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


Haynes, RD, Whatever happened to the mad, bad' scientist? Overturning the stereotype, Public Understanding of Science, 25, (1) pp. 31-44. ISSN 0963-6625 (2016) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

© The Author(s) 2014

DOI: doi:10.1177/0963662514535689


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.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:alchemist, communication, environment, evil scientists, Frankenstein, ‘mad scientist’, mathematicians in fiction, myth, semiotic characters
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Communication and media studies
Research Field:Communication and media studies not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture
UTAS Author:Haynes, RD (Dr Roslynn Haynes)
ID Code:118660
Year Published:2016
Web of Science® Times Cited:14
Deposited By:School of Humanities
Deposited On:2017-07-17
Last Modified:2018-02-17

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