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Mad scientist

"They LAUGHED at my theories at the institute! Fools! I'll destroy them all!"
—Origin unknown

A mad scientist is a scientist who is insane or at the least very eccentric. The mad scientist is a stock character who usually appears in fiction as a villain; some have claimed this character is increasingly portrayed as the protagonist (see scientists in film). He is usually working with some utterly fictional technology, either to do his science or to create new technology.

A stereotypical Mad Scientist caricature.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Fictional Mad Scientists since 1945
3 Common Defining Characteristics
4 Fields of Research
5 Untouched Fields
6 Real-life Prototypes
7 References
8 External Links


Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

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 character of some sympathy in his first appearance, the critical elements of conducting forbidden experiments that cross "boundaries that ought not to be crossed", heedless of the consequences, are present in Shelley's novel.

Nevertheless, the essentially benign and progressive nature of science in the public imagination continued without a check, 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 atomic bomb gave rise in this period to genuine fears that science and technology had become forces out of control. Mad scientists frequently figure in science fiction and motion pictures from the period. The movie Dr. Strangelove or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, in which Peter Sellers plays the title Dr. Strangelove, is perhaps the ultimate expression of this fear of science out of control.

In more recent years, the mad scientist as a lone searcher 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 mad scientist in the lone-searcher-of-the-forbidden-unknown, 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 (things are more interesting if they are somehow dangerous).

Fictional Mad Scientists since 1945

Common Defining Characteristics

Mad scientists are typically characterized by obsessive behaviour and the employment of extremely dangerous methods. Their laboratories often hum with Tesla coils, Van de Graaff generators, perpetual motion machines, and other electrical oddments that make lots of sparks and pops, or are decorated with test tubes and complicated distillation apparatus containing strangely-coloured liquids - often irrespective of whether the scientist in question is doing work that would require such equipment. The general rule to follow when you encounter mad scientist experiments is 'do not attempt this at home!'

Fields of Research

Untouched Fields

Fields that are largely untapped by mad scientists include:

Contrast: List of heroic fictional scientists

Real-life Prototypes

Some real-life scientists, not necessarily madmen, whose personalities have contributed to the stereotype:


External Links