Mad scientist

Mad scientist

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A mad scientist is a stock character
Stock character
A Stock character is a fictional character based on a common literary or social stereotype. Stock characters rely heavily on cultural types or names for their personality, manner of speech, and other characteristics. In their most general form, stock characters are related to literary archetypes,...

 of popular fiction
Genre fiction
Genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, is a term for fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre....

, specifically science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

. The mad scientist may be villain
Villain
A villain is an "evil" character in a story, whether a historical narrative or, especially, a work of fiction. The villain usually is the antagonist, the character who tends to have a negative effect on other characters...

ous or antagonistic, benign or neutral, and whether insane
Psychosis
Psychosis means abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality"...

, eccentric, or simply bumbling, mad scientists often work with fictional technology
Fictional technology
Fictional technology is proposed or described in many different contexts for many different reasons:*Exploratory engineering seeks to identify if a prospective technology can be designed in detail, and simulated, even if it cannot be built yet - this is often a prerequisite to venture capital...

 in order to forward their schemes, if they even have a coherent scheme. Alternatively, they fail to see the potential objections to playing God. Not all mad scientists are evil or villains. Some may have benevolent or good spirited intentions, even if their actions are dangerous or questionable, which can make them accidental villains. In the same relation, some are protagonists (or at least positive forces), such as Dexter in the animated series Dexter's Laboratory
Dexter's Laboratory
Dexter's Laboratory is an American animated television series created by Genndy Tartakovsky and produced by Cartoon Network Studios . The show is about a boy named Dexter who has an enormous secret laboratory filled with an endless collection of his inventions...

,
Dr. Muto
Dr. Muto
Dr. Muto is a 2002 video game by Midway Games for the Nintendo GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation 2, and Game Boy Advance.-Plot:Dr. Muto, a scientist, had built a machine that would provide free, renewable energy for his home planet of Midway. However, the machine was sabotaged by Muto's rival, Dr...

, Professor Farnsworth
Hubert J. Farnsworth
Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, or simply The Professor, is a fictional character in the American animated television series Futurama. He is voiced by Billy West using a combination of impressions of Burgess Meredith and Frank Morgan. Farnsworth is the proprietor of the Planet Express delivery...

, Philo in UHF
UHF (film)
UHF is a 1989 American comedy film starring "Weird Al" Yankovic, David Bowe, Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards, Gedde Watanabe, Billy Barty, Anthony Geary, Emo Philips and Trinidad Silva, in whose memory the film is dedicated.The title refers to Ultra High Frequency...

, Rintarō Okabe
Steins;Gate
is a Japanese visual novel developed by 5pb. and Nitroplus, and was released on October 15, 2009 for the Xbox 360. This is the two companies' second time collaborating together after Chaos;Head. A port to the Windows operating system on the PC was released on August 26, 2010 and a port for Sony's...

, Dr. Benjamin Jeffcoat
My Secret Identity
My Secret Identity is a Canadian television series starring Jerry O'Connell and Derek McGrath. Originally broadcast from September 1, 1988 to May 1, 1991 on CTV in Canada, the series also aired in syndication in the United States.-Synopsis:...

, Professor Cuthbert Calculus
Professor Calculus
Professor Cuthbert Calculus is a fictional character in The Adventures of Tintin, the series of classic Belgian comic books written and illustrated by Hergé...

, or Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown
Emmett Brown
Doctor Emmett Lathrop "Doc" Brown, Ph.D. is a fictional character and one of the lead characters in the Back to the Future film trilogy, in which he is the inventor of the first time machine, which he builds out of a DeLorean sports car...

 from the Back to the Future
Back to the Future
Back to the Future is a 1985 American science-fiction adventure film. It was directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, produced by Steven Spielberg, and starred Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson. The film tells the story of...

movies. Occasionally, there are self parodies of mad scientists making fun of the stereotype.

Precursors


Since ancient times, popular imagination has circulated on archetypal figures who wielded esoteric knowledge. Shamans, witches and witch doctor
Witch doctor
A witch doctor originally referred to a type of healer who treated ailments believed to be caused by witchcraft. It is currently used to refer to healers in some third world regions, who use traditional healing rather than contemporary medicine...

s were held in reverence and fear of their rumored abilities to conjure beasts and create demons. They shared many of the same perceived characteristics such as eccentric behavior, living as hermits, and the ability to create life.

Perhaps the closest figure in Western mythology to the modern mad scientist was Daedalus
Daedalus
In Greek mythology, Daedalus was a skillful craftsman and artisan.-Family:...

, creator of the labyrinth
Labyrinth
In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos...

, who was then imprisoned by King Minos
Minos
In Greek mythology, Minos was a king of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. Every year he made King Aegeus pick seven men and seven women to go to Daedalus' creation, the labyrinth, to be eaten by The Minotaur. After his death, Minos became a judge of the dead in Hades. The Minoan civilization of Crete...

. To escape, he invented two pairs of wings made from feathers and beeswax, one for himself and the other for his son Icarus
Icarus (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Icarus is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus. The main story told about Icarus is his attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax...

. While Daedalus himself managed to fly to safety, Icarus flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax of his wings, casting him down into the sea below.

In actual history, Archimedes
Archimedes
Archimedes of Syracuse was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Although few details of his life are known, he is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. Among his advances in physics are the foundations of hydrostatics, statics and an...

 shares some of the elements of the mad scientist, but was closer to the more benign archetype of the absent-minded professor
Absent-minded professor
The absent-minded professor is a stock character of popular fiction, usually portrayed as a talented academic whose focus on academic matters leads them to ignore or forget their surroundings....

 (anecdotally, at least - read the story of the Golden Crown or the accounts of his death for examples).

A more whimsical prototype of the mad scientist can be found in Aristophanes
Aristophanes
Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

' comedy
Comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

 The Clouds
The Clouds
The Clouds is a comedy written by the celebrated playwright Aristophanes lampooning intellectual fashions in classical Athens. It was originally produced at the City Dionysia in 423 BC and it was not well received, coming last of the three plays competing at the festival that year. It was revised...

. The play depicts Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

, a contemporary of Aristophanes, as tinkering with odd devices and performing implausible experiments to determine the nature of the clouds and sky, and presents his philosophical method as a means for deceiving others and escaping blame, closer to the later descriptions of his opponents, the Sophists, than to those usually ascribed to him. While this is at variance with the depictions by Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 and Xenophon
Xenophon
Xenophon , son of Gryllus, of the deme Erchia of Athens, also known as Xenophon of Athens, was a Greek historian, soldier, mercenary, philosopher and a contemporary and admirer of Socrates...

, two of Socrates' students, it is plausible that Aristophanes' parody
Parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

 of Socrates is more accurate than their panegyric
Panegyric
A panegyric is a formal public speech, or written verse, delivered in high praise of a person or thing, a generally highly studied and discriminating eulogy, not expected to be critical. It is derived from the Greek πανηγυρικός meaning "a speech fit for a general assembly"...

s. One of Plato's students, Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, is known to have also been an experimentalist, and may have taken the concept up from his teacher's teacher. A similar parody of insane and pointless experimentation may be found in the Academy of Lagado in Gulliver's Travels (1726)

The protoscience of alchemy
Alchemy
Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base...

 long had a resemblance to mad science with its lofty goals and bizarre experiments. It is known certain alchemists behaved strangely, sometimes as a result of handling dangerous substances, such as mercury poisoning
Mercury poisoning
Mercury poisoning is a disease caused by exposure to mercury or its compounds. Mercury is a heavy metal occurring in several forms, all of which can produce toxic effects in high enough doses...

 in the case of Sir Isaac Newton. The famous alchemist Paracelsus
Paracelsus
Paracelsus was a German-Swiss Renaissance physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer, and general occultist....

 claimed to be able to create a homunculus
Homunculus
Homunculus is a term used, generally, in various fields of study to refer to any representation of a human being. Historically, it referred specifically to the concept of a miniature though fully formed human body, for example, in the studies of alchemy and preformationism...

, an artificial human. Alchemy steadily declined with the advent of modern science during the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

.

Scientists and inventors of the modern era have also contributed to the development of common tropes surrounding the mad scientist. Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer...

 in his later years conceptualized a so-called "death ray
Death ray
The death ray or death beam was a theoretical particle beam or electromagnetic weapon of the 1920s through the 1930s that was claimed to have been invented independently by Nikola Tesla, Edwin R. Scott, Harry Grindell Matthews, and Graichen, as well as others...

" (a directed energy weapon) and was sensationalized in the media, notably the New York Times and the New York Sun, as a prototypical mad scientist for it.

Films and fiction


Since the 19th century, fictitious depictions of science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 have vacillated between notions of science as the salvation of society or its doom. Consequently, depictions of scientists in fiction ranged between the virtuous and the depraved, the sober and the insane. Until the 20th century, optimism about progress was the most common attitude towards science (with notable exceptions as Herbert G. Wells), but latent anxieties about disturbing "the secrets of nature" would surface following the increasing role of science in wartime affairs, as well as increased scrutiny of vivisection
Vivisection
Vivisection is defined as surgery conducted for experimental purposes on a living organism, typically animals with a central nervous system, to view living internal structure...

 and the development of the animal rights
Animal rights
Animal rights, also known as animal liberation, is the idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings...

 movement.
The prototypical fictional mad scientist was Victor Frankenstein
Victor Frankenstein
Victor Frankenstein was born in Napoli, is a Swiss fictional character and the protagonist of the 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, written by Mary Shelley...

, creator of his eponymous monster
Frankenstein's monster
Frankenstein's monster is a fictional character that first appeared in Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. The creature is often erroneously referred to as "Frankenstein", but in the novel the creature has no name...

, who made his first appearance in 1818, in the novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus
Frankenstein
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel about a failed experiment that produced a monster, written by Mary Shelley, with inserts of poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley started writing the story when she was eighteen, and the novel was published when she was twenty-one. The first...

by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley was a British novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus . She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley...

. Though 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. Frankenstein was trained as both alchemist and modern scientist which makes him the bridge between two eras of an evolving archetype. The book is the precursor of a new genre, science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

, though as an example of Gothic horror
Gothic fiction
Gothic fiction, sometimes referred to as Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance. Gothicism's origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled "A Gothic Story"...

 it is connected with other antecedents as well.

Another archetypal Mad Scientist is Faust
Faust
Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend; a highly successful scholar, but also dissatisfied with his life, and so makes a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. Faust's tale is the basis for many literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical...

, or Dr. Faustus. The Faust legend is a widely recognized and referenced example of selling one's soul to the devil. In almost all cases, Faust is selling his soul for knowledge or supernatural power.

Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang was an Austrian-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute...

's 1927 movie Metropolis brought the archetypical
Archetype
An archetype is a universally understood symbol or term or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated...

 mad scientist to the screen in the form of Rotwang
Rotwang
C. A. Rotwang is a fictional character in Fritz Lang's 1927 science fiction film Metropolis. Rotwang was played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge.- Character overview :...

, the evil genius whose machines gave life to the dystopia
Dystopia
A dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian, as characterized in books like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four...

n city of the title. Rotwang's laboratory
Laboratory
A laboratory is a facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific research, experiments, and measurement may be performed. The title of laboratory is also used for certain other facilities where the processes or equipment used are similar to those in scientific laboratories...

 influenced many subsequent movie sets with its electrical arcs, bubbling apparatus, and bizarrely complicated arrays of dials and controls. Portrayed by actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Friedrich Rudolf Klein-Rogge was a German film actor. Klein-Rogge is known for playing sinister figures in films in the 1920s and 1930s as well as being a main-stay in director Fritz Lang's Weimar-era films.- Biography :...

, Rotwang himself is the prototypically conflicted mad scientist; though he is master of almost mystical scientific power, he remains slave to his own desires for power and revenge. Rotwang's appearance was also influential - the character's shock of flyaway hair, wild-eyed demeanor, and his quasi-fascist laboratory garb have all been adopted as shorthand for the mad scientist "look". Even his mechanical right hand has become a mark of twisted scientific power, echoed notably in Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer who lived in England during most of the last four decades of his career...

's Dr. Strangelove and in the novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is a 1965 novel by US science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. It was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965....

 (1965) by Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick
Philip Kindred Dick was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments and altered...

.
Nevertheless, the essentially benign and progressive impression of science in the public mind continued unchecked, exemplified by the optimistic "Century of Progress
Century of Progress
A Century of Progress International Exposition was the name of a World's Fair held in Chicago from 1933 to 1934 to celebrate the city's centennial. The theme of the fair was technological innovation...

" exhibition in Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, 1933, and the "World of Tomorrow" at the New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 World's Fair
World's Fair
World's fair, World fair, Universal Exposition, and World Expo are various large public exhibitions held in different parts of the world. The first Expo was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, United Kingdom, in 1851, under the title "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All...

 of 1939. However, after the first World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, public attitudes began to shift, if only subtly, when chemical warfare
Chemical warfare
Chemical warfare involves using the toxic properties of chemical substances as weapons. This type of warfare is distinct from Nuclear warfare and Biological warfare, which together make up NBC, the military acronym for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical...

 and the airplane
Fixed-wing aircraft
A fixed-wing aircraft is an aircraft capable of flight using wings that generate lift due to the vehicle's forward airspeed. Fixed-wing aircraft are distinct from rotary-wing aircraft in which wings rotate about a fixed mast and ornithopters in which lift is generated by flapping wings.A powered...

 were the terror weapons of the day. As an example, of all science fiction before 1914 which dealt with the end of the world, two-thirds were about naturalistic endings (such as collision with an asteroid
Asteroid
Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

), and the other third was devoted to endings caused by humans (about half were accidental, half purposeful). After 1914, the idea of any human actually killing the remainder of humanity became a more imaginable fantasy (even if it was still impossible), and the ratio switched to two-thirds of all end-of-the-world scenarios being the product of human maliciousness or error. Though still drowned out by feelings of optimism, the seeds of anxiety had been thoroughly sown.

The most common tool of mad scientists in this era was electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

. It was viewed widely as a quasi-mystical force with chaotic and unpredictable properties by an ignorant public.

A recent survey of 1,000 horror films distributed in the UK between the 1930s and 1980s reveals mad scientists or their creations have been the villains of 30 percent of the films; scientific research has produced 39 percent of the threats; and, by contrast, scientists have been the heroes of a mere 11 percent. (Christopher Frayling
Christopher Frayling
Sir Christopher John Frayling is a British educationalist and writer, known for his study of popular culture.-Biography:Frayling read history at Churchill College, Cambridge and gained a PhD in the study of Jean-Jacques Rousseau...

, New Scientist
New Scientist
New Scientist is a weekly non-peer-reviewed English-language international science magazine, which since 1996 has also run a website, covering recent developments in science and technology for a general audience. Founded in 1956, it is published by Reed Business Information Ltd, a subsidiary of...

, 24 September 2005)

In comic books many of the earliest foes were mad scientists. The Ultra-Humanite
Ultra-Humanite
The Ultra-Humanite is a fictional character that appears in comic books published by DC Comics. The character first appeared in Action Comics #13 , and was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster...

, an evil crippled scientific genius, was Superman
Superman
Superman is a fictional comic book superhero appearing in publications by DC Comics, widely considered to be an American cultural icon. Created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born American artist Joe Shuster in 1932 while both were living in Cleveland, Ohio, and sold to Detective...

's first recurring foe and possibly the first comic book supervillain. He apparently served as a model for the more well-known Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor is a fictional character, a supervillain who appears in comic books published by DC Comics, and the archenemy of Superman, although given his high status as a supervillain, he has also come into conflict with Batman and other superheroes in the DC Universe. Created by Jerry Siegel and...

. Other early exmples include early Batman foe Hugo Strange
Hugo Strange
Professor Hugo Strange is a fictional comic book supervillain appearing in books published by DC Comics, as an adversary of Batman. He first appeared in Detective Comics #36 , and is one of Batman's first recurring villains, preceding the Joker and Catwoman by several months...

. However many of these come more under the classification of evil genius
Evil genius
The evil demon, sometimes referred to as the evil genius, is a concept in Cartesian philosophy. In his 1641 Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes hypothesises the existence of an evil demon, a personification who is "as clever and deceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire...

.

After 1945


Mad scientists were most conspicuous in popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The sadistic medical experiments of the Nazis
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

, especially those of Josef Mengele
Josef Mengele
Josef Rudolf Mengele , also known as the Angel of Death was a German SS officer and a physician in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. He earned doctorates in anthropology from Munich University and in medicine from Frankfurt University...

, 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
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, with its increasing threats of unparalleled destruction, did not lessen the impression. Mad scientists frequently figure in science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 and motion pictures
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

 from the period. Kubrick's
Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer who lived in England during most of the last four decades of his career...

 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, commonly known as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 black comedy film which satirizes the nuclear scare. It was directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and featuring Sterling...

(1963), in which Peter Sellers
Peter Sellers
Richard Henry Sellers, CBE , known as Peter Sellers, was a British comedian and actor. Perhaps best known as Chief Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther film series, he is also notable for playing three different characters in Dr...

 plays the titular Dr. Strangelove, is perhaps the ultimate expression of this fear of the power of science, or the misuse of this power. In the 1950s there was a great deal of enthusiasm for scientific progress, perhaps typified in films such as Disney's Our Friend the Atom
Our Friend the Atom
Our Friend the Atom is a 1957 Walt Disney Productions film describing the benefits of atomic power. As well as being presented on the TV Show Disneyland, this film was also shown to almost all baby boomers in their public school auditoriums or their science classes and was instrumental in creating...

, in which a scientist holds a piece of radioactive Uranium and discusses the positive benefits radioactivity will bring, without due consideration to the potential downsides.

In more recent years, the mad scientist as a lone investigator of the forbidden unknown has tended to be replaced by mad corporate
Corporation
A corporation is created under the laws of a state as a separate legal entity that has privileges and liabilities that are distinct from those of its members. There are many different forms of corporations, most of which are used to conduct business. Early corporations were established by charter...

 executives who plan to profit
Profit (economics)
In economics, the term profit has two related but distinct meanings. Normal profit represents the total opportunity costs of a venture to an entrepreneur or investor, whilst economic profit In economics, the term profit has two related but distinct meanings. Normal profit represents the total...

 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
Superman
Superman is a fictional comic book superhero appearing in publications by DC Comics, widely considered to be an American cultural icon. Created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born American artist Joe Shuster in 1932 while both were living in Cleveland, Ohio, and sold to Detective...

's archenemy
Archenemy
An archenemy, archfoe, archvillain or archnemesis is the principal enemy of a character in a work of fiction, often described as the hero's worst enemy .- Etymology :The word archenemy or arch-enemy originated...

, Lex Luthor: originally conceived in the 1930s as a typically solitary mad scientist, a major retcon
Retcon
Retroactive continuity is the alteration of previously established facts in a fictional work. Retcons are done for many reasons, including the accommodation of sequels or further derivative works in a series, wherein newer authors or creators want to revise the in-story history to allow a course...

 of the character's origins in 1986 made Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor is a fictional character, a supervillain who appears in comic books published by DC Comics, and the archenemy of Superman, although given his high status as a supervillain, he has also come into conflict with Batman and other superheroes in the DC Universe. Created by Jerry Siegel and...

 the head of a megacorporation who also plays a leading role in his R & D
Research and development
The phrase research and development , according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, refers to "creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of...

 department.

The techniques of mad science also changed after Hiroshima
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

. Electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

 was replaced by radiation
Radioactive contamination
Radioactive contamination, also called radiological contamination, is radioactive substances on surfaces, or within solids, liquids or gases , where their presence is unintended or undesirable, or the process giving rise to their presence in such places...

 as the new tool to create, enlarge, or deform life (e.g., Godzilla
Godzilla
is a daikaijū, a Japanese movie monster, first appearing in Ishirō Honda's 1954 film Godzilla. Since then, Godzilla has gone on to become a worldwide pop culture icon starring in 28 films produced by Toho Co., Ltd. The monster has appeared in numerous other media incarnations including video games,...

). As audiences became more savvy, quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, genetic engineering
Genetic engineering
Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest...

, and artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

 have taken the spotlight (e.g., Blade Runner
Blade Runner
Blade Runner is a 1982 American science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young. The screenplay, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, is loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K...

). Some more recent depictions have had the mad scientist focused upon sacrificing humanity for their creation, with sacrifices ranging from a few people to the entire world population.

In the 2000s, a number of works have featured the trappings of mad science as familiar, even mundane elements, and shifted to toying with the implications of a setting where mad scientists may live and thrive. The webcomic Narbonic
Narbonic
Narbonic is a webcomic written and drawn by Shaenon K. Garrity. The storylines center on the misadventures of the staff of Narbonic Labs, which is the domain of mad scientist Helen Narbon. The strip started on July 31, 2000 and finished on December 31, 2006. On January 1, 2007, Garrity launched the...

ostensibly chronicles the daily grind of an evil laboratory in a world where henchmen
Igor (fictional character)
Igor is the traditional stock character or cliché hunch-backed assistant or butler to many types of villain, such as Count Dracula or a mad scientist, familiar from many horror movies and horror movie parodies, the Frankenstein series and Van Helsing films in particular.-Origins:Dwight Frye's...

 have unionized and the New Journal of Malology competes with Modern Madiagnosis. Madwoman/small business
Small business
A small business is a business that is privately owned and operated, with a small number of employees and relatively low volume of sales. Small businesses are normally privately owned corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships...

 owner Helen Narbon plays counter to type by being a plump, cheerful twenty-something blonde, obsessed with the color pink and hideous biological experiments involving gerbils. Comic book turned webcomic Girl Genius
Girl Genius
Girl Genius is an ongoing comic book series turned webcomic, written and drawn by Phil and Kaja Foglio and published by their company, Studio Foglio LLC under the imprint Airship Entertainment...

takes a combination of mad science and steampunk
Steampunk
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually Victorian era Britain or "Wild West"-era United...

 to a logical extreme: a Europe reduced to scattered city-state
City-state
A city-state is an independent or autonomous entity whose territory consists of a city which is not administered as a part of another local government.-Historical city-states:...

s, divided by the clockwork and biological abominations unleashed by its "Spark" overlords. Other commercial examples are Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is a 2008 musical tragicomedy miniseries in three acts, produced exclusively for Internet distribution. Filmed and set in Los Angeles, the show tells the story of Dr...

by Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon
Joseph Hill "Joss" Whedon is an American screenwriter, executive producer, director, comic book writer, occasional composer and actor, founder of Mutant Enemy Productions and co-creator of Bellwether Pictures...

, where the main character has a vocal coach
Vocal coach
A vocal coach is a music teacher who instructs singers on how to improve their singing technique, take care of and develop their voice, and prepare for the performance of a song or other work. Vocal coaches may give private music lessons to singers, or they may coach singers who are rehearsing on...

 to help him develop a maniacal laugh, and the novel Soon I Will Be Invincible
Soon I Will Be Invincible
Soon I Will Be Invincible is a novel by Austin Grossman. It was published by Pantheon Books and released on June 5, 2007. The novel is uses two alternating first person narratives. One narrative is told from the point-of-view of Fatale, a female cyborg who is recruited by the superhero group The...

by Austin Grossman
Austin Grossman
Austin Grossman [b. ] is a writer and game designer who has contributed to the New York Times and a number of video games.He is the author of the novel Soon I Will Be Invincible, which was published by Pantheon Books in 2007....

. The 2008 animated feature film Igor
Igor (film)
Igor is a 2008 computer animated family comedy film about the stock character Igor. The plot revolves around the grotesque title figure Igor and his dreams of winning first place at the Evil Science Fair. The movie was released on September 19, 2008...

depicts an entire nation of mad scientists.

See also


  • Boffin
    Boffin
    In the slang of the United Kingdom, boffins are scientists, medical doctors, engineers, and other people engaged in technical or scientific research.-Origin:...

  • Crank (person)
    Crank (person)
    "Crank" is a pejorative term used for a person who unshakably holds a belief that most of his or her contemporaries consider to be false. A "cranky" belief is so wildly at variance with commonly accepted belief as to be ludicrous...

  • Creativity techniques
    Creativity techniques
    Creativity techniques are methods that encourage creative actions, whether in the arts or sciences. They focus on a variety of aspects of creativity, including techniques for idea generation and divergent thinking, methods of re-framing problems, changes in the affective environment and so on. They...

  • Creativity and mental illness
  • Dr. Clayton Forrester
  • List of mad scientists
  • Megalomaniac

External links