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Public Lecture – From Mad Scientists to Eco-Warriors: The changing image of scientists in fiction and film
April 10, 2018 @ 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Adjunct Associate Professor Roslynn Haynes
School of English, Media and Performing Arts, University of New South Wales
For approximately 600 years, from 1380 to 1980, scientists or their predecessors, the alchemists and natural philosophers, fared ill at the hands of writers and, later, film makers.
They were obsessed to the point of madness, or evil, amoral, arrogant, impersonal, and inhuman. At best, they were well intentioned but blind to the dangers of forces they barely controlled. They were Faustus and Frankenstein, Jekyll and Moreau, Caligari and Strangelove – the scientists of film and fiction, cultural archetypes that reflected ancient fears of tampering with the unknown or unleashing the little-understood powers of nature.
Yet, since the 1990s, there has been a trend by novelists to present scientists as more complex, realistic figures, many honest and admirable even if confused as to their role. They are eco-warriors saving the planet, or medical researchers discovering new cures for humanity. However, in films, the mad, evil stereotype endures. What are the reasons for this disparity? What do they teach us about the difficulties scientists have in convincing politicians and large sections of society of the need to take environmental pollution and climate change seriously?