Whatever happened to the ‘mad, bad’ scientist? Overturning the stereotype

Roslynn D Haynes

The cluster of myths relating to the pursuit of knowledge has perpetuated the archetype of the alchemist/scientist as sinister, dangerous, possibly mad and threatening to society’s values. Shelley’s Frankenstein provided imagery and a vocabulary universally invoked in relation to scientific discoveries and technological innovation. The reasons for the longevity of this seemingly antiquated, semiotic imagery are discussed. In the twenty-first century, this stereotype has been radically revised, even overturned. Scientists are now rarely objects of fear or mockery. Mathematicians, both real-life and fictional, are discussed here as being representative of scientists now depicted empathically. This article examines possible sociological reasons for this reversal; what the revisionist image suggests about society’s changed attitudes to science; and what might be the substitute fears and sources of horror.



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