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“”They LAUGHED at my theories at the institute! Fools! I'll destroy them all!
“”They say madness runs in our family. Some even call me mad. And why? Because I dared to dream of my own race of atomic monsters! Atomic supermen with octagonal shaped bodies that suck blood out of yo- *leaves room*
|—Professor Farnsworth, Futurama|
A mad scientist is a scientist who is insane, or at the least very eccentric. The mad scientist is a stock character who usually appears as a villain; some have claimed this character is increasingly portrayed as a hero. He is usually working with some utterly fictional technology, either to do his science or to create new technology. His story is one of several anti-science narratives, and he is often the butt of a cautionary tale.
The stereotype originated in literary works in the nineteenth century to depict the dangers of science. The perceived conflict between science and religion during this period informed the earliest depictions of the stereotype. The prototypical mad scientist was Victor Frankenstein, creator of Frankenstein's monster, who made his first appearance in 1818, in the novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. Though Frankenstein is a character of some sympathy in his first appearance, the critical elements of conducting forbidden experiments that cross "boundaries that ought not to be crossed," heedless of the consequences, are present in Shelley's novel.
Mad scientists had their heyday in popular culture in the period after World War II. The sadistic medical experiments of the Nazis and the atomic bomb gave rise in this period to genuine fears that science and technology had become forces out of control. Mad scientists frequently figure in science fiction and motion pictures from the period (e.g. Dr. Strangelove).
In more recent years, the mad scientist as a lone searcher of the forbidden unknown has tended to be replaced by mad corporate executives who plan to profit from defying the laws of nature and humanity; these people hire a salaried scientific staff to pursue their twisted dreams. The current version of Superman's arch-enemy, Lex Luthor, as originally the head of a mega corporation who plays a leading role in the R&D Department typifies this shift. Still, the pose has been used whimsically by popular science writers to attract readers (things are more interesting if they are somehow dangerous).
Mad scientists are typically characterized by obsessive behaviour and the employment of extremely dangerous methods. Their laboratories often hum with Tesla coils, Van de Graaff generators, and other electrical oddments that make lots of sparks and pops. The general rule to follow when you encounter mad scientist experiments is "do not attempt this at home!"
There is a good deal of overlap between the idea of the mad scientist and that of the evil genius. Often a mad scientist is also an evil genius (such as Dr. Strangelove), but frequently the mad scientist is simply eccentric or even crazy but without evil intent, such as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in Young Doctor Frankenstein.