eCite Digital Repository

From alchemy to artificial intelligence: stereotypes of the scientist in Western literature


Haynes, RD, From alchemy to artificial intelligence: stereotypes of the scientist in Western literature, Public Understanding of Science, 12 pp. 243-253. ISSN 1361-6609 (2003) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

SAGE Publications

DOI: doi:10.1177/0963662503123003


Throughout Western culture, the master narrative of the scientist is of an evil and dangerous man. This simplification underlying contemporary mythology of knowledge arises from fear of the power and change that science entails, leaving many people feeling confused and disempowered. It reemerges in the media, most often under the name of "Frankenstein," with any new discovery that appears to threaten social equilibrium. This is not a new phenomenon. From medieval stories about alchemists to films about computer hackers, good scientists are in the minority, and the number of recurring stereotypes is small. Seven are identified: the evil alchemist; the noble scientist as hero or savior of society; the foolish scientist, whether the gullible, seventeenthcentury virtuoso or the absent-minded professor; the inhuman researcher of romanticism; the scientist as adventurer, transcending boundaries of space and time; the mad, bad, dangerous scientist, unscrupulous in the exercise of power; and the helpless scientist, unable to control the outcome of his or her work. These archetypes offer writers and filmmakers a convenient shorthand, a matrix in which to slot contemporary scientists and their projects, simplifying the issues. Like all myths, they appear simple but represent complex ideas and suppressed fears, which transcend time, place, and race.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:alchemy, science and literature, western culture
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:121477
Year Published:2003
Web of Science® Times Cited:61
Deposited By:Office of the School of Humanities
Deposited On:2017-09-29
Last Modified:2017-11-30

Repository Staff Only: item control page