People Who Tried To Warn Us, But We Didn't Listen In Time

Voting Rules

Vote up the whistleblowers you wish we listened to most.

History has proven time and again that accuracy is often easily recognized in hindsight. However, in the present moment, distinguishing the truth from a conspiracy theory or nonconforming idea can be incredibly difficult.

Often, people who dare to go against the stream of public opinion by speaking their truth are considered insane and not given the benefit of a listening ear to heed their warnings. But sometimes the very warnings they provided are eventually proven right - and under some of the most catastrophic and devastating circumstances. 

This collection features whistleblowers throughout history who tried to warn us about imminent danger, but were ultimately dismissed. 

Photo: Pete Souza / Obama White House Archived / Flickr / Public domain

  • Alice Stewart Proved That X-Rays Caused Childhood Cancer in 1958
    Photo: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 4.0
    454 VOTES

    Alice Stewart Proved That X-Rays Caused Childhood Cancer in 1958

    Dr. Alice Stewart first hypothesized that radiation exposure might lead to higher cancer risk in the mid-1950s. However, she was ignored until other doctors came to similar conclusions two decades later.

    In the mid-19th century, x-raying expectant mothers to see the fetus's position was common practice. Oxford-employed Stewart first came across the revelation when she conducted a small survey and found that babies x-rayed in the womb were twice as likely to develop cancer later in life. When she asked for funding to further her research, Stewart was snubbed and denied by doctors and nuclear scientists. Her research was finally accepted when doctors conducted similar surveys in the 1970s. 

    Babies who developed childhood cancer from low amounts of radiation weren't her only concern; Stewart also attempted to compile as much information as possible concerning the health of people employed in the nuclear weapons industry. However, she eventually lost a 14-year battle with the US Department of Energy over the matter and was banned from accessing their records. The persistent physician continued to petition the House Subcommittee until the information was finally released in 1990.

    454 votes
  • 2
    725 VOTES

    Bob Ebeling Tried To Stop The Space Shuttle Challenger The Night Before Launch

    As an engineer for Morton Thiokol, a company contracted by NASA to oversee the launch of the space shuttle Challenger, Bob Ebeling reviewed data and argued against the shuttle's blast-off up until the night before its catastrophic explosion. Although he and four of his coworkers remained adamant the launch would end in disaster, Thiokol and NASA refused to delay the process.

    In an interview for NPR, Ebeling explained that he and a few other engineers recognized that the rubber rocket booster seals (O-ring seals) wouldn't sufficiently isolate the rocket's flames in colder weather. Furthermore, January 28, 1986, was set to be the coldest day in launch history. According to Ebeling, delaying the lift-off could have completely changed the course of the shuttle's fate and saved the crew members on board. 

    That morning, he and his exasperated coworkers watched the televised launch from Thiokol's headquarters in Brigham City, UT, fearing the craft would explode. Ebeling felt so guilty about the incident that he couldn't even reveal his name to the public until the Challenger explosion's 30th anniversary. 

    725 votes
  • The FBI Warned That Terrorists Were Taking Flight Lessons With No Interest In Landing Planes Two Weeks Before The 9/11 Attacks
    Photo: Slowking / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-NC 3.0
    588 VOTES

    The FBI Warned That Terrorists Were Taking Flight Lessons With No Interest In Landing Planes Two Weeks Before The 9/11 Attacks

    On May 21, 2002, presenting a 13-page letter, Coleen Rowley addressed the FBI's failure to investigate crucial information that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks. In the document, she noted that on August 16, 2001, the Minneapolis FBI arrested Zacarias Moussaoui after a flight school representative reported that he was acting strangely in class.

    According to the account, the informant specifically noted that while Moussaoui was participating in flying lessons, he wasn't interested in learning how to take off or land an aircraft. Suspicious, the FBI arrested the man on immigration-related charges and requested a warrant to search Moussaoui's computer hard drive for evidence of terroristic plans. 

    Arguing that they didn't have enough evidence, FBI headquarters refused Minneapolis officials' request. Moussaoui was still in custody on the morning of September 11, but was later charged as a co-conspirator of the attacks. 

    588 votes
  • 4
    663 VOTES

    Dr. Li Wenliang Discovered Coronavirus, But Wasn’t Taken Seriously In Time

    In late December 2019, ophthalmologist Dr. Li Wenliang warned his friends on social media that a mysterious virus was circulating in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. Local law enforcement responded by accusing the doctor of spreading false rumors, and officials ignored his cautionary foreboding. 

    Unfortunately, Li fell ill and succumbed to the coronavirus a few months later. The public, who viewed the doctor as a symbol of the importance of free speech, was outraged. Mourners flocked to Li's social media page to express their sorrow over his passing and their disgust at the government's delayed response to his warnings, reminding the public of the doctor's words from his last public interview: 

    A healthy society should have more than one voice.

    663 votes
  • Lucy Streatfield Warned About The Dangers Of Asbestos In 1898
    Photo: Imperial War Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Fair use
    459 VOTES

    Lucy Streatfield Warned About The Dangers Of Asbestos In 1898

    UK factory inspector Lucy Streatfield was one of the first females to ever hold the position in 1898. As she moved through asbestos factories, she noted there were many adverse medical problems associated specifically with those who worked in the factories, so she called for further examination of the substance.

    Specifically, Streatfield mentioned in her research that employees at asbestos factories suffered from bronchial tube and lung issues, which she believed were tied to breathing in the asbestos fibers manufactured in their working facilities. 

    At the time, her observations went largely ignored. It wasn't until the 1930s that the UK began placing regulations on asbestos factories -  including ventilation systems, face coverings, and protective clothing for factory employees. 

    459 votes
  • 6
    407 VOTES

    Dominique Moceanu Accused The Gymnastics World Of Accepting Abuse In 2008

    Nineteen ninety-six Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu first alerted the media about abuse happening within the gymnastics community in 2008. When she voiced her mistreatment under the coaching of Bella and Martha Karolyi, most people ignored her accusations, and instead accused her of being too sensitive in a highly competitive environment. 

    Moceanu herself wasn't sexually assaulted. However, she later explained that the ignored comments she made about the emotional, psychological, and physical abuse she endured during her time competing opened the doorway for abusers like Larry Nassar - convicted on multiple accounts of sexual abuse in 2018 - to assault young athletes without repercussions. 

    In an interview with The World, Moceanu elaborated: 

    For the last 10 years, I spoke up. I said something when I finally had the courage to, in 2008… I recognized how dangerous this culture was; it was headed down a very dark road… [Nassar] knew of the verbal, psychological, emotional abuses that the Károlyis were doing to the athletes. And he chose to exploit it for his personal pleasure.

    407 votes