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Opinion
Cathy O'Neil

A Mathematician's Secret: We're Not All Geniuses

For each certified genius, there are at least a hundred great people who helped achieve such outstanding results.
Don't be daunted.

Don't be daunted.

Photographer: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

You don’t have to be a genius to become a mathematician. If you find this statement at all surprising, you’re an example of what's wrong with the way our society identifies, encourages and rewards talent.

As a mathematician who studied at Berkeley, Harvard and Princeton, I’ve known geniuses. I got to hang out with Andrew Wiles, who is credited with solving Fermat’s Last Theorem, and I met Grigori Perelman, who solved the Poincare Conjecture. They’re great guys, but they didn’t do it on their own. For each certified genius, there are at least a hundred other great people who helped achieve such outstanding results.