The Mad scientist reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Mad scientist

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A mad scientist is a stock character of popular fiction, either villainous, or benignly unconscious and scatter-brained. Whether insane or just eccentric, the Mad Scientist is usually working with some utterly fictional technology in order to forward his evil schemes. Alternatively he doesn't see the evil that will ensue from his hubris in "playing God." Recent mad scientist depictions are often satirical and humorous, and some are actually protagonists, such as Dexter in the cartoon series Dexter's Laboratory.

They LAUGHED at my theories at the institute! Fools! I'll destroy them all!" – A stereotypical mad scientist caricature" >

Table of contents
1 Defining characteristics in the tradition
2 History
3 Fictional mad scientists since 1945
4 Fields of research
5 Untouched fields
6 Real-life prototypes
7 References analyzing the cultural motif
8 External links: analyzing the culture motif
9 External links: within the genre

Defining characteristics in the tradition

Mad scientists are typically characterized by obsessive behaviour and the employment of extremely dangerous or unorthodox methods. They often are motivated by revenge, seeking to settle real or imagined slights, typically related to their unorthodox studies.

Their laboratories often hum with Tesla coils, Van de Graaff generators, Jacob's ladderss, perpetual motion machines, and other visually impressive electrical oddments, or are decorated with test tubes and complicated distillation apparatus containing strangely-coloured liquids with no obvious purpose.

Other traits include:

It is notable that most of these traits are little more than an exaggeration of normal scientists' behaviour. Scientists are often obsessive about their work, and take a dim view of societal considerations that interfere with it. There is no firm dividing line between sane scientists and mad scientists, and the ones mentioned in the rest of this article cover the entire spectrum.

History

Warning: Plot details follow.

Before 1945

The stereotype originated in literary works in the nineteenth century to depict the dangers of science. The perceived conflict between science and religion during this period informed the earliest depictions of the stereotype.

The prototypical mad scientist was Doctor Frankenstein, creator of Frankenstein's monster, who made his first appearance in 1818, in the novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. Though Dr. Frankenstein is a sympathetic character, the critical element of conducting forbidden experiments that cross "boundaries that ought not to be crossed", heedless of the consequences, is present in Shelley's novel.

Other early mad scientists include:

Nevertheless, the essentially benign and progressive impression of science in the public mind continued unchecked, exemplified by the optimistic "Century of Progress" exhibition in Chicago, 1933, and the "World of Tomorrow" at the New York World's Fair of 1939.

Since 1945

Mad scientists had their heyday in popular culture in the period after World War II. The sadistic medical experiments of the Nazis and the invention of the atomic bomb gave rise in this period to genuine fears that science and technology had gone out of control. The scientific and technological build up during the Cold War, with its increasing threats of unparallelled destruction, did not lessen the impression. Mad scientists frequently figure in science fiction and motion pictures from the period. The movie , in which Peter Sellers plays the title Dr. Strangelove, is perhaps the ultimate expression of this fear of the power of science.

In more recent years, the mad scientist as a lone investigator of the forbidden unknown has tended to be replaced by mad corporate executives who plan to profit from defying the laws of nature and humanity regardless of who suffers; these people hire a salaried scientific staff to pursue their twisted dreams. This shift is typified by the revised history of Superman's archenemy, Lex Luthor: originally conceived in the 1930s as a typically solitary mad scientist, a major retcon of the character's origins in the early 1980s made him the head of a mega corporation who also plays a leading role in his R & D department. Still, the pose has been used whimsically by popular science writers to attract readers.

Fictional mad scientists since 1945

See also: Cranks

Fields of research

Untouched fields

Fields that are largely untapped by mad scientists include:

Contrast: List of heroic fictional scientists

Real-life prototypes

The scientists of literature and popular imagination have better defined our image of "mad science" than have actual scientists, because that is their function: to reflect back our own prejudices. "Popular belief and behavior are influenced more by images than by demonstrable facts" (Roslynn Doris Haynes, 1994). Some real-life scientists, not necessarily madmen, whose personalities (and sometimes, appearances) have contributed to the stereotype:

Related: List of notable eccentrics

References analyzing the cultural motif

External links: analyzing the culture motif

External links: within the genre