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Big Ideas: “There seems to be an increase in the amount of people choosing to not believe facts. Teaching Math properly can change that” with Duke University Professor Ingrid Daubechies

These days, I am seeing a lot of people in distress. If people have a better way of thinking about what they observe or see, I believe this will lead to less distress. I often see stress among large parts of the populations from the conclusions they draw from facts. The different emphasis you put […]

These days, I am seeing a lot of people in distress. If people have a better way of thinking about what they observe or see, I believe this will lead to less distress. I often see stress among large parts of the populations from the conclusions they draw from facts. The different emphasis you put on different facts might lead to different conclusions. This is what leads people to scientific research because they consider what they are being told as opinions, not facts. It is a human thing to think “it could be this or that”, how can I find out? What other information do I need in order to see this? These days, a lot more people are choosing to see facts as opinion, which I do not understand. Teaching children to learn and reason differently, will hopefully lead them to pursue research to find things for themselves.


Asa part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Ingrid Daubechies. Professor Daubechies is a physicist and applied mathematician, currently a Professor of Mathematics at Duke University. Her remarkable research on wavelet theory has transformed the numerical treatment of images and signals for data compression, creating a new universal language for scientists and catalysing multiple innovations. An exceptional woman scientist, she is also engaged in the fight for equal opportunities, education and access to science in developing countries.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us what brought you to your specific career path?

I’ve always been interested in understanding what makes things work-mathematics, physics, and science. There is a certain delight I feel when I find a link between things that you never suspected beforehand.

To be honest, ending up where I am today was completely serendipitous. I could have never predicted my future, but by remaining curious about science as well as non-scientific things and asking the right questions I believe it will always lead me to understanding.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

With the lack of female representation in science and mathematics, I always wondered if there was something about these subjects that made it less suitable for women and for me. I always had this image of scientists being very cold and less people-oriented, but as I continued to meet inspiring women in these subjects that were not only smart, but also kind and nurturing helped dispel my worries. I was also worried about whether I could be a scientist and have children, but after meeting other women scientists and mathematicians with children, I was no longer worried. I didn’t even realize how concerned I was with these things, until they were disproven to me, and I felt a huge sense of relief. Because of this, I strongly believe in the power of role models, and the importance of diversity in role-models because you won’t see yourself in everyone.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

I strongly believe it is important to change the way we educate children. Not everyone is interested in the same thing or learns the same way, and we need to recognize that.

For a subject like math, if you don’t like it or understand it, there is the impression it is very formulated. We often do students a disservice by only teaching them how to pass a test, but not truly showing them all that mathematics has to offer. Life is not about passing tests but about learning and growing and having a constructive and purposeful life.

Math is a wonderful way to make sense of many things, make connections and recognize reasoning. We must have more understanding and better help children develop this insight for themselves, as it is becoming more and more important. Our children are experiencing a completely different world than the one we grew up in.

How do you think this will change the world?

These days, I am seeing a lot of people in distress. If people have a better way of thinking about what they observe or see, I believe this will lead to less distress. I often see stress among large parts of the populations from the conclusions they draw from facts. The different emphasis you put on different facts might lead to different conclusions. This is what leads people to scientific research because they consider what they are being told as opinions, not facts. It is a human thing to think “it could be this or that”, how can I find out? What other information do I need in order to see this? These days, a lot more people are choosing to see facts as opinion, which I do not understand. Teaching children to learn and reason differently, will hopefully lead them to pursue research to find things for themselves.

Was there a specific moment that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

There was no particular moment but an ongoing trend I saw in the past few years- from reading the newspapers and watching the news. A few years ago, I would have never thought of this, however there seems to be an increase in the amount of people choosing to not believe facts, and not asking the right questions to understanding things.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

I would need to better understand how people develop this distrust of what I consider the human way of looking at things. The idea that we are looking, not understanding something, and then wanting to understand it better.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

I never really had this one eureka moment. Everything I learned I needed to learn and every detour I had to take was so worth taking. Because of this, there is nothing I wish someone had told me before I started.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career? (in science/mathematics)

Mathematics has become increasingly relevant in our modern world. With more and more data, more computing and the underlying building of structures with algorithms, we use math all the time.

If anyone wonders about remaining relevant — you must always remain open-minded. As you grow your life and your career you often specialize in certain subjects or paths, but it is important to be creative with your work. Never let what you have learned, and your job define who you are as a person.

We have so much more to offer than our job or our work. Change is a given and sometimes you have to take on different approaches to find new solutions. Especially when it comes to mathematics. One person may have found the “solution” to a problem before you, but it does not mean you should give up. Results are important, but the method is also just as important. Finding different ways to a conclusion is also useful.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

There are many, many things that have helped guide my life and my career. I believe that there are various different frameworks in which math can solve a problem, for example I work with art conservationists. Not everything in my life mathematics of course, but I also think about how I can use math to approach problems in my career and life.

Can you share what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

I believe that open-mindedness, intellect, and curiosity are the most important.

What does it mean to you to be honoured as a Laureate for the 2019 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science Awards?

It means a lot to be receiving this award. It is fantastic that L’Oréal added mathematics to the award now, and want to recognize this. The idea of finding women role models in science and emphasizing their work, and increasing visibility of women in these fields is fantastic. I am a big believer in the importance of role models, and having range of Laureates from various disciplines selected from different countries and fields is wonderful.

Lastly, I love that it is a beauty product company recognizing these women in science. I personally don’t spend a lot of time on makeup or beautification unless it is a big event, so the idea that a beauty company is representing women who can exercise femininity to any degree they please and still be a scientist is great to see. It sends the message that femininity does not define whether you can be a scientist, which is very important.

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