Science fiction is “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Possibly as far back as 2nd Century AD, science fiction made its debut in the form of literature. Books like Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, written by Mary Shelley and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde written by Robert Louis Stevenson helped shape what we know today.
The Word “Scientist”
When I hear the word scientist, I envision a dark, mad (crazy) and brilliant individual. My mind always jumps to seeing a man acting crazy with wild hair, performing brilliant science on an unlucky and unwilling individual. Kind of like Victor Frankenstein, Dr. Henry Jekyll and Dr. Moreau.
Victor Frankenstein is a brilliant scientist who studied chemical progressions, and the way humans’ decay. He eventually creates life known as the creature using stolen fresh body parts from various cadavers. Once his obsession was brought to fruition, Frankenstein immediately regretted what he had done and ran from the creature, abandoning everything he had obsessed over for so long. The creature, left to fend for itself, swears revenge on Frankenstein by any means possible. The creature eventually kills Frankenstein’s younger brother and the blame is placed on the housekeeper, who is then sentenced to death. Guilt begins to consume Frankenstein and he returns to the creature to stop the killings.Order now
The creature begs for a bride and Frankenstein agrees to create a partner for him. Before the bride was finished though, Frankenstein destroyed her and vowed he would not allow a monster race to form. This upset the creature immensely, and he swore revenge on Frankenstein again. This time Frankenstein’s best friend was murdered as well as his fiancé, and he then dedicated his life to destroying the creature he so fondly created. Unfortunately, Frankenstein died of pneumonia and the creature becomes determined to commit suicide by fire due to his immense sadness. He then disappears and is never seen again (Shelley, 2008).
Dr. Jekyll is a scientist who is constantly fighting evil urges, and he decides to create a serum to transform himself into Edward Hyde, so he can go undetected while he gives into these evil urges. At first Dr. Jekyll can transform when he wants and do the things he pleases, but after a while, the violent Edward Hyde can force his way out, resulting in Dr. Jekyll having to rely on the serum to stay conscious. Eventually, Hyde is able to take over due to ingredients for the serum running out and once Jekyll realizes he will never be himself again, he commits suicide.
Lastly, there is Dr. Moreau, a scientist who uses vivisection to create a hybrid of animals that are half human, and contrived the Beast Folk. These Beast Folk consist of Leopard-Man, Ape-Man, Hyena-Swine and more. The Beast Folk have a set of rules they must follow and most of them are consistent with acting human. If these rules are broken, Dr. Moreau preforms a vast number of vivisections on the wrong-doer causing much pain and possible death. Eventually one of Dr. Moreau’s experiments the half puma woman escapes, and fights him to both of their deaths.
All three mentioned above, are brilliant fictional men, who are obsessive with the work they do no matter the danger or harm that it could cause human kind.
Change Over Time
When I was younger, my parents limited the time we spent on the television and as a result of that, my image of what a scientist looked like and did was based off of my grandfather. He taught science at the high school level for over 25 years and holds multiple master’s degrees in science. I considered every other science related human being out there to be just like him. He is smart, fun and adventurous when it comes to science and it always made my day to be around him learning from him. I have always looked up to him and to this day, I still do.
As I grew older though, I started to form different opinions of scientist due to my growing knowledge and increased television time. In school I attended classes such as biology, earth science and chemistry. In each of those classes I was introduced to an array of scientist, and I started to realize that scientist came in all shapes and sizes.
I also started to realize that scientists not only teach, but they preform research, cure diseases and much more. Long gone was the single image of my grandfather, in my head, as the only scientist on this earth. But, like I mentioned, as I grew older I was subjected to more television and I was constantly seeing medias portrayal of scientist. I saw the crazy, mad scientist types creating monsters and using their skills to harm others and that ultimately is what comes to mind when I hear the word, scientist.
Hero or Villain?
Usually fictional scientists are depicted as villains, but can sometimes be the hero. Personally, I automatically picture the villain type but, I have been known to pine after the hero type as well. Dr. Henry Walton Jones Jr., better know as Indiana Jones, is a great example of a hero scientist as well as, Bruce Banner who is better known as the Hulk.
Indiana Jones (Indy) is a professor of archeology that embarks on adventures in search of rare artifacts while toting his trusty bullwhip and satchel, along with looking dapper in his leather jacket and signature fedora. Indy is the epitome of a true hero in the fictional scientist sense and he is more than welcome to come save me in my dreams.
On the other hand, Dr. Frank-N-Furter is as mad scientist as it gets in the fictional world. He creates a good looking, well built man to love and murders a previous lover. In the end, he is found out to be an alien that is forced to return to his home planet. Dr. Frank-N-Furter is most certainly, one fictional villain scientist that I do not want in my dreams.
“If one is ignorant of science, one is not cultivated. But this ignorance is in part a result of deficient coverage by the media of scientific events and scientists” (Roque-Malherbe, 2012). I feel over all, science is portrayed as negative in the media because it promotes such a great and intriguing story. There are movies, such as The Andromeda Strain (1971), in which scientist brought a deadly virus from space back to earth or Jurassic Park (1993), where scientist cloned dinosaurs using blood from mosquitos and eventually the clones started to wreaked havoc on the human population.
Even photographs, such as the one where Albert Einstein has his tongue sticking out, provide a false sense of what a scientist really is. While science fiction is great for entertainment and stress relief purposes, it is important that the population realizes the significant role science plays in the real world (Sofge, 2012).
They way people in society view scientist and their profession through the media is quite skewed. When society is subjected to images of crazy looking “mad” scientists in the media and a lack of or no true portrayal of a real scientist and what they do, they tend to believe the aforementioned media view.
“No genetics textbook can hope to compete with Jurassic Park, and no lecture on biophysics can match the sight of Dr Frankenstein pulling lightning down from the stormy sky to animate his creature” (Riper, 2003). Society is more willing to accept something they see on television over seeking the truthing and growing true knowledge about scientists and what they accomplish. This most certainty diminishes the profound nature of what scientist can and will accomplish.
Research and Technology
The more society is subjected to the way media portrays science, the more society will form uneducated views on research and technology practices within science. Take Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, a person in society could potentially view a scene in that movie and assume that the beloved assault rifle, so many of the characters use, is plausible when shooting out laser beams when in reality it is not.
“Lasers that behaved like real lasers would turn futuristic gunfight scenes into an incomprehensible jumble of beams” (Riper, 2003). We can also consider the cloning aspects seen in movies such as Jurassic Park (1993) and Gattaca (1997). Cloning is portrayed as a simple process that is easily manipulated to produce perfect replicas of the DNA donor and in fact that is untrue.
It is not conceived in the science world that intelligence and personalities are able to be replicated, especially through cloning. One last aspect worth mentioning is evolution. Society views itself as the epitome of perfection and that humans’ rule over everything on Earth. The majority of the population sees humans in their final stage of evolution, when in fact science knows evolution is a continuous factor here on Earth (Riper, 2003).
Ultimately, what it comes down to is that society and scientists need work together to help people decipher reality from science fiction. Scientist need to create a plate form for society to want to learn the reality side of science and society needs to be more receptive and interested in what they have to offer. Like I mentioned earlier, there is nothing wrong when it comes to indulging in science fiction, but we need to be sure we are educated and realistic about what science has to offer our world.