I’m sure the first image to pop into your mind is a room full of Tesla coils, beakers with colorful fluids in them, and a woman tied down to a plank somewhere with a monkey guard standing watch over her as his lab coat wearing master screams out a window. Mad scientists have been the staple of many a genre for the last century. Which begs the question: Why are they the mad ones? Why is it that they seem to go off the deep end more than any other field? I mean you never see a mad ice cream man or a mad proctologist (though I do fear a mad proctologist); so why is it that the specific field of science creates these crazed nuts in fiction?
Take an improbable situation in which we’ve armed a gorilla with Titan missiles that have a nuclear yield that is x1000 stronger than what we dropped on Hiroshima. That seems just preposterous right? What branch of the military would seriously think that is a good idea? Then you place a dude in a white lab coat with an eyebrow hair issue standing next to said experiment and BOOM, you have plausibility.
Shhhhh with the questions.
They are the scapegoats of almost any story because they are almost always depicted as these people with an insane plan on how to take control of the world through popsicles or something. And if there is ever another scientist who is seen as being somewhat sane, they are killed in either a heroic fashion or in a dastardly move by the evil, mad scientist.
How did this even become a thing?
You can thank the Nazi scientists who would experiment on the Jews in concentration camps. They would put these people through terrible studies that were horrific in nature. These studies were mostly seen as useless because they were scientifically unsound and obviously done against the will of the people involved. Most of the reasoning behind these experiments was eugenics, which gave us ‘justifiable’ racism, dog breeds, and horse bloodlines; and these have stuck around because reasons.
Once the public caught wind of these horrific studies this gave writers permission to use this monster in their fiction. Ever since then, we’ve seen scientist after scientist go into nightmarish studies and find a terror beyond imagination. There was a brief stint in the 1950’s that gave us scientists that were intelligent and not insane, but overall being nutty is the norm with this particular industry.
Why does this stereotype continue to live on?
This all ties back to Frankenstein. Mary Shelly’s classic tale of horror and science, in a time when the very topic of science was becoming less taboo and increasingly accepted. This story casts a huge shadow on the literary world and over the science-fiction genre and because of this shadow we’ve come to expect certain behaviors from those people who delve into the unknown.
Scientists usually march into this realm in order to understand it fully. They question both the established norms and explore different paths. This can sometime result in something awesome or horrific, like pseudoscience which lead to not vaccinating children or showing that Coke can instantly solidify boiling lead. Once we learn something it is hard to unlearn it, even when it is incorrect, and this is the reason why mad scientists continue to show up: They are a warning.
We’ve seen what misinformation can do to the populous and this is why the scientific community continues to make sure that things are checked, double checked, and triple checked, because once something is said by a person in a white coat it is taken as gospel by many people. The mad scientist is here to show us what happens to people who have a responsibility to look out for others but instead choose to pursue their own selfish goals. Which is why Fronkensteen, I’m sorry, Frankenstein’s, will always be around.
Just know that if you ever go down the mad scientist route, be sure to include gorillas in some fashion as they are fashionable.