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'Mad, bad and dangerous to know' – the myth of the mad scientist in early horror films

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In Christopher Frayling’s Mad, Bad and Dangerous? The Scientist and the Cinema, 1000 films between the 1930s and 1980s were examined and scientists or their creations were found to be the main villain in 30%, while scientific research constituted 39% of the threats. In contrast, scientists were the heroes in a mere 11 of these films. Professor Vanessa Toulmin examines the important work by Frayling and considers the period from the late Victorian to early Edwardian to present a case that this visual stereotype derives largely from cinema’s pioneer days and could be in many ways linked to a reaction to modernity. Interestingly she will discuss how the myth of the mad scientist is still controversially pedalled and marketed by science communicators as a means of widening participation today. The talk will be illustrated by visuals, posters and rare films from the early 1900s.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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