"Science does not have a moral dimension. It is like a knife.The obviously charismatic Einstein and other early 20th-century physicists somehow inspired the notion of the Reluctant Mad Scientist who is actually an idealist and pacifist (possibly a Well-Intentioned Extremist) but generally beyond good and evil by virtue of sheer genius. The Reluctant Mad Scientist considers himself a sensible man of science whose quest of discovery is unaccountably misused by his Evil Boss for destructive purposes. Reluctant Mad Scientists (and wizardly/seer variants) do not require a change of heart to do good; they merely need a change of employer, but they have Magic Nerd License to do what they want either way, as attested to in real life characters. Prior to the introduction of this trope, all stories about Mad Scientists (Faust, original Frankenstein, Lovecraft) seem to revolve around the scientist's own ethical and mental condition, usually involving Things Man Was Not Meant to Know that somehow cause him to go mad. In traditional accounts, the mad scientist himself suffers a nervous breakdown of some sort and becomes either the villain or the victim of his own experiments. Or at best he'd commit a Heroic Sacrifice so that our sensible, down-to-earth protagonists can right the wrongs he created. As if! The new generation of Reluctant Mad Scientists mark a refreshing non-villainous departure whose work was undeniably of immediate value to civilization, but only in the right hands. Unlike ordinary Mad Scientists, they are not heroes or villains per se; they are simply the only person who can be trusted to handle the new Weapon of Mass Destruction they invented. This usually makes them into a Living MacGuffin as far as the plot is concerned. This set up a new image of the scientist as a sort of natural resource, to be sought after by both sides. The Reluctant Mad Scientist may or may not be tormented by the evil that other men do with his work, but either way he is a Magical Nerd whom mortals must tolerate. The Reluctant Mad Scientist is generally morally neutral, and is rarely held accountable for the adverse consequences of his work. So long as he avoids romantic entanglements and anything else that might produce a character arc and self-doubt, he is ensured of a long and productive career. As a Magic Nerd, the Reluctant Mad Scientist is usually presented as the only person in the story who truly understands the implications of his work and thus the only person who is truly worried about applying it to good use. When detained by the hero, he will often immediately enter into a lecture warning of the evil to which his own inventions could be turned if used by anyone, such as, say, the evil boss who has funded his efforts for the past 20 years. Of course, everyone knows evil people are expected to disregard the Reluctant Mad Scientist's instructions not to use the Death Ray for harm; what's important is the good guy must not be allowed to make a similar mistake, and it is the responsibility of the Hero, not the Reluctant Mad Scientist, to destroy all copies of the Death Plans before they are made operational. Unlike the traditional Anti-Villain, the Reluctant Mad Scientist is not required to ask "My God, What Have I Done?" Even when employed by the Big Bad, he is generally portrayed as True Neutral because he is only concerned with one thing: to continue his work. When the Earth has been blasted into a million pieces, the Reluctant Mad Scientist only shakes his head and says, "I told you so". The Reluctant Mad Scientist is obsessed with his work and is unconcerned with outcomes or prosaic ambitions. He will either work for anybody so long as his work gets funded, or he will justify continuing his experiments in hopes of some abstract public good regardless of what the Big Bad does with them. He will immediately start collaborating with the Hero if "rescued", but only if he perceives that the other side values his work and wants to continue it. It is important to note that the main distinguishing characteristic of the Reluctant Mad Scientist is that he does not require a Heel–Face Turn to be persuaded to come and work for the good guys; indeed, if he ever does pick a moral side, he is almost sure to be the next character killed. Nor is he held responsible for righting his previous wrongs, because they are never perceived by him to be mistakes, merely discoveries.
If you give it to a surgeon or a murderer, each will use it differently."
If you give it to a surgeon or a murderer, each will use it differently."
— Wernher von Braun, inventor of the V2 ballistic missile and the Saturn V rocket (and a notable non-example of this trope as per the USA's Operation Paperclipnote ).
- The Reluctant Mad Scientist merely works for whomever is likely to get his ideas out there. After all, Colonel Badass also wants to know how to build a Phlebotinum Bomb in order to study and defend against this new phenomenon.
- Previously motivated only by his work, only The Power of Love can persuade the Reluctant Mad Scientist to destroy all his efforts after declaring that, "mankind was not meant to know what I have discovered." This conveniently preserves the status quo, because no one else gets to use his inventions to benefit world civilization in the next episode.
- After being rescued/turned by the Hero, they will inevitably show up again after the climax and provide a solution to help the Hero escape from the Collapsing Lair which was usually set off by the failure of the scientist to disarm his own creation, which he was supposed to do while the Big Battle was taking place.
- Corollary: the Reluctant Mad Scientist almost always delivers his creation to the Big Bad before its effects are known and before he has figured out how to disarm the device or reverse the effects. He must then spend the entire story trying to figure this out. He usually fails, prompting the Hero to simply inflict random damage to the Weapon of Mass Destruction causing it to only destroy the boss's lair and nothing else.
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Anime and Manga
- Nina Einstein in Code Geass ends up as this. She makes a weapon of mass destruction for Britannia with help from Schneizel (her first few tries are spectacular failures), then after seeing what happens, turns right around and makes the counter-weapon.
- Dr. Onishi, the scientist, in AKIRA. He ignores an order to shut down his work if Tetsuo's vital signs get out of hand. You have two guesses why, and the first guess (deeply cares about saving Tetsuo's life?) doesn't count. Tellingly, nobody ever blames him for the outcome.
- Subverted with Dr. Isaac Gilmore in Cyborg 009. He knew damn well what he was getting into when joining Black Ghost and it took him years to develop enough conscience to drop out. His subconscious doesn't let him forget that detail, either.
- Played straighter with Dr. Finder, however. He first was kidnapped by Black Ghost to force him build a certain super weapon, and when it seemed that he would stop doing that, they kidnapped his daughter Cynthia to twist his arm even more. Then Cynthia is rescued by the Cyborg team...
- In the graphic novel reboot, 001's father is portrayed this way. He works with Black Ghost to save his son from a deadly illness and is clearly not on board with their plans for global domination. After 001 pleads with him to stand down because he accomplished his goal and saved his child, he performs a Heroic Sacrifice to let the cyborgs escape.
- Kishin Corps (a.k.a. Alien Defender Geo Armor) has an alternate Eva Braun as a Broken Bird of a Reluctant Mecha scientist who worked on making Imported Alien Phlebotinum into Humongous Mecha for the Axis before being captured by the good guys and working for them with little to no moral difficulty.
- "Seiketsu no Hagurama" had a literally blue-blooded prince construct Steam Punk looking machines called Kirin for his father who, unbeknownst to him, was using them to eradicate the remaining red-blooded refugees in a war between the red-blood and blue-blood groups.
- In Guardian Fairy Michel, Dr. White's greatest fear was that his inventions would be used for evil. Sadly, he was right.
- Will Magnus, creator of the Metal Men, was conscripted to be one in 52. Most of the others in the program were more than happy to go along with it. It's then combined with Beware the Nice Ones when he rebuilds the Metal Men secretly and takes on the evil conspiracy keeping him as prisoner from the inside.
- It's also revealed that he has bipolar disorder which makes him a Mad Scientist. The only reason he worked for the Science Squad is because its members took away his meds.
- Professor Cuthbert Calculus in Tintin, who is also an Absent-Minded Professor; most notably in Tintin The Calculus Affair where he's abducted by Taschists after he invents a Tesla-style sonic superweapon. Calculus is extremely opposed to any government using his invention, goes to meet a fellow scientist because his discovery frightens him, and burns the plans on his own volition. Subversion: he'd become much less of a cloudcuckoolander at this point in the series and more The Professor, even as his inventions became more dangerous and sought-after.
- Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen, especially in the film version.
- Dr. Caitlin Fairchild in The New 52.
Films — Animated
- The scientist who created 9 in order to defeat his previous creation, which wiped out humanity. This is, of course, after some militant dude took the machine and modified it so that it was capable of building machines capable of wiping out humanity.
- Dr. Jumba Jookiba from Lilo & Stitch. (Although he doesn't like to think of himself as such...)
Films — Live-Action
- The former members of Unit 11 in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) are classic examples.
- Doc Brown, Back to the Future.
Marty McFly: Doc, you don't just walk into a store and-and buy plutonium. Did you rip that off?
Dr. Emmett Brown: Shhhhhh. Of course. From a group of Libyan nationalists. They wanted me to build them a bomb, so I took their plutonium and in return, gave them a shoddy bomb-casing full of used pinball machine parts! Come on! Let's get you a radiation suit.
- In addition, he cautions about the danger of using the time machine — time paradox!
- Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, as mentioned in Comics above. Even moreso in the film. Of course it's a justified trope in his case, as he really has no reason to care about what happens.
- Rotwang in Metropolis — at first, then he goes full-on Mad Scientist for some reason. (more proof that love is a bad influence on a previously productive scientist.)
- Unusually, Clockstoppers has one of these held to account (and mocked) for the damage that's come from his research.
- Diamonds Are Forever has Dr. Metz, a "committed pacifist" who lends his expertise to Blofeld to create an orbiting death ray which will ensure world peace...right?
- Professor Deemer in Tarantula wants to use the nutrient he has invented to end world hunger. Unfortunately its side effects include deformity and death in humans and gigantism in animals. Deemer is smart enough to not release the nutrient public until he has fixed these problems. It's not his fault that his assistants kill themselves by taking the nutrient before its ready. Or that before one of them dies he accidentally releases a giant tarantula that they had created while testing the nutrient. Really, the only thing Deemer is guilty of is not thinking to only test the giantism causing nutrient on herbivorous animals.
- In Danger!! Death Ray, a film bad enough to get the treatment on MST3K, the scientist who invented the titular Death Ray exclaimed that he only wanted his invention to be used for peaceful purposes.
- Dr. Serizawa from Gojira. He invents a weapon called the Oxygen Destroyer, but refuses to make his findings public and fears what'll happen if it gets into the wrong hands. It's only until after he sees the destruction Godzilla has caused that he decides to use it...but only once.
- Dr. Regent is horrified when his Death Ray falls into the wrong hands in Chandu The Magician (1932). (What good use he could possibly have in mind for a Death Ray remains a mystery.)
- The second American Ninja movie featured the Big Bad using a doctor/biologist's input to create a line of Super Soldiers trained in ninjutsu and meant to be assassins and enforcers for his enterprise. The doctor is horrified by this, claiming that his work was supposed to be for the improvement of humanity. In the end blows up his lab so the work will be destroyed and cannot be misused again, taking the Big Bad with him in the process.
- Leonard of Quirm from the Discworld series (loosely based on Leonardo da Vinci) is a subversion; he never envisions violent uses for his ideas, and immediately becomes horrified and angry if anyone else suggests such uses for them. When one of his inventions is used for ignoble means, he tries to have it — and all of his plans and diagrams — destroyed out of shame. A later books suggests that he does realize the destructive potential, but tries to sell it as being used for peaceful purposes. When he designs an obvious weapon that he can't possibly spin into something else, he sighs and burns the plans.
- Dr. Kokintz, the inventor of the Q-Bomb in The Mouse That Roared.
- Ender Wiggin was more a soldier than a scientist, but otherwise fits this one to a T.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Qwi Xux and the team of scientists that built the Death Star, which they believed was for blowing apart asteroids to get at the valuable minerals inside. Unusually, she does get called out on her naivete (for example, believing that anything called "Death Star" wouldn't be used for exactly that), and winds up siding with the New Republic.
- Of course, according to the Empire's propaganda department, the official name for the Death Star was Imperial Planetary Ore Extractor.
- It should also be noted that her part in this trope is taken to Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds levels, as the reason why she even felt as though she had to solve problems no matter the cost is because Wilhuff Tarkin, after taking her from her family, had to go through an intense high-risks mathematics/science course taught by him and his underlings. And by "high-risks", we mean "if one of the students failed to answer a question correctly, Tarkin will force said student to watch as his/her home village is destroyed from orbit, and then executed shortly thereafter" kind of "high-risks". The fact that she, not to mention her home village, were the only ones that literally survived that harsh course makes matters a lot worse.
- Years before Galaxy of Fear, Mammon Hoole was one of these. He and his colleague were conducting experiments on the nature of life. His colleague knew the latest one would backfire horrifically and wipe out all life on the planet, and after consulting with the Emperor decided not to tell him. Hoole felt responsible, went into hiding for a few years, and came out as a different kind of scientist - an anthropologist. Some of his old work still came up in the series.
- In Engines of Creation, the Blue Seer Mika Sephalon is an example of this trope.
- Deconstructed with Dr. Robert Stadler of Atlas Shrugged. He sees himself as a noble pure scientist who seeks only to discover truths about the physical cosmos, and he is shown to have real tendencies to live up to his values of achievement and humanitarianism. However, his allowing himself to be co-opted by the evil government of looters—laying the groundwork for a weapon of mass destruction—is not portrayed as excusable, and he is often considered to be the most evil villain in the book (not least because John Galt's speech calls him out by name). He has a moment of Ignored Epiphany when he gives a speech about how great it is that he's given the government an increase in firepower—though he's selling out his true belief, that he disapproves of how the weapon (best known as Project X) will obviously be used for repressive purposes. And his end is somewhat similar to the tropes of a character who's a just-plain Mad Scientist: He begins to believe that it's okay to force the masses into doing his will, he ends up fighting with another character who, like himself, is planning to defy the bosses in Washington to use the Project X weapon to take over a part of the country, and both are destroyed by the weapon that Stadler helped to invent.
Live Action TV
- Yvonne Hartman, Director of Torchwood in the Doctor Who episode "Army of Ghosts" widened an apparent power source leading to the void between realities, and let through an army of Cybermen.
- Adam Baylin of Kyle XY not only created Kyle, but designed the artificial womb that contained him and Jessi for 16 years.
- An episode of Hogan's Heroes has a Russian Von Braun stand-in working for the Nazi rocketry program. He built the rocket just to test his theory and then programmed it so it would turn right around and kill everyone at its launch point, including himself. Fortunately, his plan was thwarted.
- Mohinder Suresh in the first two seasons of Heroes, particularly in the episode "Five Years Gone." In the third season he drops the reluctance and just goes full-on Mad Scientist.
- The town Eureka exists in part to keep these people from falling into the wrong hands.
- A That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch featured the unfortunately named Professor Death, a textbook Reluctant Mad Scientist. His "Giant Death Ray" was only so called because he invented it; its intended purpose is scanning groceries... or with the power turned up, to perform delicate eye surgeries.
- Topher Brink of Dollhouse is an interesting example. At first, he seems the perfect man for the job, a sociopath who sees human beings as toys. However, it soon becomes rather clear that much of this is merely scientific detachment, and although he's immature and his morals are shaky, his favorite parts of the Dollhouse are the assignments that make him feel like a good person (like the Priya storyline...at first). By the end of the series, his loyalties are clear.
- Phil and Lem from Better Off Ted invent exactly the kinds of things mad scientists are supposed to but are shown following not only proper lab procedure (most of the time) but also keeping strictly to testing protocols. The dubious legal and ethical grounding of their work is mostly a matter of what Veridian Dynamics assigns them to develop than personal insanity.
- Milton in The Walking Dead. He has a better insight into the Governor's true nature than most Woodbury residents — even enabling several of them as the resident Smart Guy — and turns a blind eye due to interest in the experiments he is able to perform under his patronage.
- The Tom Lehrer song, "Wernher von Braun":
"Once ze rockets are up, who cares vhere zey come down?
Zat's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.
- Otacon in the Metal Gear series, who created the Metal Gear Rex under the impression that it wouldn't be used offensively. "I just wanted to make robots!"
- Sokolov from Metal Gear Solid 3 has a slightly less incredulous tale: he was originally a rocket scientist, who just wanted to build rockets to go into space. However, due to the escalating arms race, he was forced by the Soviet government to build nuclear missiles, eventually culminating in the Shagohod, which he was literally forced at gunpoint to build. He requested that the American government give him asylum, because he knew the weapon, if completed, would plunge the world into chaos.
- Similar to both Sokolov and Otacon (the latter of whom turns out to be his son), Huey Emmerich agreed to work on Hot Coldman's Peace Walker project only so he could apply deterrence in such a way that wouldn't result in launching a nuke even once (as well as having to put up with it as, because he was born incapable of walking presumably due to his father's involvement in the Manhattan Project, he can't work in any other place than nuclear deterrence-related developments). As soon as he learned that Coldman was planning on launching a nuke as part of his test (something that Huey never agreed to), he immediately quit and defected to the Militaires Sans Frontieres, and also deeply considered quitting the field of science due to his unintended role in nearly causing a nuclear holocaust.
- Dr. Andonuts in Mother 3, who created the chimeras. (And ultimately tricked the Big Bad into sealing himself in a capsule with no escape.)
- Professor Mei Ling Hua, Mei Fang's creator in Arcana Heart who was kidnapped by the Big Bad to help her cause a rift in the dimensional boundary that would lead to the merging of this world and the Elemental world. She secretly placed a failsafe mechanism to prevent the merge from happening, but if you get the Bad Ending, you'll learn that it wasn't very effective.
- Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri: Academician Prokhor Zakharkov has this as his starting morality as explained through his backstory, which involved building Powered Armor for the Russian Republic to fight the USA before defecting to the UN to build space ships. Whether or not he actually stays reluctant is entirely up to the player. He's essentially a Russian Werner von Braun, ballancing between Mengle and Einstein in morality.
- Abrahim Zherkezhi of Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, a chronicaly naive computer theorist who only wants to use his unblockable magic hacker-program to promote the course of 'world peace'. It's not his fault he chose Douglas Shetland as a partner.
- Jade Empire has Kang the Mad, who only really cares about building and improving his Steampunk Schizo Tech, and literally couldn't care less about what it's used for. He betrays his boss Gao the Greater at the first opportunity, but that's only because Gao dared to make copies of his inventions, not because he was using those copies for slaving and piracy. This is mostly attributable to him being Lord Lao, a member of the Celestial Bureaucracy, all of whom seem to have a noninterventionist Above Good and Evil kind of worldview.
- Dr. Mikhail Cossack in Mega Man 4 was blackmailed by Dr. Wily into creating a series of killer robots and taking the blame for their rampage.
- Sheegor from Psychonauts is a twist on this trope, a Reluctant Igor (and a girl one; note pun in name). She is completely opposed to her boss Dr. Loboto's plans, but has a childlike mind and fears for her beloved pet turtle who Loboto has taken hostage. She instantly switches sides when Raz rescues him—-indeed, using Clairvoyance reveals that she sees him as a shining, angelic savior.
- Professor Minas and Leo Folias from Infinite Space, who are such big geeks to the point they don't seem to be bothered at all with who becomes their boss. Well, except when the former is under Desmond's watch...
- Litchi Faye-Ling used to be a scientist who made a device similar on how to make a Nox Nyctores. Later on, she became a doctor after a freak accident that created Arakune and seemed really content with her life as a doctor while seeking to cure Arakune. Until the side effect of said freak accident started to affect her and the appearance of Hazama made her aware that NOL may have the answer to the cure of Arakune and herself, and her old mentor rejected her plea for help. As she didn't have much respect on NOL previously, after a lot of hesitations, she ends up retaking her old science way and becoming their Reluctant Mad Scientist (compared to the very much less reluctant Relius Clover) only for the cure of Arakune (and herself)
- One of the missions in Borderlands 2 involves finding ECHO entries of Hyperion's slag experiments. The ones you find involve a scientist by the name of Dr. Samuels who isn't happy about performing cruel and decidedly pointless experiments but is forced to do so due to Handsome Jack threatening to kill her wife. In a sidequest of the Son of Crawmerax DLC, it's heavily implied that she was the one who killed Krieg's assassin, out of deep regret for what she did to him.
- Code:Realize depicts Victor Frankenstien as a brilliant, kind-hearted, and idealistic young man, eager to help people with his research in medicine, chemistry, and alchemy. He previously worked as Head Alchemist for Queen Victoria, and in this capacity he accidentally invented chemical warfare by developing Zicterium. When he realized the uses his research was being put to, he fled, and at the start of the game is wanted by the government since he's the only person who knows the process for making more Zicterium; on the run as an accused terrorist, he's searching for the remaining stockpile of Zicterium to destroy it before it can be used as a weapon.
- While the whole point of Girl Genius is that "Mad Scientists rule the world. Badly," most of the main characters are Reluctant Mad Scientists. While they are still afflicted by "The Madness Place," they work very hard to control it and are defined by their ability to actually use their Sparkiness to make the world a better place. Klaus Wulfenbach does this by being a Magnificent Bastard; Othar Tryggvassen (Gentleman Adventurer!) tries to make the world better by ridding it of all Sparks (including, once his "job" is done, himself); the others are just trying to do their best in a world pounded into submission and littered with wandering monsters.
- Ironically, this may involve pounding the world into submission and/or creating armies of monsters.
- Sometimes you have to work inside the system.
- Ironically, this may involve pounding the world into submission and/or creating armies of monsters.
- Dr. Lee of Skin Horse. Her morality is nebulous at best; she feels terrible about doing things like scooping out a man's brain to turn him into a weapon, yet she goes right on doing it.
- Riff from Sluggy Freelance just likes inventing stuff (especially exploding stuff) because it's cool. A recurring plot thread is the damage that resident Big Bad Hereti-Corp can do using Riff's technology. His attitude towards the whole thing is best summed up here:
Riff: How could my innocent inventions be used to harm people? (beat) OK, blowing stuff up can harm people if not done with proper precautions (...) Anywho my inventions weren't designed to be used to destroy the world. Well, except for that one device I built to destroy the world. I was just seeing if I could!
- Doctor Universe of Spinnerette used to be this trope, before the government aborted his project to prevent China from using his studies to make Super Soldiers.
- Walter from Dubious Company. He is one of very few Magitek engineers in the world. All he wants to do, however, is fly around in his airship and play pirate. The urging and endangerment of his friends changes him from Boisterous Weakling into Captain Science Hero.
- Professor Farnsworth in Futurama ("This box contains our own universe! We must cherish it as we would every moment of our lives.")
"I suppose I could part with one and still be feared..."
- Not to mention his collection of Doomsday Devices. Ironically, he's saved the world with them on a few occasions but otherwise doesn't seem motivated to use them.
- In one episode of Batman Beyond a gang blackmails a scientist to make them super-strong with robotic body parts, claiming to have his wife taken hostage. Turns heart-wretching when the scientist discovers his wife is apparently a willing participant in the scam while cheating with the gang leader. Turns scary when the gang leader, who doesn't know the scientist knows this, goes in for one last upgrade, with the implication that the doctor is going to get some revenge during the surgery.
- The Mechanist from Avatar: The Last Airbender creates weapons of war for the Fire Nation, because his work gives protection for his family and colony.
- In The Legend of Korra, while he's willingly working for Kuvira's Earth Empire, Varrick accidentally creates a Fantastic Nuke while experimenting with spirit vines. His first instinct is to shut down the project, deeming it too dangerous. Kuvira however forces him to continue or else be kicked off a moving train. It's worth noting that this is the first time he's ever had second thoughts about one of his inventions—most of the time he's just plain Mad Scientist.
- The Venture Bros.: Dr. Venture doesn't seem to realize how much of an evil scientist he's being until someone points it out. He figures there's plenty of peaceful uses for a ray that melts buildings.
- Dr. Sionver Boll from Star Wars: The Clone Wars was commissioned to engineer an indestructible armor for soldiers and spaceships from the Zillo Beasts scales. She was caring for the Zillo and didn't want to kill it. In a DVD bonus feature one of the people who made the episode even pointed out the fridge logic in well meaning scientists always being appointed to the construction of weapons instead of wanting to cure diseases.
- On The Simpsons Dr. Frink draws up plans for a death ray that could destroy an area the size of New York City. When confronted on what it's for, he sheepishly admits, "Well, to be honest, the ray only has evil applications."
- The Samurai Jack episode "The Tale of X-9" shows that Aku gathered all of the world's top roboticists to build a robot military police force. Despite a few of the scientists resembling villains from other franchises, they are portrayed as simply following orders, though it's unclear if they're doing so because they just really want to make robots or if they're doing so at gunpoint.
- In Exo Squad, Prof. Algernon starts off working for the Neo Sapiens (though he maquerades as a lab assistant while his Neo "boss" pretends he's the genius inventor), but when he gets captured by the good guys, he starts working for them without batting an eye.
- Gravity Falls has the author of the journals, Ford Pines, whose journals catalog his many inventions and various creatures he's encountered and studied- both of which tend be incredibly dangerous or at least have the potential to be. His primary motives are For Science! and to avert The End of the World as We Know It.....due to one of said inventions.
- Robert Oppenheimer, the inventor of the first atomic bomb.
Oppenheimer: Seeing that for the first time, I was moved to remember the Bhagavad Gita, the classic Indian poem... Vishnu is telling the King to do his duty, he appears in his multi-armed form and says: I am become Death, Destroyer of Worldsnote ... I think we all felt like that.
- The link goes into great detail about his unusual perspective on science and ethical responsibility.
- Oppenheimer was hardly "reluctant" about the work itself; he actively campaigned to be put in charge of it. He (along with most of the other scientists involved) did have some misgivings about how it was used.
- Einstein also later lamented that his work on nuclear reactions had led to the escalating nuclear arms race. More directly, he felt some personal responsibility because the (much less famous to laypeople) scientists like Szilard who feared the Nazis were already working on an atomic bomb persuaded him to sign his name to a letter so that the government would take them seriously.
- Edward Teller, the 'father of the hydrogen bomb'note turned the trope Up to Eleven by going where Oppenheimer refused to go. An advocate of Mutually Assured Destruction, Teller even proposed using hydrogen bombs for peaceful uses, such as excavating harbors, drilling for oil, and widening the Panama Canal. The Soviets, interested by Teller's proposals and eager to prove their own originality in this regard, conducted further investigations of these uses - to the point of actually using some to seal leaking oil wells.
- Leo Szilard, a Hungarian-born physicist, was one of the earliest developers of nuclear chain reactions and was the first person to conceive of an atomic bomb. Concerned that Germany might be attempting to build such a weapon, he wrote the famous letter to Roosevelt, along with Teller, (signed by his more famous colleague, Einstein) that directly led to the creation of the Manhattan Project. Once it became clear that Germany was not working on the bomb, and concerned about the increasing militarization of the project, he drafted a petition (signed by more than a hundred scientists) to ask for a demonstration of the bomb's power to Japan before actually using it, but the petition never made it to President Truman. After the war he was so disturbed by atomic weapons that he switched his specialty to molecular biology and even published a book of short stories, The Voice of the Dolphins, dealing with the morality of atomic bombs and the Cold War.
- Andrei Sakharov, the designer of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, became a dissident and human rights activist later in his life. Interestingly, Sakharov was never quite ashamed of his nuclear weapons work as Oppenheimer and Szillard were and was rather sympathetic to Teller, whom he felt was wrongly demonized by many American scientists. He felt that the nuclear weapons and the balance of terror were potentially helpful in preventing major wars from breaking out in the latter half of the 20th century. He did, however, feel that the arms race represented a huge waste of resources and the changing nature of politics was destabilizing the balance, which led him to his political activism.
- Interestingly, after Stalin's death and Khrushchev's accession Igor Kurchatov (Sakharov's boss and the head of the Soviet atomic weapons programme) became a fellow dissident, though his focus was primarily on nuclear disarmament/arms limitations.
- Alfred Nobel, the creator of dynamite, was so ashamed of its violent applications that he left much of his estate to found the Nobel Prizes. Ironically, he had originally invented dynamite to help exonerate himself of some of the poor reputation his work with explosives and work as an arms manufacturer had left him with, by making nitroglycerin safer to use—Nobel's dynamite is a mixture of nitroglycerin (which is very unstable) with inert diatomaceous earth, making it very stable, but still very potent, and therefore useful in such things as blasting mines and tunnels. Unfortunately, this also makes it safer to use for military purposes, as well. When an erroneous obituary showed him that even with dynamite, he would be remembered as a "merchant of death", he established the prize so he'd have ''some'' legacy other than this.
- Ken Alibek (originally Kanatjan Alibekov), Kazakh microbiologist, was a high-ranking officer in Biopreparat, a Soviet bioweapons program that involved diseases such as Smallpox, Anthrax, the Plague, and Marburg. His memoirs, Biohazard discuss his scientific curiosity and loyalty to serve his country (although that began to be increasingly strained). He defected to the USA in the 1990s and works in biodefense.
- Nikola Tesla, an actual Mad Scientist, was this type (well, maybe not so much "reluctant" as "well-intentioned overall and a genius, but still crazy as a loon"). Allegedly invented a sonic superweapon while also working on a giant coil that was intended to electrify Earth's atmosphere, so that people would not have to pay for electricity. He refused royalties for his inventions, claiming that the betterment of mankind was reward enough.
- He claimed that his resonance generator was capable of shattering the Earth into tiny fragments, so he switched it off because "I regarded this as an undesirable outcome."
- The original Gatling gun was designed by the American inventor Dr. Richard Gatling in 1861. He wrote that he made it to reduce the size of armies and so reduce the number of deaths by combat and disease.
- Not reduce the size of armiesnote but reduce the length of conflicts. Since at the time the vast majority of soldiers died of disease during a war there was actually some logic to this.
- Only part of a long history of scientists inventing new, powerful weapons, hoping nobody would be willing to use them. (The ancient Roman ballista, for example, was supposed to end war because no one would want to attack an enemy who had them.) It seems it only actually worked once they got up to the A-bomb and even that came pretty close.
- The Wright brothers started building military planes in WWI, Orville was convinced that airplanes would "win the war and put an end to war." He lived long enough to see airplanes used to deliver atomic bombs, and was still hopeful that this would finally make war unthinkable.
- Arguably it worked. Modern armies are smaller and leave much less collateral damage when they leave. Conflict where the aggressor's intention is to conquer is relatively rare today and most powerful countries on this planet weren't involved in mutual war for decades.
- Leonardo da Vinci, most famous nowadays for his art and ingenious designs for gadgets years before there time, was fairly pragmatic about the fact that the best source of a steady income during The City State Era of Italy was as a retained inventor for a wealthy duke, and what they needed inventing was artillery. What's especially terrifying (and the inspiration for Discworld's Leonard of Quirm, above) is when he combined his skills and came up with charmingly anachronistic weapons of mass destruction scattered among his other idle doodles.
- Jesuit missionaries in Ming dynasty China were called upon to help the Chinese improve their artillery against their enemies, rather than preach the Gospels.
...Here, you activate the device and tell me what happens.