Mad Scientists among us

Mad scientists are frequent antagonists in comics and cartoons. Has there ever been a real-live mad scientist? The unibomber was sort of one. When I was a wee lad I always cheered for the MS.

I think Thomas Edison was a mad scientist. He didn’t take over the world, but he was very eccentric and weird. He used to pay children to kidnap pets so he could electrocute them, just to prove that a rival’s invention was too dangerous. Here my memory is shaky: I think Edison invented the direct current electrical circuit, and wanted to prove that alternating currents were too dangerous. So he put on a show of zapping Menlo Park’s cats and dogs when his juvenile minions brought them to him.

He also hated the phonograph disc, which was a competitor to his wax cylinder. Of course, Edison wasn’t a true scientist - he was just another monopoly capitalist who happened to use technology to his ends - a robber baron for the 20th Century. But he seems close to a mad scientist anyway.

(Maybe I’m just biased cause I’m an Alexander Graham Bell fan.)

Well, Edison’s rival in the AC/DC fight, Tesla, was truly a mad scientist–although he was right on a lot of his science, including championing AC over Edison’s DC.


How 'bout Edison’s ace buddy, Nikola Tesla?

There have been other Tesla threads here, I believe, if anyone wants the full and Straight Dope on the guy.

But he did hear voices, see visions, and enjoy hurling bolts of energy about.


Great thread, I’m curious if anyone knows of any MS’s that are comparable to those of Sci-Fi flicks, I’m sure some famous names will come up, but most won’t be the super-villian mad scientist we expect.

Heres my contribution. Mengle, he’s a mad scientist by all accounts. But he’s supported by a Nazi regime that fits several of the surreal crimes that most wouldn’t believe could happen outside of fiction. He however isn’t a criminal bent on ruining the world or ransoming cities for money.

It going to matter if a simply creative terrorist that is also fashionable in Sci-Fi is an acceptable Mad Scientist. These guys who don’t care about science, but use ome truely inventive ways to terorize and ransom the populace. The Unabomber fits this description, as do several others who had goals greater than simple destruction (read: McVeigh, World Trade Center Bombers, all the Airline Bombers, and that subway guy in Japan). It looks like this needs two seperate definitions.

WHAM…three at once!

Edison definitely tried to make AC look dangerous to support his battle with Westinghouse over AC vs. DC. He went as far as to lobby to get AC used in the electric chair!

I don’t know of any real life person who really fits the bill. I tend to think of the “mad scientist” as a general manifestation of the fear of technology interfering with morality, esp in the context of the increasing influence that science has had in comparison to religion in recent centuries.

It seems to me that the mad whole scientist tradition is derivative of Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein. Are there any older examples?

All these nutty inventors aren’t, and never wanted to be, criminals or terrorists. I think thats a neccessary criteria for this thread.

Sure most creative guys are goof balls, and that extends from inventors to tycoons to artists, but none have evil goals. Unless your the type who considers capitolism and the relentless pursuit of the dollar to be evil. (In that case feel free to send all dollars you have to me, and I’ll take care of that dillema for you).

If you want to name goofballs, how about Howard Hughes. The king of all nut-cases, but living in a bubble for no reason isn’t mad scientist-evil, but just plain loony.

I don’t think of most of the names mentioned as being mad scientists. Mad, yes. Scientists, no. :slight_smile:

UD: Faust?

Faust. Hmmm. Mebbe. Could we really count Faust as a scientist tho? Did he have hard physical knowledge or just supposed occult knowledge?

No, I don’t know of any current mad scientists. I tend to think of scientists, as a group (generically), as being less likely to go mad than the “average” person. I think there have always been plenty of anxious, simple people who, not capable or understanding even slightly technical endeavors of scientists or other more complex people, will get together and start rumors about what their more complex neighbors are up to.

Hey, but people don’t have to be mad or a scientistto be a menace with technology. Like someone in San Francisco a few months ago, who had lived with numerous others in house shown demolished on the front page of the paper, your neighbor could be storing a large stash of fireworks. Disclaimer: This is only a rumor.

Ray (KISS)

Undead Don’t you think Tesla was a scientist? I mean, I’m not exactly clear on what he did other than AC, but I thought he was considered a scientist. And, yes, pretty loony, although not in a way that offends a cat fancier like myself quite so much.

Tesla was a scientist. Definitely. But I don’t think he qualifies as a “mad scientist”, per the cliche. He was eccentric, and had some wild ideas, but he didn’t represent a danger.

I shouldn’t have left the “Mad, yes. Scientist, no.” thing by itself. It certainly wasn’t meant to apply to Tesla.

I would nominate Edward Teller. I don’t claim that the man himself is mad or tried to take over the world, but much of his work was evil.

J’ai assez vécu pour voir que différence engendre haine.
Henri B. Stendhal

I think it was Denis Winter, in Death’s Men, who recounted the story of an unnamed chemist who burst into a party and proudly announced that he had invented a colorless, almost odorless gas that would swing the Great War back into Germany’s favor. He then keeled over and died, thus managing to make himself both discoverer and first victim of phosgene gas.

Well, it’s not a mad scientist story, but it certainly is fitting.

Re: Teller

Nuclear development might be the best example of technology outstripping morality. OTOH, the fact that we are still here after 50 years might mean that morals won out.

Of course while the typical mad scientist is driven by greed and/or a quest for truth, people like Teller and Szilard were primarily motivated by a fear of the Nazis.

How about Shoko Asahara, the leader of the japanese doomsday cult, Aum Shinri Kyo. Creating a supply of sarin nerve gas (science) to unleash on unsuspecting civilians (madness) certainly qualifies him, or at least his science advisors.


“Believe those who seek the truth.
Doubt those who find it.” --Andre Gide

Incidentally, Arnold, Teller was just interviewed by Scientific American. He still firmly stands by his hawkish beliefs. Best quote:

‘“My name is not Strangelove. I don’t know about Strangelove,” he flares. “I’m not interested in Strangelove. What else can I say?” A few moments later, as I pursue the question, he warns: “Look. Say it [Strangelove] three times more, and I throw you out of this office.”’

-from Scientific American

“Keep talking like that, and your gonna see a mad scientist!”

“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island