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The scientific subtrope of Cassandra Truth, the Ignored Expert is a scientist or expert who predicts a major disaster to happen, but is not believed by his contemporaries.
No matter how qualified he is and how urgent and relevant his expertise is to the problem at hand, his warnings will be treated like madness or lies. The Ignored Expert will be ignored by his peers, or reviled and ridiculed regardless of evidence, credibility or persuasiveness. If he's lucky, he'll manage to persuade a philanthropist to help, or make The Hero aware of the problem. In extreme cases, he will be fighting nearly alone to stop (or at least expose and delay) a nigh unstoppable disaster. His situation isn't helped if he has a reputation as (or is) an Agent Mulder.
In natural disaster movies or Science Is Bad stories, expect the Ignored Expert to be the lone voice of sanity warning against a particular course of action that will, of course, be taken. That action could be entrusting the newborn AI with control over nuclear missiles, releasing The Virus in a field test, administering Super Serum to criminals, or the use of machines Powered by a Forsaken Child.
If the Ignored Expert himself created the phenomenon he is warning against, he's the Reluctant Mad Scientist.
This trope was previously named after Superman's father, Jor-El, a Kryptonian scientist whose dire warnings that their home planet would die were ignored. Famously, he managed to save his son, Kal-El, by putting him on an escape pod and sending him to
Earth one of the most successful media franchises in history.
The Ignored Expert is very similar to The Cassandra, but he also he has an impressive track record to back himself up. Of course, this doesn't help him one bit, and he can still be subject to Cassandra Did It. If the "expert" is someone totally unrelated to a situation who manages to notice something all the experts working on it have missed, he is an Einstein Sue. An "expert" whose credentials or expertise aren't too clear but is a Designated Hero nonetheless is The Worm Guy.
Note that while this trope can be Truth in Television in certain cases, reality is always far more complex. Scientific discoveries need to be repeatedly proven experimentally, so there is a reluctance to immediately accepting new information as fact. The release of findings may also be subject to political pressure, and may thus be suppressed or heavily controlled for political or ideological reasons.
Anime and Manga
- Subverted by Dr. Kabuto from Mazinger Z. Despite he was a renowned scientist and a witness, he did not try to warn the world of what had happened in Bardos Island (to wit: one of his colleagues had murdered the entire archaeological expedition minus Kabuto after finding an army of ancient Humongous Mecha buried in the underground mazes of the island) and what Dr. Hell was planning (to wit: Take Over the World), opting for shutting himself away to build his super-weapon.
- Of course, he could have reasonably thought that nobody would believe his story.(Would you?)
- Chief Engineer Precia Testarossa in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The Movie First. Even though she told the corporate executives of her company that the reactor she was developing was a new design and had a chance of a meltdown, they slashed the testing time of the reactor from one month down to ten days. They also had the safety protocols of the reactor done by their own people, who were more interested in getting the testing done quickly rather than properly. Needless to say, the Chief Engineer's fears were realized on the day of the reactor's live test run, and a meltdown occurred that killed several civilians in the process, including her daughter, Alicia.
- In keeping with the Superman analogue, Bardock from Dragon Ball. He warned them that Freeza would destroy them, but they wouldn't listen...
- Superman's Father, Jor El, was at one point the Trope Namer, having correctly predicted the destruction of Krypton, but his warnings were not heeded, as demonstrated in the page image.
- Parodied in normalman, where Norm's father was a no-name accountant who irrationally came to the conclusion that his planet was doomed, bought a rocket at a convenience store, and sent his son into space. Norm's mother killed him immediately after he did so.
- Subverted in a short strip written by Alan Moore for 2000 AD. A great man named R-Thur is rejected by the planet Klakton's other top scientists after making apocalyptic predictions, he plans to send his infant son N-Ree to a faraway planet called "Earth" where, because of the planet's lower gravity, N-Ree would "be able to fly, see through walls, and bounce bullets off his chest". After he sends N-Ree away in an escape rocket, R-Thur ensures his wife that they will never see their son again, and begin to prepare for their eventual demise. It's gonna happen... It's gonna happen... aaaaand...
R-Thur: Er... L-Sie, I don't quite know how to tell you this but, ...er... I think I might have been wrong about Klakton exploding, heh heh!
R-Thur: Gosh, L-Sie, anybody can make a mistake!
- The same parody of Jor-El is the origin of Mr Might, Awkwardman's father in DC Comics' Self-Parody book Inferior Five. Mr Might was Barb-Ell the son of Dumb-Ell of the planet Neon. He was sent to Earth as an infant because he was convinced Neon was about to explode. As with R-Thur and normalman's father, he was completely wrong.
- Watch a Sci Fi Channel Original Thriller movie. There's always one of these, and he (plus his inexplicably hot girlfriend, unless the roles are reversed) is always the hero who deduces how to stop the plague/virus/infestation/attack/etc/etc.
- Pierce Brosnan in Dante's Peak.
- Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in 2012 is a subversion. He brings a written report of his findings about the imminent end of the world directly to White House Chief of Staff Anheuser. Anheuser initially dismisses him, until Helmsley insists; Anheuser takes one look at the report and immediately brings it to the President's attention.
- Anne Heche in Volcano, which at some points seems to be set in an alternate reality where the very existence of volcanoes is an obscure geological fact completely unfamiliar to the public.
TV Anchorwoman: Well, we now have a name for this crisis. It is, according to the US Geological Survey, a "volcano"...
- A rare non-scientist example, Carter Blake in Deep Blue Sea is a "shark wrangler" who correctly points out that using genetic engineering to make sharks (already apex predators) smarter is not a good idea. He's blackmailed by the Hot Scientist into keeping quiet, but at least he tried to warn her of the danger.
- Jack Hall and his son, Sam, in The Day After Tomorrow. First the Vice President ignores Jack's warnings about climate change. And then an entire public library full of survivors ignores Sam's warnings about the temperature even after he tells them he knows this because his father is a government climatologist.
- Subverted in the no budget, pseudo-philosophical, So Bad It's Good film Creation of the Humanoids. Set After the End, the main character is a member of an anti-robot organization that insists that the "Clickers" have a secret plan to replace humanity and Take Over the World. He's half right. They do have a secret plan, but the plan is actually to create fully human robots (starting by copying the minds and bodies of recently deceased humans) and interbreed with the remaining human survivors, so that humanity still will live on after biological humans eventually die out. At the end of the movie, when the main character learns exactly what the plan is, and what HE is, he concludes that the robots really are as harmless as everyone else has been saying!
- This happens in tons of horror movies--for example, Jaws (as referenced below).
- David Duchovny's Ira Kane in Evolution and the associated napalming.
- The Dead Zone: "The ICE... is gonna BREAK!!!"
- Flash Gordon. NASA scientist Hans Zarkov warned that the unusual events were the result of an an attack on the Earth. He was fired from NASA and the authorities rejected his ideas as "irrational". It turned out that he was absolutely correct: the phenomena were sent by the Emperor Ming to amuse himself.
- In Fantastic Mr. Fox, Fox chooses to ignore his real estate agent's advice not to move into Boggis, Bunce and Bean territory.
- In A.E. Van Vogt's Voyage of The Space Beagle, the lone nexialist (a scientist whose specialty is nonspecialization) is surrounded by an expedition that laughs him off in spite of his increasingly frequent responsibility for saving the entire ship. This eventually escalates to the point where he hypnotizes the entire crew and enslaves them for three years in a massive effort to defeat an insatiable nebula-like monster that has nearly sterilized its galaxy.
- The Gods Themselves a science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov has two Jor-Els attempting to warn everyone of a danger. One is an alien trying to warn her planet and the other is human trying to warn Earth. The name of the novel (as well as those of the three parts) comes from the quote, "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."
- In City of Ember, Doon is the only one convinced that the eponymous city's generator is beyond repair, and it needs to be overhauled, or the city abandoned. Naturally, the older generation tells him to shut up.
- The Stationery Voyagers had already witnessed the results of Astrabolo's "sexual social engineering" (and violence,) including all the women on the team having witnessed family members of theirs being murdered because of it, and one of the men wishing to avenge his raped sister. One would then assume they were at least somewhat qualified to comment on what at least could happen on Mantith. However, the Voyagers' conclusions on how to prevent a repeat of Astrabolo's tyranny were not politically correct, and angered the Sex Industry. So the Voyagers soon found themselves largely unable to function in warning of the impending threat of Imperial Markerterion invading (the other topic upon which they had experience); since angry mobs began chasing them all over Mantith to get revenge on them for even attempting to warn Mantithians about the dangers of "sexual social engineering."
- And the mobs really had no excuse, knowing full well who was protecting the Voyagers and how stupid it was to piss the protectors off. This is, after all, the sort of narrative where preaching "tolerance" (with the sort of liberal hypocrisy of definitions that offends the author) can get you barbequed by angels or eaten by trees.
- Subverted in Invisible Man: the main character realizes that there's going to be a riot, but his warnings come to nothing because those he's warning want there to be a riot so they can gain power from the resulting chaos.
- Superman: Naturally, Jor-El himself in the surprisingly good Adaptation Expansion novel The Last Days of Krypton. For one point in defense of his detractors, Jor-El had already predicted the end of Krypton in a fair number of ways already by the end of the book.
- Dr. Kreitzler in Caleb Carr's The Alienist.
- Happens big time in the short story Nightfall by Isaac Asimov (later adapted into a full novel by him and Robert Silverman). Scientists from many different fields discover that soon, darkness will fall over the planet Kalgash for one night (it happens every 2048 years; the planet is surrounded by 6 suns so it has constant light). Astronomers predict the actual event, archaeologists predict the mass destruction (it's happened previously), psychologists predict the human reaction to it, and no one believes them. They're reviled, denounced, and eventually, 100% correct.
- Hari Seldon in Asimov's Foundation Series, even though he did have some listen to him.
- In Nevil Shute's No Highway, Theodore Honey, a scientist with the Royal Aircraft Establishment is flying to investigate a plane crash. He's told the authorities that he thinks the crashes are due to metal fatigue and to ground all planes that are getting on a bit. To his horror he realises that the plane he's in should have been grounded because it's flown far too many miles and he runs around telling everyone what to do if the wings fall off. No one believes him, so he lifts the undercarriage while the plane's on the ground.
- In Going Postal, Clacks engineer Mr Pony keeps insisting that their semaphore towers need to undergo proper maintenance or the whole business will go under. Unfortunately his superiors are only concerned with immediate profits and think that shutting down the towers for an extended period of time is madness, since it will lose profit. When he presents hard facts and explains the exact minimum amount of money he'd need to at least keep the service running a while longer, his boss agrees to give him a quarter of it, and makes a grand show of it as though he's being generous.
- Actually, this example could be a subversion to some extent; the Big Bad of the story, Reacher Gilt, did in fact believe the engineer, but just didn't care, because he knew that even if the Clacks did collapse he would still be able to make a massive profit selling the business to someone else, regardless of whether it was a total shambles. His Not So Different opposition with the Lovable Rogue Con Man protagonist emphasises that Gilt is basically a con man who plays with entire banks and businesses rather than individual people (and does it as much for his own entertainment as for the money), and has absolutely no interest in providing a slow-but-steady income for himself and a good service to his customers. The other members of the board of directors go along with it because they're scared of Gilt, and would rather believe that the engineer is exaggerating than actually confront Gilt about it, especially since they have spent a long time having a monopoly on communications, giving them no real motive to provide a good service since they have no competition.
- In the Harry Turtledove novel Supervolcano: Eruption, one of the main characters is a geologist studying Yellowstone park. Despite being a clear expert (and even being interviewed on television news as a geology expert several times), and despite a lot of pretty strong scientific evidence that something was going on, she can't get anyone to take her warnings about imminent eruption of a supervolcano under Yellowstone park. The justification the Government gave her was basically that an eruption on that scale would be too big a disaster for the government to respond to anyway, so there was no point in worrying about it.
Live Action TV
- ALF's grandma. She was the only one who'd guess that Melmac could explode, and could save the planet... Though they locked her in a nuthouse.
- Doctor Who: The Doctor finds himself in this situation quite often, what with being both highly intelligent and highly eccentric. Still, it's subverted in the new series episode "Army of Ghosts", where he tells the head of Torchwood Institute to stop punching holes in reality. She brushes him off as being too alien-supremacist ... then, when the Doctor sits back to watch, relents and admits that she should listen to the guy who, not only is named in her organization's charter, but has a very long pedigree that she's very well aware of about being right on these matters..
Tegan: We've got to get to Earth and warn them!
The Doctor: Of what? Who'll believe us? We'll be laughed at.
- Kim Delaney's character in the miniseries 10.5 fits into this. Of course, the Cassandra Truth reception her warnings received wasn't helped by her abrasive personality.
- Adama in the original Battlestar Galactica Classic warns everyone that the Cylons are up to no good. No one believes him.
- Carl Kolchak in the original film and series (The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler (films) and Kolchak the Night Stalker (series)) is almost always entirely alone in noticing what is really happening.
- The Invaders. David Vincent spends the entire series struggling in vain to warn people of the alien invasion taking place in the series. It doesn't help that the evidence has a nasty habit of disappearing right in front of his eyes and the people he goes to for help have a nasty tendency to be alien agents.
- Why doesn't he ever just ask the aliens to bend their pinky in front of witnesses?
- The final season of Lexx has Dr. Ernst Longbore, a Genius Cripple who used to belong to a group of scientists working on a particle accelerator capable of determining the mass of the Higgs boson particle. He became an Ignored Expert after realizing that determining the particle's mass would trigger a massive chain reaction that would implode the planet into a dense chunk of matter the size of a pea (apparently, this is the fate of every civilization that tries to determine the Higgs boson's mass). Having lost his career and academic standing, he's spent his remaining time with a small cult of college-aged followers working on a way to escape Earth.
- In the second season of Heroes, Mohinder opens the very first episode warning people about the virus that killed his sister. Nobody listens, and to add insult to injury, the people who do end up destroying the virus find out about it from totally unrelated sources.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Inner Light", an alien probe uploads the memories of an alien scientist into Capt. Picard, who then relives the scientist's life; said scientist had discovered an impending disaster and tried to warn his people. At first it seems like the government is simply ignoring him, but they reveal they already knew about the problem and were dismissive because they didn't want him to start a panic.
- In "Q Who", the ship is sent 7,000 light years by Q, placing them unknowingly in Borg territory. Picard chooses to ignore Guinan's advice to turn back now. (Though when they actually encounter the Borg, and Guinan tells them to protect themselves, they finally take her advice.)
- Harry Chapin's The Rock tells this story straight.
- An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen. A doctor's warnings of contamination in the public baths go unheeded. Supposedly, Peter Benchley actually got the idea to use this trope in Jaws from this play.
- In Mass Effect, one of the few surviving scientists in the lower levels of the Peak 15 research station is dismissed as mad by every other person in the place (except for Shepard and company) for believing that the whole project for the recreation of the Rachni, who proceeded to go mad from isolating their queen from the rest of them, and devour just about everyone in the hot labs was a terrible mistake, and wanting to inform the rescue effort about it. "Crazy? I'm sane. God am I sane."
- Also the scientist on Eden Prime. He's rambling and about to be sedated when Shepard encounters him, all because he's looked into the beacon too.
- In the first game, a scientist is working on scanning the Citadel's keepers to learn more about them. By the second game, he's discovered the basic truths about them and their connection to the Reapers, but no one will listen to him.
- Shepard has conversed with a Reaper, and heard the final testimony of the Protheans, and yet, as soon as s/he's gone, the Alliance and the Council try to sweep it under the rug. The only ones who believe him/her are Anderson, Hackett and The Illusive Man.
- Made more egregious that the Asari are capable of mind melding, so really, the Asari councillor could simply read Shepard's mind to verify the truth about the Reapers and everything that Shepard has experienced.
- Doctor Marie Delacroix in System Shock 2
- Crysis offers a perfect example. Hot scientist chick warns Admiral not to launch nukes as it will only make the aliens stronger? As ridiculous as it sounds, she is of course, right.
- In the Backstory of Another Century's Episode 2, a scientist named Albert Rainen predicted an Alien Invasion but was laughed off by The UCE. Years later his son, Fidel Barkholz enacts a plan to discredit the UCE by helping its enemies escape capture/defeat/destruction and by using Rainen's proposed Humongous Mecha to take out the alien threat - which turns out to be the Zentraedi.
- And before the ACE example, there was Bian Zoldark of the Super Robot Wars franchise. In Super Robot Wars 2, Super Robot Wars Alpha and Super Robot Wars Original Generation, Bian warned the Earth Federation of an alien invasion approaching Earth. When they brushed him off, he decided that Earth NEEDED to be defended and formed the Divine Crusaders. It's worse off in 2, because his Divine Crusaders team is comprised of the Principality of Zeon, Dinosaur Empire, and Dr. Hell's Mechanical Monsters. Turns out he's right, though - for the original timeline, it was the Inspectors. In Alpha and Original Generation, it's the Aerogaters.
- In Superman: The Animated Series, Jor-El was actually discredited by Brainiac, who wanted to ensure his own survival over that of the Kryptonians.
- Mildly subverted/parodied by Dib in Invader Zim. He is perhaps the only person who believes Earth is in danger of alien invasion (his sister Gaz grudgingly admits Zim is an alien), but truthfully, Zim is really, really bad at his mission of planetary destruction/conquest. Plus, his race has no real interest in conquering Earth; they just
exiledsent him there. Still, someone has to stop Zim's poorly conceived plans.
- Al Gore on South Park is portrayed as this; constantly warning everybody of the dreaded... Manbearpig. The fact that the main characters are all Genre Savvy combined with the idiotic way that he approaches the problem (although all adults on the show tend to be idiots), make his endeavors useless. Manbearpig was a complete fabrication of Gore's, though his belief was "proven" when Manbearpig came through to the real world from Imaginationland.
- Much of this is a play on the Real Life Al Gore being regarded by many as a Truth in Television example of this trope.
- The Onion treats Al Gore as a literal Jor-El (well, "Gore-Al"): Al Gore Places Infant Son In Rocket To Escape Dying Planet
- In a flashback episode of Venture Brothers Hunter Gathers, and Brock Samson try to tell the rest of OSI that the Guild of Calamitous Intent is still around. No one believes them, ridiculing them for not fighting Sphinx. Sargent Hatred, The Mole for the Guild has Hunter relocated to Guam, and Brock relocated to "Rusty's blanket", a task for rookies. Given that in the present the Guild is a Weird Trade Union known to most super-scientists and wizards, something must have happened between then and now.
- This is the plot of at least half of the episodes of Sealab 2021, where genuinely brilliant scientist Dr. Quinn is invariably Surrounded by Idiots. Refusal to pay attention to Quinn's advice (or increasingly hysterical avowals of how unbelievably stupid everyone else is being) usually gets the undersea station blown up, though this is the kind of comedy series where there's next to no continuity and everyone can be dead at the end of one episode and back in the next.
- Engineer Roger Boisjoly found evidence that an essential component of the Space Shuttle's rocket booster was rendered unreliable by cold temperatures; nobody listened to him, partly because the company that made the booster was in the middle of negotiating a new contract with NASA. A year after Bosjoly's discovery, the Challenger space shuttle exploded because of this particular design flaw.
- It was actually a lot worse. The launch of Challenger went ahead that morning, despite the official receiving screaming memos ("Red Alert!" in red ink) not to launch. "Take off your engineering hat, and put on your management hat." Commissioner Richard Feynman discovered massive disconnect between management and engineers in the Space Shuttle program. Management routinely disregarded what engineers said.
- General Billy Mitchell who, in 1924, warned about a coming war with Japan, including the attack on Pearl Harbor.
- Sir John Fastolf was the only English commander in France toward the end of the Hundred Years War who not only realized and was willing to declare publicly that England was, at long last, losing the war, but also had a constructive proposal for salvaging the situation. For his pains, he was disgraced after the defeat and turned into the clownish figure of Falstaff by Shakespeare.
- Shakespeare was originally going to call the character Oldcastle, but changed it to Falstaff at the insistence of his patron the Lord Chamberlain, descendant of the former.
- Unfortunately, this tends to be Truth in Television for scientists whose discoveries go against the established ideas of the time. One example is Dr. Alice Stewart, who showed a correlation between pre-natal X-ray screening and cancer, and was ignored for several years.
- Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that childbed fever can be avoided by use of hand washing standards in clinics. His findings were rejected, and were only accepted after his death. The idea of disinfection only really took off after Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur produced definite proof of the relationship between germs and disease. Washing your hands to prevent infection was popular in England even before Semmelweis, but since the English scientists still believed in the theory of miasma, they were right for the wrong reasons.
- To be fair, Semmelweiss didn't advocate washing your hands with soap, he advocated washing them with carbolic acid, which doesn't exactly promote the kind of skin you'd see in a hand lotion commercial. You can see why folks might resist the idea. (Well, that, and Semmelweiss was by many accounts about as sane as Nikola Tesla.)
- The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was predicted to swerve out to sea by the National Weather Service, but instead kept moving due North and slammed into Long Island and the coast beyond. The lone Weather Service employee who had pointed out the threat of such a landfall was disregarded due to his lack of seniority, and no warnings were issued until after the storm had demolished regional communication lines.
- The predictions that it would veer out to sea were very reasonable and actually probably more likely to come true. The main problem was that nobody kept watch on it just in case it didn't change course as predicted.
- An historical War & Politics example can be found in Sir Isaac Brock, the British General in charge of the defense of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) against the United States in the War of 1812. He was one of a few who believed that war with the U.S. was imminent and one of fewer who actually cared about the implications this would have for British North America. He and a small number of other leaders (notably the Native Chief Tecumseh) took steps to prepare against a possible invasion (even his time collaborating with Tecumseh was only a short couple of days, and Brock's main focus was on making sure the militia would be ready). Although he died at Queenston Heights, his preparations (taken pretty much completely of his own accord) and his strategic skill in several battles ultimately secured the safety of Upper Canada. As his Wikipedia Article states:
"While many in Canada and Britain believed war could be averted, Brock began to ready the army and militia for what was to come. When the War of 1812 broke out, the populace was prepared, and quick victories at Fort Mackinac and Detroit crippled American invasion efforts. Brock's actions, particularly his success at Detroit, earned him a knighthood, membership in the Order of the Bath, accolades and the epithet "The Hero of Upper Canada"."
- Harry Markopolos spent years trying to convince the SEC that a well-connected genius investor was running a massive Ponzi scheme. They all ignored him until Bernie Madoff's fund collapsed. Some have pointed out his abrasiveness made his message harder to swallow (he once called the SEC staff "a bunch of idiots"). Others have pointed out it was well deserved.
- The Vajont Dam in Italy. When it was being constructed, three experts published studies warning that the nearby Mount Toc was in danger of collapsing into the artificial lake if the barrage's filling went ahead. They were ignored… and four years later, Mount Toc followed up on their predictions, earning Vajont the dubious honor of being the source of the largest man-made tsunami in history (a 250-meter-high, or 820-foot-high wall of water that wiped out several villages and killed thousands in its path).
- Dutch engineer Johan van Veen. From 1937 on he started petitioning and warning the Dutch government to reinforce the diking system in the south-western part of the Netherlands. Nobody listened to him. Cue 1953, a freak storm and much of the province Zeeland was flooded, with 1800 people dead. After the stormflood... he got all of his plans approved and this started a 30 year project of protecting the south-western lands from the North Sea. Knowing the government would not listen to his warning, how did he sign his proposals before the fated storm? Dr. Cassandra.
- Former Chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Brooksley Born who spent years warning Congress of the dangers of unfamiliar financial instruments that could result in global financial instability and collapse if misused. Her warnings were ignored, leading to ... global financial instability and collapse.
- Slightly subverted by Hussein Kamil Hassan al-Majid, Saddam's son-in-law and head of Iraq's WMD program. His statements about the progress Iraq's WMD programs had made surprised intelligence agencies but was accepted. His statements that Iraq's WMD were destroyed on the other hand...
- ↑ These being the O-rings, which create seals on the fuel tank; cold rendered the O-rings rigid and unpliable, meaning gaps in the seal were created