It’s Alive! It’s Alive!:

The Problematic Stereotype of Scientists as Mad Doctors, Evil Geniuses, and Crazy Professors

Pryor and Bright (2006) describe occupational stereotyping as a result of the thought processes of efficient memorization using “induction, deduction, and abduction” ( 2). Further oversimplification and ignorant bias can lead to a dogmatic misrepresentation, which can further lead to a prejudiced view of the subject. Pryor and Bright refer to racism as a negative example of stereotyping; however, they continue that “stereotyping represents a summary of our experience of reality, as a form of knowledge, it also has a positive dimension” ( 3). As I read this description, I am reminded of the movie Back to the Future (Canton et al., 1985) in which, for me, Christopher Lloyd’s rendition of Dr. Emmett Brown embodies the stereotypical scientist. With his wild, unkempt white hair, absent-mindedness, and pure genius, “Doc Brown” provides a stereotypical characterization of the quirky and crazy professor. I have always held a realistic view of the world and do not readily subscribe to dogma, but I can see how portrayals of scientists such as the Doc Brown character can influence perceptions of the field. Though stereotypes such as these are not completely accurate portrayals of the occupation, they are not without base or merit.

Contributing factors of the occupational stereotype of scientists could possibly be from the public’s perceptions of science from the sensational coverage of the media of the time. When technology advances in light of the contributions of scientists, the technology usually gets the media coverage. Conversely, when the contributions are that of a seemingly quirky or sinister scientist, especially if the relevance of the technology is suspect, the media usually focuses on the scientist. Two particular cases demonstrate this phenomena particularly well. Sergei S. Brukhonenko (Konstantinov & Alexi-Meskishvili, 2000) was a major contributor to the medical advancement of temporal extracorporeal circulation, or heart-lung bypass, though the media chose to concentrate on the sensational image of a living decapitated dog head that was able to respond to stimuli and swallow food though separated from its body. The second example (Oddee, 2008) is the comprehensive effort of Luigi Galvani, Giovanni Aldini, J. Conrad Dippel, and Andrew Ure in exploring the relationship of electricity and nerve fibers, and though the experiments that each have performed were regarded as horrific parlor tricks or attempts at “playing god”, the importance of the resulting technology is not lost on cybernetic researchers responsible for improving the usefulness of prosthetic devices.

Stereotyping is a useful convention of society and a useful developmental tool to aid in learning and memorization, identification and warning, or for purely dramatic effect such as when cynically augmented for comedic relief. Though useful, care must be used when making associations of generalizations and bias. Unfortunately, the convention is frequently misused leading to an association of negative traits to unrealistic markers such as skin color, heritage, age, and gender. Additionally, the public perception of science is important when considering issues such as financial matters. Funding can be extremely difficult to secure if a project is ridiculed or rejected in the public forum. This difficulty can lead to dampening of research and a slowing of technological growth. Further, “these (social) images of occupations have a major impact on the development of occupational aspirations” (Pryor & Bright, 2006, 18). This identity bias could lead a bright potential scientist away from the occupational field of science. The implications can never be known.


Canton, N. (Producer), Gale, B. (Producer/Writer), Kennedy, K. (Executive Producer), Marshall, F. (Executive Producer), Spielberg, S. (Executive Producer), & Zemeckis, R. (Writer/Director). (1985). Back to the Future [Motion Picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.

Konstantinov, I.E., & Alexi-Meskishvili, V. V. (2000). Sergei S. Brukhonenko: the development of the first heart-lung machine for total body perfusion. Annals of Thoracic Surgery, 69(3), 962-966.

Oddee. (2008, October 13). Top 10 mad scientists in history. Retrieved from

Pryor, R. G. L., & Bright, J. E. H. (2006). Occupational Stereotypes. Encyclopedia of Career Development. Retrieved from

Weird Science:

The Study of Unconventional Topics

Unconventional science, or fringe science, is the study of science which goes against accepted theory and, arguably, should be viewed with skepticism to ensure the lack of pseudo-science (de Jager, 1990, pp. 35-36). Research in fringe science has undoubtedly provided the greatest technological jumps that society has benefited from. Human flight, magnetic levitation, the microprocessor, and electricity were all considered fringe science, even pseudo-science, at one time. Now, they are commonly accepted. Some of today’s fringe science topics involve teleportation, time travel, free energy, cold fusion, artificial intelligence, and cloaking.

For a scientist, a whole career can be jeopardized by choosing a field of study that is looked upon with disdain by the contemporary scientific community. A scientist must truly be passionate about their work in order to survive through this. Only the lucky few will ever see their work produce meaningful results. It is for this reason that it is important to distinguish fringe science from pseudo-science. Is it possible? Only after the emergence and acceptance of the theory, can it move from fringe science to contemporary science. Failing this, it will be forever regarded as pseudo-science by its detractors. So, why would any scientist want to spend an entire career in this realm, possibly alienating themselves from their peers? Passion. With that answer, I must ask myself if there is anything in the realm of fringe science that I would be so passionate about as a scientist that I would risk a career over it.

The medical uses of nanotechnology could have a considerable impact on the whole of the human race. To imagine, as Merkle (1996) describes, microscopic robots that could enter the bloodstream and travel throughout a body in search of injury or illness, then literally fix the problem is certainly Orwellian in my eyes. Notwithstanding, a breakthrough of this magnitude would certainly be worthwhile to any scientist, the application of which would be endless and only contingent on the robot’s ability to be programmed. There would be other uses, also: automatic repairs on buildings, bridges, and vehicles, the literal programmatic building of structures, instant recycling of waste materials, etc. Though, anything that could be helpful could also be a hindrance. A group of microscopic robots that could make repairs on human tissue could also destroy it. This would be a significant military advantage in the area of remote warfare, as well as more diabolical applications. As the size of the microprocessor inversely relates to the computing power, I can imagine that the intelligence capability required of these little machines is not too far in the future.

Science fiction! Even the airplane was science fiction at one time. The helicopter, too, though I still consider the helicopter to be an abomination of physics. Almost every contemporary scientific notion was once held to skepticism. I do not think that it is wise to dismiss an idea solely on the grounds of popularity or a lack thereof. If someone has a belief, let them prove it. Once proven, let the data be duplicated by others and turned into conventional wisdom or into the trash bin, wherever it belongs.


de Jager, C. (1990). Science, fringe science, and pseudo-science. R.A.S. Quarterly Journal, 31(1), 31-45.

Merkle, R. C. (1996). Nanotechnology and medicine. Advances in Anti-aging Medicine, 1, 277-286.

An Essay on the Value of Television on Society

Television plays a critical role in providing information to its viewers in a timely manner, though this responsibility could be detrimental if the format of delivery is not in line with the needs of the viewers. There are many questions and theories regarding the usefulness or appropriateness of television in American society today. A research review (Huston, et al., 1992) of television watching habits in regards to violence, sexuality and health shows that television program choices are as formative for adults as they are adolescents, though younger children may be spared from this effect due to their “insufficient emotional and cognitive capacities to comprehend the message.” With this in mind, some people feel that television broadcasts should be well-regulated and censored to a level that society finds appropriate (Hoffner, et al., 1999), and though much of television is, in fact, regulated to some degree, Anderson (1997) found that commercials which air during family-centered broadcasting contained violence which may not be suitable for all ages. In addition to violence, many programs aired today contain sociopolitical biases that threaten the very message meant to be conveyed. In addition to content, expertise is called into question as local and national news outlets are viewed with a sense of authority, when in fact they may not be. A recent survey (Wilson, 2008) of weathercasters showed that in 2002 only 8% of stations employed a science or environment reporter. Many weathercasters do not have the scientific background in order to accurately forecast severe weather, yet they serve as the authoritative source for this information. These are not symptoms common only to network television broadcasting but are prominent in all media, including print and radio.

In order for the media to maintain its credibility, it must take the responsibility of broadcasting seriously. Television broadcasters must maintain an air of unbiased, expert reporting interested in delivering fact and opposing viewpoints if necessary. Broadcast outlets must also take on the responsibility of the content of each program keeping in mind the intended audience. There is a social contract between viewers and broadcasters, and though I am not one to suggest government censorship, responsible self-censorship by each media outlet may be ethical and appropriate to promote good habits and healthy lifestyles.

With society’s reliance on television to provide entertainment and information, the programs and information offered can certainly alter society’s perceptions of acceptability and necessity within our culture. With rights comes responsibility. We enjoy a certain freedom of our press, but when that freedom is without responsibility, misinformation is promulgated to the masses having dire consequences on society. As an example, the media’s reliance on violence for profits has greatly diminished our society’s abhorrence of such. This coupled with poor and inaccurate reporting on gun violence has led to an unhealthy promotion of guns to solve the most minuscule of problems (Omaar, 2007). Essentially, the media created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Looking at society today, this has effectively removed guns from the hands of lawful citizens and placed them with criminals. Many politicians are to blame for their ignorance on this matter, but television is to blame for providing these politicians the education of ignorance. Television can shape society. What shape do we want to be in?


Anderson, C. (1997). Violence in Television Commercials During Nonviolent Programming: The 1996 Major League Baseball Playoffs. JAMA, 278(13), 1045-1046.

Hoffner, C., Buchanan, M., Anderson, J. D., Hubbs, L. A., Kamigaki, S. K., Kowalczyk, L., et al. (1999). Support for censorship of television violence: The role of the third-person effect and news exposure. Communication Research, 26(6), 726-742. DOI: 10.1177/009365099026006004

Huston, A. C., Donnerstein, E., Fairchild, H., Feshbach, N. D., Katz, P.A., Murray, J. P., et al. (1992). The role of television in American society. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Omaar, R. (3 September 2007). Why our children carry guns. New Statesman, 137(4860), 20. AN: 26417804

Wilson, K. (2008). Television weathercasters as station scientists. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 89(12), 1926-1927

Science as a Social Construction

In order to understand the differences and similarities of social versus cultural construction and to apply this to the field of science, we should first investigate the terms and understand the definitions of each. At center, we have “science”. Merriam-Webster (2009) defines science as “knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths [which can be] tested” in specific manner. For ease of transition, I will keep it simply as “knowledge”. Next is construction. Construction is defined, in this context, as “the act or result of construing, interpreting, or explaining”. Thus far, we have an act of interpreting or explaining knowledge, but is this construed socially, culturally or both? Hall (1994) delineates social and cultural abstracts, “[Culture] is threaded through all social practices, and is the sum of their interrelationship.” (p. 523) More generally speaking, society builds culture. As interrelated as these terms are, one can only posit that if a construct is social, then it must also be cultural. The inverse should also hold true.

Science, in one form or another, has been around since mankind perfected the first thing that was perfected. I do not feel that it is important to know what it was that we first perfected, but that we eventually perfected some kind of act or skill and sought to learn more. This want for knowledge, I will say would be the birth of science. From this time forward, I would argue that science was deeply social and cultural. The welfare of societies depended on the science of the time. Until the Age of Enlightenment, it did not matter if the knowledge was fully understood. “Enlightenment thinkers placed a great premium on the discovery of truth through the observation of nature, rather than through the study of authoritative sources, such as Aristotle and the Bible” (“Age of Enlightenment,” 2009). This was a time that mysticism and magic were set aside for experimentation and the scientific method. It is my opinion that, after the Age of Enlightenment, science became less socially or culturally oriented, though the impact was no less dramatic. It is this separation of emotion, the suspension of belief, that drives a true search for scientific fact.


Age of Enlightenment. (2009). In Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 10, 2009, from

Construction. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved September 10, 2009, from

Hall, S. (1994). Cultural studies: Two paradigms. In N. B. Dirks, G. Eley & S. B. Ortner (Eds.), Culture/power/history: a reader in contemporary social theory (pp. 520-538). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Science. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved September 10, 2009, from