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Science-Related Memetic Disorder

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"Does he really have to kill them to prove his point? Can't he just show them a pie chart?"

Mad science isn't just about cool gadgets or revenge; it's a compulsion. The Mad Scientist really is insane, with an actual psychological disorder that causes both brilliance and madness.

The disorder can elevate Science at the Speed of Plot to the level of a superpower, enabling the mad to dependably create infernal devices even from less-than-ideal materials. Often, the gadgets created by such a superpower will be one-of-a-kind, and the scientific breakthroughs will be nigh-impossible to explain to anyone else, because it requires a mental state which is a bit unhinged, or it's actually Magic-Powered Pseudoscience.

In some series, this leads to a storyline in which one or more of the Mad Scientists (or perhaps some saner allies) seek out a cure for their condition. Invariably, however, the cure comes at a cost, usually the loss of their terrible, manic genius, or else their energy and drive across the board. In other series, there may already exist a treatment for it, but someone forgets (or "forgets") to take it one day...

Although obviously more extreme than in real life, this sort of thing is Truth in Television (or other media): some medications used to treat mental illness leave the patient drained of energy, unable to think clearly, cut off from the full use of the senses, or any combination thereof. This is one factor in some of the many historical geniuses and others who refuse to take their medication, preferring insanity to a lackluster funk. Tech Bros may have this trope carried over but they tend to be subtle about it in favor of their image.

Named for the communicable form of mad science in the webcomic titled A Miracle of Science.

Compare With Great Power Comes Great Insanity, which, depending on the series, may be either the cause or the result of SRMD. Likely to lead to a No Medication for Me/"Flowers for Algernon" Syndrome situation. Can quickly lead to The Madness Place. Not to be confused with Memetic Mutation. Also compare The Spark of Genius, which is sometimes combined with this syndrome, as well as Neurodiversity Is Supernatural, where atypical mental conditions convey less scientific talents. The Trope Namer and some other examples constitute Memetics in Fiction, but most examples are more physiological in nature.

Known Vectors:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Battle Angel Alita: Doctor Desty Nova is a mad scientist obsessed with the study of what he calls Karmatron Dynamics, and as such goes out of his way to conduct as many gleefully sadistic experiments as possible.
  • Bondrewd the Novel from Made in Abyss sacrificed his own body a long time ago to make his white whistle and only exists because he keeps copy-pasting his mind into new bodies. The result of repeatedly performing this process is that he's no longer fully human nor sane; his mood appears permanently locked into "optimistic excitement" and nothing ever breaks him out of that mood, be it grievous injury to himself or the suffering and pleading of others. This allows him to casually do ever more insane and disgusting scientific experiments without it fazing him one bit.
  • Doctor Jail Scaglietti, the Big Bad of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, is eventually revealed to have been born with an uncontrollable obsession to discover the secrets behind the Lost Logia of Ancient Belka and Al-Hazard when he was created by the leaders of the TSAB as a result of project "Unlimited Desire".
  • In Soul Eater, Dr. Franken Stein suffers from this, explaining how as a child, doctors tried to figure out the reason for his mental instability and desire to dissect everything, traits which also make him the most powerful graduate of Shibusen. He even goes on to explain how insanity is contagious, meaning that his condition gets worse when madness begins to consume the world. When his madness is less controlled, he goes from analytical genius to stark-raving madman. In Stein's case, it could be said he was crazy and then took to science as he grew up. Young Stein is pure Creepy Child, with a side of "take it apart to see how it works", with "it" often being a living, breathing thing — and he got pretty good at putting "it" back together too.

    Comic Books 
  • Hank "Ant-Man" Pym. As he has stated, he only takes on board scientific projects that interest him or stimulate his imagination. He is also somewhat prone to bouts of insanity and creating villainous robots. Exactly what mental illness Hank suffers from was undisclosed for the longest time (he was eventually confirmed to be bipolar), but the general consensus is that he really should be on some sort of medication. One theory is that he's neurotically obsessed with being a super-hero, despite being completely insane. Hank also turns out to be astonishingly easy to brainwash into believing almost anything. He was once brainwashed into believing that a woman with a pathologically large brain (as in, a few feet across) was his desperately ill wife who needed him to cure her. This was actually a ploy to get him to engineer a mobile platform for her so she could be a Person of Mass Destruction with her psychic powers.
  • Mento of Doom Patrol is arrogant and mentally unstable at the best of times. He's also a freaking genius with several doctorates and a business savant who makes Batman look broke. He started hero-ing both to impress his (then-future) wife and because he was bored. It was after he lost Rita that he really went downhill.
  • Will Magnus, the creator of the Metal Men, suffers from bipolar disorder. Taking pills prevents him from acting irrational and creating machines of death (like making a robot out of uranium), but also stifles his creativity (like making a sexy robot out of platinum).
  • Everett Ducklair from Paperinik New Adventures can't help himself with this trope, as near-everything he creates turns out to be a weapon of mass destruction.
  • In some of his incarnations, the Lizard form of Curt Connors in Spider-Man acts like a mad scientist, even though normally, he is a good guy. Complicating things is that on other occasions, the Lizard form is non-sentient.
  • Wolverine and the X-Men: The impulse to engineer monsters out of dead bodies seems to be instinctual, compulsive, and hereditary to the Frankenstein family, similar to Young Frankenstein.

    Fan Works 
  • Contraptionology!: Convolvment, a mental condition common among contraptionologists, occurs when an individual working on a project becomes increasingly obsessed with it, becoming more and more drawn into endless tinkering and grand plans until their project becomes entirely disconnected from what it was originally meant to be. This last step leads into an increasingly worse spiral as the contraptionologist tries harder and harder to force their project back on track but only succeeds in worsening their obsession, which eventually consumes their thoughts until it displaces everything else that used to be important to the sufferer and drives them into becoming increasingly competitive, driven, narcissistic and unstable. What is unusual in the story's case is that convolvement normally takes years to form and develop, but everyone in Ponyville seemingly developed advanced cases overnight.
  • A Witch In Broad Daylight: The mad scientists become the way they are by looking at the outer gods for more than eight seconds. "On the eighth" is an in-universe expression for crazy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Dr. Herbert West, the Re-Animator. He performs science because of the need to know, consequences be damned. His search to conquer death may have started with the benign reasoning of conquering humanity's greatest mystery and advancing medical science, but he goes way past the point of no return into straight up mad-scientific compulsion.
  • In Transylvania 6-5000, Dr. Malavaqua is a normal scientist as long as he's outside his laboratory. On entering it, however, he proceeds to muss up his hair and go into full-blown Mad Scientist mode.
  • It's implied that the title character of Young Frankenstein inherited his tendency toward mad science from his more famous predecessor.

  • Lydia from The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling calls it Hypercognitive Dementia. It's characterized by the ability to create devices that "regular" science would classify as impossible. However, there are downsides as well, including a marked reduction in empathy, an inability to see how one's actions affect others, and a belief that the sufferer's struggles are the only ones that matter.
  • Although they're rarely developed characters, any Marthter that any Igor has worked for in Discworld. They either start out mad, or become mad as a result of their scientific activities. The best example is Jeremy in Thief of Time. When he stops taking his medicine (although Igor specifically says that "Marther pourth out two thpoonfuls each day", using an Exact Words ploy), his thoughts come much more quickly, although the nature of Jeremy's project makes the Igor extremely uneasy (and Igors are no stranger to Things Man Was Not Meant to Know). It doesn't help Igor that his grandfather was the assistant to the last guy who tried this stunt, and he's one of the few mortal beings who know what really happened. It didn't end well that time, either.
  • The Whispered in Full Metal Panic! are born with some form of mad-science gene that allows them to build and instinctively understand one particular type of futuristic Black Box technology, such as the creation of Humongous Mecha, futuristic submarine construction, artificial intelligence, cold-fusion reactors, or similar. Which technology any given Whispered has knowledge of is random, and when they access their knowledge abilities they slip into some sort of catatonic state.
  • In Kiln People, Mad Science is caused by one of several psychological complexes. The protagonist, a private detective with an interest in psychology, listens to the villain ramble and mentally goes down a list of symptoms, eventually diagnosing him with a textbook case of one of the complexes.
  • In Seanan McGuire's short story "Laughter at the Academy",note  "Schizotypal Creative Genius Personality Disorder" is a recognized psychological disorder, and anyone pursuing scientific research beyond a bachelor's degree is heavily scrutinized, and tested monthly for it. The Mad Scientist of the story is a Psycho Psychologist who discovers how conditioning can induce a previously sane person to develop SCGPD. Nobody suspects her because everyone assumes that only hard scientists can become mad.
  • Morganville Vampires: Myrnin is a Mad Scientist vampire who has developed a disease that only targets vampires. He tries to find a cure and manages to develop medication to slow it down, but often forgets to take it, turning him into a bloodthirsty monster, which is why he needs someone there to help him remember, but hiring an assistant often doesn't go well.
  • The Mad Scientist in The Pentagon War actually calls himself "The Mad Scientist". He takes hormones that deliberately keep him mad.
  • In Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon (the sequel to Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain), more detail is given on Penny's. For one thing, her power still doesn't like repeating itself, and also doesn't really repair things.
  • In The Precipice, Grace develops a mild case after her power awakens, though in her case it seems mostly connected to her power supplying the most direct solution to any problem she is thinking about, be it designing a revolutionary zero-point energy reactor or murdering someone she is annoyed with.
  • Supervillains often suffer from "Malign Hypercognition Disorder" in Soon I Will Be Invincible, or rather, mad science geniuses are compelled to become supervillains. It's stated that the Mad Scientist types will go this way when they are at the far-right edge of the bell curve. As Doctor Impossible states, it's not known why being in the top 0.1% of minds makes you evil, but it's bound to make you unusual.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agent Carter: Howard Stark says that when he gets an idea for an invention, no matter how dangerous, he can't not make it. That's why he has a vault for his "bad babies". He puts these dangerous inventions in there because he never planned on selling them to anyone. "I can't control what I make but I can control what I sell."

  • The Mad Scientist Wars naturally features this trope, given that it's a crossover between Narbonic and Girl Genius. Almost every major member of the main cast is a Mad Scientist, and SRMD is shown to be well documented in the medical field. It's a purely genetic condition, of course. Interestingly, one character was shown to have been taking some kind of medication to repress the syndrome, before a skipped dose and stress caused him to "break through".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Chronicles of Darkness:
    • In Genius: The Transgression, becoming a Genius warps you into something not quite human. On the one hand, Inspiration grants the ability to "delicately bend" the laws of physics, with higher levels of Inspiration naturally granting greater power. On the other hand, a more Inspired Genius will likely find it harder and harder to maintain his Obligation and, if they snap, they can become an Unmada where one believes their mad science is true and everyone else is crazy, or worse, one of the Illuminated, at which point everyone and everything starts to look like a resource. Inspiration also seems to be contagious; Mortals exposed to mad science have a likelihood of becoming Beholden, if not a Genius in their own right.
    • Promethean: The Created uses a variant of this to explain the "demiurges" who created the Promethean Lineages — they were mortals unwittingly channeling the Divine Fire of the universe, the fundamental force of existence. However, humans weren't made to channel the Divine Fire, which meant the demiurges were a when they decided to bring human corpses back to life.
  • In Deadlands, "Mad Scientist" is actually a type of playable character. While it isn't a disease in the classic sense, being a Mad Scientist in this setting is an incurable condition, as demons whisper clues about devices that should not work, but do, into the ears of eager listeners, all in an attempt to hasten the end. Side effects include developing phobias of common items, depression, slavish obsession over one's creations, and possibly even horrific nightmares. Despite this — or perhaps because of it — Mad Scientists were among the most popular character types.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has this in the form of the tinker gnomes of the Dragonlance setting. A sub-race of gnomes who were cursed by a god to be brilliant and ingenious inventors with absolutely no concept of "practicality" or even "safety". The projected lifespan of tinker gnome NPCs was not very long: that of one who (as a player character) took up heroic engineering was usually measurable on a clock, as opposed to a calendar. Also present in the Spelljammer setting, where they found a way into space but never found a way back down...
  • JAGS, as one of the archetype ability choices in the CORE rulebook, has "Twisted Genius", which at the basic, 8-point level allows the character to make physics-bending machines at a rate of one per month. At the 16-point level, the machines can outright break physics and can make them much faster, but the character also picks up a compulsion to build them and they usually have side-effects.
  • Old World of Darkness:
    • In Mage: The Ascension, the Sons of Ether were basically Mad Scientist technomancers, with a penchant for Victorian Steampunk or 1950s rayguns and giant robots. There was a thin line between maniacal Sons of Ether and Marauders (Awakened who have gone insane and warp reality all around them). Certainly a Technocrat who went Marauder would be a textbook example of a futuristic Mad Gadgeteer. In fact, the Technocracy called awakened mages and other supernaturals "reality deviants". Come to think of it, in Mage: The Ascension, paradigm dissonance is considered a form of insanity, if you define insanity as experiencing things differently from what the majority (The Consensus) experiences. For the Awakened, if their avatar warps reality, then their "hallucinations" can become a new (subtle) piece of reality.
      Arguably, the Sons are actually an aversion of the trope; while most mages have their powers as a result of what is more or less a psychotic break that turns their view of the world into reality around them, the Sons are former Technocrats; that is to say, they're fully aware of how the consensus and paradigms work, and have made a conscious, informed decision about what they're going to believe rather than having to follow the mad inspiration of their Avatar like everyone else. They wear the tropes of the mad scientist, but mechanically they're more like sane mages.
    • In Vampire: The Masquerade, a few Malkavian vampires are scientists that have had the Malkav curse inflicted upon them. (There's even an archetype for playing such a character in the handbook.) Perhaps the most singular example is Dr. Netchurch, who is driven to scientifically understand the "Kindred condition." He always has a steady supply of willing volunteers for his incisive experiments... because he uses Dominate to force them to comply and then forgets that he compelled their cooperation.
  • Pathfinder takes this even farther than D&D, making it a trait of the gnomish race as a whole. If they don't spend their time having new experiences and making new discoveries in whatever field interests them, they eventually undergo "the Bleaching", a biological process that is frequently fatal. As a result nearly every member of the species is to some degree a Mad Scientist, Mad Artist, or mad anything really. The more obsessed and fascinated they are with whatever they do, the longer they live. Downplayed in Second Edition, where the keenspark gnomes that focus on innovation over exploration or new experiences are the least eccentric of the gnomes. They're commonly referred to as "sour gnomes" thanks to a perfectionist and dismissive personality, and they're less likely to be Chaotic Stupid as their stimulus is easier to satisfy. They're still gnomes, though.
  • Although all Orks in Warhammer 40,000 are already insane by human standards, their "mekboyz" and "painboyz" are even less stable, and infamous for performing acts of mad genius that unsettle even their fellow Orks. This is due to their very DNA — as a warrior race created by extinct precursors, some Orks have an instinctive understanding of science or medicine that grows through experimentation, compelling them to tinker in machine shops or perform unnecessary surgery on their squadmates. The end result is typically crude and dangerously unstable, but undeniably effective, even if the Ork can't explain how he got to it. It helps that Orks are latent psykers, to the extent that the fact that they expect a device to work allows their more insane creations to function in spite of the laws of physics.

  • Young Frankenstein: A compulsion to commit mad science is a hereditary condition that runs in the Frankenstein family. As the Frankensteins sing in "Join The Family Business":
    The Roqueforts are celebrated for their Roquefort cheese
    The Rothschilds are famous for their wines
    Hersheys have their chocolates, and Liptons have their teas
    But when it comes to making monsters you can't beat the Frankensteins!

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 

  • The "inventor's gene" in General Protection Fault is a relatively benign form of this.
  • Girl Genius:
    • A Gaslamp Fantasy series that calls this disorder "The Spark". Those affected are often called Sparks, or are said to have "The Spark". No cure in sight short of massive, irreversible brain damage. But the Spark who's working on it is getting much better about that whole "quality of life" thing! Sparks are compelled to build things — often extremely dangerous things — with little to no regard for consequences. It's been called "The Madness Place", with three known levels. After the first, concern for safety starts to falter a bit... all safety.
      Agatha: We're just going to kill you, and then you'll be fine!
    • Baron Klaus Wulfenbach is notable because he is the only Spark seen that is mostly immune to this, though he still has his moments. As Tarvek says to Gil when he realizes that the Baron has been slaver-wasped but is somehow Fighting from the Inside, Klaus Wulfenbach is special and breaks all of the "rules" concerning Sparks. Of course, he's also a construct made from what was left of three Wulfenbach brothers who died in a lab accident.
  • A Miracle of Science, the Trope Namer, is about a reformed mad scientist-turned police detective hunting down a mad roboticist who is threatening the stability of the solar system. The medications used in the treatment of SRMD makes one character, in his own words, "feel like [his] head is full of felt".
  • Narbonic:
    • The genetic condition of Mad Science (also known as hypercognitive dementia, also known as Walton's Disorder, also known popularly as Mad Genius; DSM-IV numeric code 29533) and its eventual treatment is a major theme. There is talk of a cure, but at least in the form we see it, it turns the mad scientist into a Weirdness Censor-equipped mundane. Makes them impotent, too. Right at the end, a character from the future claims the cure has been perfected.
    • Because of their shared 'verse, Mad Scientists show up in Skin Horse as well. We've seen Tigerlily and Captain Bram so far, but there's a whole Institute for the Sane* Study of Mad Genius out there. Not to mention St. Charlie, "a technocratic city dedicated to the irrational sciences".
  • Hannelore's father in Questionable Content is implied to suffer from a version of this; in one strip he goes off his meds and builds her a "fully functional" robot boy. Well, almost fully functional; the fun parts are still in "beta". Private beta, obviously.

    Web Original 
  • The Spoony Experiment: Some of Doctor Insano's origin stories have him being actually driven mad, either through bad videogames or through his anger at being rejected as a teenager.
  • In Star Harbor Nights, people who have the Darkwell gene are somewhat mad-scientisty, moreso if they've inherited it from both their parents. The most normal of the double Darkwells we've met so far carries a stuffed rabbit with her everywhere and talks to it and has a... very well-equipped lab in her basement:
    "Perfect, the first batch of impervion was created in a lab accident that killed twenty-five people. And the man who invented it is certifiably insane. It's not something you should be able to whip up in your basement in a few hours."
  • In the Whateley Universe, there exists a disorder by the name of Diedrick's Syndrome, in which an imbalance of neurotransmitters can lead to the sufferer screaming insanely about destroying the planet because, say, he originally just lost his car keys. (Such an episode is referred to as "dricking out".) While it isn't specific to Devisors and Gadgeteers, they are the groups which seem most susceptible to it (though electrical Manifestors are right up there with them).
    • A devisor named Mega-Death is the current trope demonstrator. Ironically, he's a really nice, friendly guy. Normally. It's been suggested that the Alphas are screwing with his inventions to induce more frequent drick-outs because they think it's funny.
    • Devisors also frequently forget to do things like eat or sleep — this isn't necessarily related to Diedrick's, devisors and gadgeteers just tend to get really into their work — and the cafeteria has "devisor specials" that the friends of the inventor in question can take to them in the labs, containing easy-to-eat stuff like lots of finger foods.
    • At least one Mad Scientist supervillain, Lady Havoc, is revealed to be a villain almost entirely due the effects of Diedrick's. She was once a nice enough person, but years of violence, self-experimentation, and drick-outs left her with little will but to continue inventing, stealing, and going on murderous rampages. Eventually, she resorts to a device that paralyzes herself inside a force field when she has an insanity attack, just so she can protect her long-lost family from her rages. In the end, she cuts a deal with the local superheroes — in exchange for them letting her help them rescue her brother from another supervillain, she'll surrender to the authorities and submit to treatment and lifetime imprisonment.

    Western Animation 
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz has a Big Electric Switch as an on/off switch for the lights. He also has an obsession with installing self-destruct buttons and other buttons or dials that actually make it easier for Perry the Platypus to thwart Doof's plans.
    • Even the titular characters aren't completely immune to the self-destruct system obsession, as evidenced when they built a Rainbow-inator. In fact, when Phineas found himself stranded on an island with no materials with which to build things, he slipped into a Heroic BSoD that Isabella had to snap him out of. In another where Baljeet took charge for the day and insisted on a mountain climb without any inventions, Phineas goes stir crazy and has to let off steam by building an ice chalet at the peak after the climb. Calm and stoic Ferb comments that if he wasn't allowed to invent something soon, he was going to scream.

    Real Life 
  • John Nash, the schizophrenic mathematician portrayed in A Beautiful Mind, found that his medications drained his energy and left him unable to accomplish anything, so he stopped taking them, electing instead to battle his mental illness with cold, methodical logic.
  • Theodor Holm Nelson, the erratic computer visionary who is sometimes called the Father of Hypertext, refers to his severe ADHD as 'butterfly mind', and has often expressed dismay at how the medicines which help keep him focused also tend to dull his innovation. He has at time gone with No Medication for Me only to go back on them when things start spiraling out of control. His life's work, a massive hypertext system call Xanadu, was meant in large part as a coping mechanism for this — a way to keep track of all the unruly thoughts that come and go, and be able to go back to them later and make sense out of them.
  • Paul Erdős, a mathematician known for publishing more papers than any other mathematician to date and collaborating with damn near everyone in the field (to the point that the mathematicians' equivalent of the Bacon Number is the Erdős Number), took amphetamines. He was offered a sum of money by a friend to give up the habit for a month. He did, took the money, then went right back on amphetamines, claiming that his sobriety impeded his ability to think.
    "Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper, my mind was filled with ideas. Now, all I see is a blank piece of paper."

Alternative Title(s): Science Madness