There are all kinds of examples from history of people who guessed, knew, or figured something out a long time before the rest of us, and in general, they’re usually written off as huge kooks.
Most of us have trouble believing in what we can’t see, and it turns out that we’re also a bit mean to the people who don’t – but these people stuck to their guns, no matter who called them nuts.
1. That last bit is unfortunate.
J Harlan Bretz
He was a geologist that in the 1920s came up with a theory about why the Dry Falls and surrounding scablands of Eastern Washington state were so sharp and abrupt, instead of smooth as should be with the general understanding of erosion. Especially since the falls have no real river to speak of to create erosion.
His theory was that a giant flood, created by an even more massive lake, ripped through the region millions of years ago, reshaping the landscape in a matter of days. He was laughed at and discredited in the geology community for almost 50 years. Until someone discovered evidence in the 1950s of an ancient and massive lake that started just north of Montana that stretched all the way to southern Utah.
The lake was believed to have been created by glacial dams (ice walls) during the last ice age. It would fill up over thousands of years and then hit a point where a glacial dam broke and the lake water would fire out the break like a water cannon, drain the lake, and reshape an entire region over several days as the water flowed toward the ocean. This happened several times.
Since the flood that carved the Dry Falls likely started from the Lake Missoula area in modern day Montana, it was named the “The Great Missoula Flood”. Bretz was given an award in 1979 for his contribution to geology when he was 96 years old. He joked “All my enemies are d**d, so I have no one to gloat over.”
2. An aptly titled memoir.
Harry Markopolos spent ten years trying to convince everyone (investors, journalists, regulatory agencies, etc.) that Bernie Madoff was a fraud, based on forensic accounting.
Madoff was one of the most respected names on Wall Street and despite the overwhelming evidence, no one was willing to entertain the thought he might be running a Ponzi scheme.
Harry’s book, No One Would Listen is a pretty great account of financial detective work and just the abject frustration of being absolutely certain you’re right but no one believes you.
3. Much to the eventual dismay of the entire South.
When the Civil War broke out, everyone on both sides thought it would be a quick victory. However Sherman kept saying it would be a bloodbath that would drag on for years. His superiors decided he was insane and sent him out west to fight Indians (Native Americans) just to get rid of him.
After it all came true and they needed some better generals, they said “Maybe we should bring back that Sherman guy”
4. That must have been a relief.
In the days of land lines…My phone was tapped. I could hear a strange hollow sound and I knew someone was listening. I had had a bad accident and was home for almost a year and involved in a lawsuit. I told my attorney about it. He told me the insurance company wouldn’t bother.
I mentioned it to my roommate. She told me I was crazy. I began to notice a van parked on my street. It was there for several days. I thought I was under surveillance. My attorney and my roommate said I was crazy.
A person came to my door asking questions about the neighborhood. They claimed to be from a real estate company. They didn’t go to other houses. I thought I was being watched. My attorney and my roommate said I was crazy.
Several weeks later, my roommate’s boyfriend was arrested for stealing physical and intellectual property from IBM. It was the beginning of the Tech Era and he stole millions in hardware and software and ideas. We were being watched to see if we were involved.
The phone was tapped. We were under surveillance. We were taped. I wasn’t crazy after all.
5. Turns out you can be drunk and right.
Martha Mitchell, she was the wife of Nixon’s AG, John Mitchell. She was outspoken in the extreme and was one of the first to talk openly about what really happened re:Watergate. Since she was also known to love her martinis, she was widely written off as a drunk, crazy woman.
Behind the scenes, a White House doctor began heavily sedating her and her husband locked her away from the press. No one believed her until Nixon resigned and the story came out. To this day, most people only remember her as that loud-mouth, Martha Mitchell.
6. Definitely an aha moment.
In 1912 the meteorologist Alfred Wegener described what he called continental drift, an idea that culminated fifty years later in the modern theory of plate tectonics.
Wegener expanded his theory in his 1915 book The Origin of Continents and Oceans. Starting from the idea (also expressed by his forerunners) that the present continents once formed a single land mass (later called Pangea), Wegener suggested that these separated and drifted apart, likening them to “icebergs” of low density granite floating on a sea of denser basalt.[42
Supporting evidence for the idea came from the dovetailing outlines of South America’s east coast and Africa’s west coast, and from the matching of the rock formations along these edges. Confirmation of their previous contiguous nature also came from the fossil plants Glossopteris and Gangamopteris, and the therapsid or mammal-like reptile Lystrosaurus, all widely distributed over South America, Africa, Antarctica, India, and Australia.
The evidence for such an erstwhile joining of these continents was patent to field geologists working in the southern hemisphere. The South African Alex du Toit put together a mass of such information in his 1937 publication Our Wandering Continents, and went further than Wegener in recognising the strong links between the Gondwana fragments.
Wegener’s work was initially not widely accepted, in part due to a lack of detailed evidence. The Earth might have a solid crust and mantle and a liquid core, but there seemed to be no way that portions of the crust could move around. Distinguished scientists, such as Harold Jeffreys and Charles Schuchert, were outspoken critics of continental drift.
7. If only we had listened sooner.
John Snow (yes, that’s his name) was laughed at for believing that the multiple cholera outbreaks could be traced back to a specific source and that it was due to contaminated water.
Essentially, making him one of the fathers of epidemiology. He has a fascinating life that went beyond that as well!
8. What a novel idea (at the time).
That dude who suggested that it might be a good idea to wash your hands before performing surgery.
9. The girls definitely knew.
The Radium Girls.
When Radium had just come to the US and was being marketed on dials for war and watches, girls used their lips to fix the paintbrushes to make their numbers and dials perfect. Eventually they started suffering horrible, painful experiences due to the radium. These girls fought for YEARS to figure out A) what was wrong with them, B) who was responsible, and C) how they were going to pay their bills/support their families.
It’s a horrible injustice. These girls needed support and validation that they weren’t crazy, that it WAS radium; and it took far too long and too many d**ths for it to happen.
10. All kinds of wrong.
The “dingo ate my baby!” lady. Got made fun of constantly, most notably in Seinfeld and I believe went to jail because nobody believed her.
Turns out a dingo ate her baby. She is still made fun of.
11. Good ol’ forward-thinking Don.
When I was in Boy Scout camp we had this counselor named Don. He was kind of odd, he knew everything about trees and only really talked about trees.
We had just gotten back from a hike that Don was on with us and we were just sitting around talking and he suddenly goes “You know, they’re gonna let girls into Boy Scouts soon”. We were all like, “yeah okay Don”. But sure enough less than 3 years later, they did it.
12. At least there was a cure.
For a very long time the medical community thought that stomach ulcers were caused by stress.
A doctor in Australia called Barry Marshall claimed they were wrong and that they were caused by an excess of certain bacteria, and the cure was simple antibiotics. The medical community ridiculed him and nearly ended his career. He eventually decided the only way to prove he was right was to infect himself, develop the ulcers and cure himself.
In curing himself he was proved right and won the nobel prize for his efforts, and now stomach ulcers are very easily treatable (they previously affected 1 in 10 people)
13. When they even make a movie about you.
Michael Burry. The first guy to predict the 2008 housing market crash. He was a hedge fund manager for Scion Capital at the time and basically bet his entire funds liquidity (all the money the fund had) that there would be a crash.
No one believed him except a few other people who also bet against the market. Several of his clients sued him for tying their money up in what they considered to be a foolish bet all to have him be right in the end. He made his fund something like $1.3 billion and the value increased about 489%.
The movie the Big Short is about him and the few other people who were wise enough to bet against the market at the time. I’ve watched the movie like 5 times in order to try to understand exactly what happened but still don’t fully get it. I recommend it to anyone who’s interested
Fun fact: Michael Burry was also ahead of the curve* in the recent GameStop surge. I think he had something like 1.2 million shares of GameStop months before the price shot up (might need to fact check myself)
14. Everyone should have listened.
Courtney Love was warning everyone about Harvey Weinstein back in the mid-90s, but everyone just wrote her off.
“If you’re a woman in this industry and Weinstein invites you to one of his ‘parties’, don’t go.”
15. That poor man.
His equations and formulas explained the physical properties of matter, but as it went against the then accepted Laws of Phjysics, he was ridiculed and ignored for years while fighting for atom theory to be accepted.
He took his own life just 3 years before Ernest Rutherford discovered the nucleus of an atom, proving Boltzmann’s theory.
16. Still mad about it.
The fan that predicted the show’s ‘How I met your mother’ message and was shamed, only to be completely right in the end.
17. He wasn’t even around to say ‘I told you so.’
Hemingway, before he took his life he became extremely paranoid the FBI was following him. His wife and people around him just thought he was mentally ill and grew deeply concerned. Hemingway went as far as getting electrotherapy at a psychiatric hospital to try and help with the perceived delusions.
Turns out the FBI had been following and bugging him for years according to declassified files.
18. How did I not know this?
Younger Redditors might not know who she is but she was a singer/songwriter from Ireland who was a staple in the Alternative Music scene during the late 80s and early to mid 90s who had some cross-over hits.
Anyway, at the height of her popularity she was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live after canceling an earlier scheduled spot in protest against the guest host which was some dumba$s standup comic from the 80s called Andrew Dice Clay (As Scott Thompson described him: “it’s as if someone took your grandmother, the one who can’t speak English, and taught her to swear phonetically, gave her a special on HBO and made her a star”).
During her performance she sang an acapella version of Bob Marley’s “War” changing the lyrics to make it about child s**ual a**se instead of ra**sm. At the end of the performance she shouted something like “Fight the real enemy” and ripped up a picture of the pope.
In the following weeks people lost their s**t and on the next episode of Saturday Night Live they had at least 3 sketches that tore her apart. A few years later the Catholics S^x A**se Scandal broke internationally.
19. Always a tough call.
The ex-husband of my ex-girlfriend . Turns out he wasn’t the crazy one after all. He kept trying to tell me and if I would have listened from the beginning I could have saved 4 years of my life.
20. Some people just know.
About ten years ago there was this stoner who always hung around the shop that I played Magic at. One day, he told me that he didn’t trust Jared from Subway. I said that there was nothing to worry about and that the only thing that Jared did was eat sandwiches. He said that there was something really sinister about Jared, and that he could tell just by looking at him.
21. They knew she was telling the truth.
Courtney Love and her quip about Weinstein.
It’s still wild to me that people will villainize someone while knowing damn well they are speaking the truth.
22. There isn’t a happy ending.
That one journalist Gary Webb that uncovered the truth that the CIA aided and abetted Nicaraguan contra rebels in funneling cocaine into inner city communities.
And then he was blackballed and later k**led himself.
There is actually a book about Gary Webb, his investigation, and the aftermath called K**l the Messenger by Nick Schou.
23. A classic for a reason.
The classic example, of course, is Cassandra; in Greek mythology she was cursed to know the future, but for no one to believe her when she told them.
24. Moms are (almost) always right.
My mom. Turns out being Emo was really just a phase.
25. He was bound to be telling the truth at some point.
Johnny Rotten said in an interview that he knew Jimmy Savile was into all kinds of “seediness”.
People dismissed it as typical Johnny Rotten anti establishment talk (for which he is famous).
As it turned out, he was right.
26. The joke is on all of us.
The people who said the government was spying on its citizens.
27. Those things freak me out.
The people who discovered prions.
All the other biologists thought they were crazy to suggest one protein could be an infectious agent.
Nope those biologists were wrong and Nobel prizes were awarded.
28. This hurts my heart.
Dude went on national TV to tell everyone that there was a network of s**ual a**sers in Hollywood, and that he himself had been a**sed, and people LAUGHED AT HIM and shunned him.
And then it came out that pretty much everything he was saying was true.
29. No one wanted to believe it.
Me. About my (now disowned) cousin.
He kept stealing things from me which my family felt was no big deal. But it escalated. It went from stealing candy, to my things, to cash, and after that I asked them how much longer they would support him and call me “selfish” for “not sharing”. The line was finally crossed when he stole our grandmothers credit cards and her car.
She finally wrote him off.
This was AFTER he had stolen all of her jewelry, including the last present (anniversary ring) my grandfather was ever to give her.
Oh, but he tried to say that our family kicked him out because he’s gay. No. None of us cared about that, it was because he’s a thief.
His “friends” have bailed him out of jail and then dropped him when he steals from them.
But he claims the world is “just unfair” to him.
Now he tells his pity story and milks the “my family disowned me because I’m gay” to everyone he begs from. I learned this when he tried to do it to one of my friends.
30. A tale as old as time, unfortunately.
The people who were tortured as a part of MK Ultra.
Imagine trying to convince the people around you that the government is trying to make you crazy with mind control, only years later to find out that not only was it true, but you wouldn’t get compensation for it. And you were subject to illegal human experimentation.
31. Did they think he was jealous?
Jose Canseco. He revealed that a bunch of baseball players (Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, etc) were doing steroids.
No one believed him for years, until everyone else got caught doing steroids.
32. Hindsight and all of that.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee was the only congressperson out of 535 members who voted no on the Authorized Use of Military Force Act after the 9/11 attacks (there were also 12 present/not voting recorded). In her words,
“It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the September 11 events—anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit. In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration. I could not support such a grant of war-making authority to the president; I believe it would put more innocent lives at risk. The president has the constitutional authority to protect the nation from further attack, and he has mobilized the armed forces to do just that. The Congress should have waited for the facts to be presented and then acted with fuller knowledge of the consequences of our action.”
For her vote she received d**th threats, a damaged political career, she was called insane, a traitor, and a communist. And she was 100% right.
Humanity sure would be a lot better off if we had listened to some of these folks early on, don’t you think?
What’s your favorite example of this phenomenon? Drop some knowledge on us in the comments!