Brave Thinkers

The sun revolves around the earth.
Animal species never change.
Black people are inferior to white people.
The government can’t provide health insurance to old folks.
Humans can’t fly to the moon.
Telephones are only for talking and listening.

Some of these assumptions had the force of science behind them, others just the force of habit, but all of them seem ridiculous in retrospect. All of them collapsed only because someone had the courage to step outside the consoling, persuading flow of tradition and ask fundamental questions about why things are the way they are, and how they might be instead. The Atlantic has always aspired to challenge its readers, and its times, by giving voice to some of the most provocative thinkers of their eras. Brave Thinking, from Henry David Thoreau’s blunt naturalism to Martin Luther King’s calls for justice, can be unsettling. But it drives society forward. Now, in our first annual Brave Thinkers issue, we have identified a small group of men and women who have risked their careers, reputations, fortunes, and, in some cases, even lives to advance ideas that upend an established order. Why 27? Because after months of research, tabulation, and debate about hundreds of candidates, that’s how many we could agree on. Some of them may prove to be wrong, and others wrong-headed. But all of them embody the kind of courage that stirs the spirit and inspires us to think for ourselves.

Click here to view all of The Atlantic’s Brave Thinkers, or browse the list below.

Thorkil Sonne
CEO and Founder of Specialisterne

Ben Bernanke
Chairman of the Federal Reserve

Morgan Tsvangirai
Prime Minister of Zimbabwe

Camille Parmesan
Professor, University of Texas at Austin

Shai Agassi
Founder of Better Place

Steve Jobs and John Lasseter
Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Pixar Animation Studios

Montgomery McFate
Senior Social Scientist at the Human Terrain System

Freeman Dyson
Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Iftikhar Chaudhry
Chief Justice of Pakistan

John Fetterman
Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania

Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Publisher of the New York Times

Craig Watkins
Dallas District Attorney

Henry Greely
Director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Bio-Sciences

Walter E. Hussman Jr.
Publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Ralph Nader
Perennial Third-Party Presidential Candidate

Sheila C. Bair
Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

Paul Polak
Founder of International Development Enterprises and D-Rev

Trey Parker and Matt Stone
South Park Creators

Barack Obama
President of the United States

Mark Zuckerberg
Founder and CEO of Facebook

Danny Day
Founder and President of Eprida

Jim Webb
Senator from Virginia

Jeff Zucker
President and CEO of NBC Universal

Meredith Whitney
Founder and CEO of Meredith Whitney Advisory Group LLC

Alex de Waal
Program Director at the Social Science Research Council