Science is wonder. Science is life-saving. Science is golden. Scientists are- wait those are simply evil; especially in fiction. Aren’t they supposed to reveal the bad, the worse and the worst that scientists are capable of in the real world? Yes? No? What even?
Most good scientists are portrayed as aliens in science fiction. Spock (Star Trek), a half-Martian, science officer aboard the Enterprise. The Doctor (Doctor Who), an alien who relies heavily on science on his adventures. Liet-Kyne (Dune), a planetologist on planet Arrakis. Science in fiction, however, does portray scientists whose purpose is to explain the science because who’s going to believe non-scientists?
A villain is a welcome distraction from the onslaught of heroes upon heroes in fiction, but a villain who is a scientist is simply an evil genius. Intellectually obsessed, morally crippled and emotionally detached, scientists know what the stakes are; in fact, they thrive on them. What could be better than this? Even the best of them are misguided in their intentions. The worst, come hell or high water, just want to take over the world.
Did Dr. Frankenstein create a monster or he himself is one? The morals of Dr. Jekyll are tested to the extreme when he struggles between his good and evil selves. Why are scientists becoming more and more amoral in fiction? What is the science that decides what image of the scientist to represent? Could this be based on theories that were defied over and over only to have them proven true decades later? Galileo was suspected of heresy when his theory of how the earth moves around the sun was made public knowledge. Nikola Tesla’s peculiar nature gave him the image of a mad scientist. Einstein’s theories were regarded as highly controversial at first. Did all of this lead to scientists finding a common ground with their evil intentions in fiction? Or is it because villainy is best suited to the intellectuals?
There are good and bad sides of everything so why a scientist must be regarded with suspicion over his desire and curiosity to know more about the natural world? Why must they be the Faustians of the world; dissatisfied with their lives to the point that it drives them to sell their moral integrity in exchange for unlimited knowledge? Unless they have an agenda of their own, scientists are generally ignored in fiction. In the real world, we are grateful to science for making our lives easier than ever but in fiction, evil inventions and horrendous experiments are carried out for the greater good.
Roslynn D. Haynes says it best in her book, From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature:
“With the exception of the superficial characters of much science fiction, the dominant picture has been of scientists who recapitulate the unflattering stereotypes of earlier centuries – the evil scientist, the stupid scientist, the inhuman scientist – or, as a peculiarly 20th-century contribution, the scientist who has lost control over his discovery.”
Do you think there is a lack of good scientists in science fiction? Or am I being delusional like I usually am? (No, I’m not). Seriously though, tell me what you think.
I think there are definitely a lot more evil, or if not necessarily 'evil', morally questionable scientists in science fiction than good ones. I suppose a lot of it is to do with the fact that we, as the human race, seem rather fascinated by what would happen if scientific experiments went wrong. Plus knowledge is power, so giving these intelligent people power, with their sort of intentions, is pretty scary!
There are definitely a lack of good scientists in science fiction and I think the fascination with evil scientists lies in the moral, philosophical and emotional damage as well as consequences to the scientist himself and the society in which he operates in. Good scientists become another character, someone who is human and just happens to be a scientist. Evil scientists are more defined by their label of "scientist" than they are by their emotions and who they really are.
Ula (Blog of Erised) says
I am kinda bothered they're always evil and maniacal and just overall nuts. Science is good but it's always presented as bad. And the scientists always find sth and then go overboard and become crazy and evil and whatnot. It's strange. I want to read about good people in science in books.
Shannelle C. says
But everyone loves a mad scientist! Okay, joke.
I'm not really sure because I'm not an expert to sci-fi things, even though I hope to be. But do think that if there are good scientists, they aren't really as emphasized as the evil scientists.
So sorry for my worthless two cents. ><
I think you are absolutely right. Every scientist I've seen so far has been a villain and I think they can make a great one (I mean, smart, able to use science, great aspects to be a bad guy), but it's becoming a stereotype..
Liet-Kynes wasn't an alien he was human and he was of the dominant culture of the empire but chose to side with the Fremen. I don't think he works for your argument.
Sadly, I think you're right – the majority of scientists I see in fiction are the bad guys. I recently read and really loved Someone Else's Love Story, in part because one of the main characters is a scientist. He's also autistic and so some of the way he thought was, of course, colored by that fact, but I adored how scientifically he thought about the world, whatever the reasons. It's nice to see that represented in a positive way on occasion 🙂
Brilliant, Sana. You managed to say everything that I think about the subject, but much better than I could ever manage. It's frustrating that this is the case because I love science and have always been a curious and enthusiastic lover and learner of science. I definitely take issue when science or intelligence are treated as something bad, like Erudite Faction in Divergent. We need more positive influences! Really great post!