From Mad Scientists to Eco-Warriors: The changing image of scientists in fiction and film


Australian Institute of Physics Public Lecture

Start Date

10th Apr 2018 8:00pm

End Date

10th Apr 2018 9:00pm


Physics Lecture Theatre 1, Sandy Bay campus

RSVP / Contact Information

E: ; or T: 03 6226 7588


Presented by

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?

Roslynn Haynes, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, completed an Honours degree in Biochemistry at the University of Sydney before making a career change and reading literature at the University of Tasmania. After completing her PhD thesis at the University of Leicester, U.K. on The Influence of Science on the Writing of H.G. Wells, she returned to a position at UNSW, becoming Associate Professor in the School of the Arts and Media before retiring as Adjunct Professor to Tasmania in 2001.

Apart from her teaching, interdisciplinary research continues to interest her most – conversations between science and humanities, landscape and literature, art and literature – and this has formed the basis for her seven published monographs, and co-edited co-authored books, as well as 27 chapters in books and 44 journal articles.  Her most recent book, From Madman to Crime Fighter: The Scientist in Western Culture, published last year by Johns Hopkins University Press, provides some of the material for this lecture.