This is an old philosphical thought experiment testing our ideas about observation and reality, but I'd like to ask that question about economic scholarship.
I have been intrigued lately by Frank Knight's ideas about how to integrate neoclassical and institutional economics. See the work of Ross Emmett for some context regarding Knight's project, both in his research and his organizational efforts at Chicago. James Buchanan, Knight's student, would in his work in the 1960s refer to a "genuine instiutional economics" that would be an imporant part of "fundamental economic theory." Knight's ideas about this would eventually shape the work of Alchian, Buchanan, Coase, Demsetz, etc., but the citation record is not obviously there to be seen unless someone does a lot more historical contextualizing than merely doing a quick ssci search or even google scholar search on your computer.
To give another example of this absence of attention, Warren Samuel's wrote a very important paper on the correspondence between Knight and Ayers, but it seems to have been read by nobody, and understood by even only a few of those who may have read it. Or consider the fact that Knight published Intelligence in Democratic Action (Harvard, 1960), but the reviews of it in the professional journals are very few, none by any of the really prominient professional players, and they almost all reveal significant misunderstandings of the basic message that Knight is trying to communicate. There is, however, a strong desire to pigeon hole Knight in the free market conservative camp, against the enlightend liberal interventionist camp of the day (even though he is in so many ways incapable of being pigeon holed in such a way).
So I ask, if a scholar writes up a profound point and publishes it in a well-known outlet, and yet nobody is prepared to listen, does he still make a contribution?*
*Besides my reading of Knight and this project of neoclassical institutionalism, I was also inspired to write this by what I considered rather puzzled reactions recently among some historians of economics to the awarding of the John Bates Clark Medal to Kenneth Boudling in 1949. In this conversation, there seems to be a general reluctance to contextualize Boulding in those days before Samuelson and Friedman came to dominate post-WWII economics, and the old guard of pre-Keynes economists such as Knight (and even Hayek and Mises) were still considered significant contributors to economic knowledge. Boulding would become a lone-wolf after The Reconstruciton of Economics (1950), but prior to that he clearly had a legitimate claim to being one of the top dogs in the new pack of economic thinkers. I am very fond of pointing folks to his JPE review of Samuelson's Foundations, which was written with great confidence, wit, and in my opinion brilliant and prescient insight. It was very bad for the science of economics that the warnings contained in that review were not heeded. But the fact that nobody paid attention those warnings is part of the reason Boulding became a lone wolf. What other thinkers suffered a similar fate? And again I ask, just because the audience is unprepared to listen for any variety of reasons, does that mean what you have to say makes no sound?