any rate, name your favorite "mainstream" media outlet and you are almost guaranteed to find an article with a nearly equivalent title. Excellent, the picture was basically produced by one researcher and it's a young lady, hundreds of millions of gullible consumers of the "mainstream" press have concluded. There's just a tiny problem with these "mainstream" media reports. Every single one is an example of completely fake news. Why?
As some folks – outside the collaboration – were gradually discovering by analyses of the Github statistics, Bouman wrote some 0.25% of the code. A guy wrote over 90%. No generic reader of the "mainstream" media knows his name. But was at least those 0.25% an example of some algorithm Bouman has contributed?
Already on Thursday, the New York Times published a story with a somewhat less clear title than the titles above:
How Katie Bouman Accidentally Became the Face of the Black Hole Project (a free copy at Irish Times)I choose to quote one small piece of that article only:
While she led the development of an algorithm to take a picture of a black hole, an effort that was the subject of a TED Talk she gave in 2016 [a shockingly polished P.R.-style talk, LM], her colleagues said that technique was not ultimately used to create this particular image.In other words, she is not a researcher behind the algorithm that produced the black hole picture and all the "mainstream" media outlets' titles involving her algorithm's impact were wrong. They were not just 99+% wrong as we knew from the beginning (because there were about 348 folks working on this project), they were 100% wrong. We don't know whether she had a viable algorithm or whether it would be competitive or worse than the one that was used – but we do know it wasn't used.
There are some suggestions that some code of hers involving fonts or colors was used (I cannot verify) but it wasn't really the algorithm that created the picture. My expectation turned out to be correct – I think it was a rather extraordinary claim that any important part of the algorithm would be taken from a young woman. This kind of photography engineering really is analogous to the Kaggle.com machine learning contests and you may look at the ratio of women over there (Tetyana Yatsenko in this visual leaderboard is really impressive, cool, and rare – and isn't celebrated, also because her name sounds Russian). There exist some "old-fashioned engineering" activities where the asymmetry of men and women is naturally very pronounced and this is one of them. If I paraphrase Feynman's comment about the flying saucers:
I think that it is much more likely that the reports of the woman's photograph of a black hole are results of the known irrational characteristics of the "mainstream" media's intelligentsia rather than the unknown rational efforts of the extra-male intelligentsia.The New York Times article reveals that she was promoted to the "single-handed creator of the black hole photograph" because people liked her happy smile! What a nice and rigorous criterion to assign credit in science. ;-) Well, it's not the only reason, as you know. In other words, the word "her" might be even more important than the "smile".
Just like when the "Russia collusion" conspiracy theory was proven to be a pile of embarrassing fabrications and superstitions in recent weeks, you could expect some internal reflection in the journalistic community. You could think that some of the journalists would seriously recommend all their colleagues to publish corrections and stop lying to the public in this breathtaking way.
But your hopes don't mean anything.
Instead, they doubled down. And you got stories that are both false and offensive such as:
FoxNews: Internet trolls attempted to discredit Katie Bouman’s work on black hole projectand so on and so on. Tons of new articles have labeled the people who discovered that the attribution was incorrect as "sexist" and "misogynist" people, "trolls", "incels", and worse. The main problem with this terminology is that the two most influential "sexist" and "misogynist" people who helped to propagate the real facts were Mrs Mother Nature and Ms Sarah Mervosh, the author of the "accidental face" article in The New York Times. And you may verify that Mervosh is a blonde woman.
DebateReport: YouTube’s Algorithm Put a Sexist [not really] Video About Katie Bouman on the Top in Their Search Result Page. Here Is Their Explanation
YahooNews: Male Scientist Claps Back at Trolls Who Tried to Discredit Female Colleague's Role in Black Hole Photo
CNN: To undermine Katherine Bouman's role in the black hole photo, trolls held up a white man as the real hero — until he fought back
HuffPost: Black Hole Scientist Defends Female Colleague Against Sexist Trolls
The Telegraph: Female scientists hit out at 'sickening' trolls targeting Katie Bouman over first black hole picture
The atmosphere in the collaboration must be really terrifying because every single member must know that her proposed algorithm hasn't been used – but no one feels safe to say this well-known rudimentary fact because there's a clear ongoing witch hunt against everybody who dares to say the truth.
Incidentally, the man who defended the "creator of the photograph" was no one else than the guy who wrote over 90% of the code, as previously found, a young Gentleman named Andrew Chael. This guy – who wrote over 90% of the GitHub code – urged all the "sexist" people who just point this fact out to shut their mouth. Because Mr Chael identified himself as gay, you might exploit their favorite buzzword and call the reports by the BBC and all the other "mainstream" media homophobic. By the way, I couldn't find Chael's (@thisgreyspirit) infamous tweet again but here you still have a copy (with 31k retweets and 78k likes!).
Nikoleta Šurinová invented and built LIGO with her own head and hands, and reconstructed all the cosmic sounds. Her excitement is palpable through the screen.
At any rate, the fanaticism with which these far left people are willing to attack the truth and promote arbitrarily full-blown lies, as long as they're lies that are convenient for some truly painful ideological agenda, seems basically unlimited. Can it go any higher? These people are eager to lie straight into the eyes of billions of people. And they have already elevated their activism to the level that we're not talking about minor distortions or serious distortions. We're talking about downright lies. Completely fabricated stories. And even when these statements are shown to be lies, and when this fact is even leaked by The New York Times, they continue to be combative and insult all the people who just dare to point out the truth.
Do they believe that this kind of defense of their professional failures makes sense? Who are supposed to be their readers in the future? Who are the people who can't figure out that they've been lied to? Are these people capable of reading at all? Does it make sense to defend the indefensible? Or alternatively, how far are these people willing to go to defend the indefensible? Will they blackmail all individual members of the EHT Collaboration? Why don't the likes of the BBC seem to ask these basic questions?