Whatever happened to the "mad, bad" scientist? Overturning the stereotype.

Author Haynes, Roslynn
Year 2014
Journal Public Understanding of Science
Keywords mathematics, mad, mentally ill scientist

Titles discussed


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 reasonsfor 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.


Published online before print June 10, 2014, doi:10.1177/0963662514535689