Popular science

Popular science

Popular science, sometimes called literature of science, is interpretation of science intended for a general audience. While science journalism focuses on recent scientific developments, popular science is broad-ranging, often written by journalists and is presented in many formats, which can include books, television documentaries, magazine articles and web pages.


Popular science is a bridge between scientific literature as a professional medium of scientific research, and the realms of popular political and cultural discourse. It generally attempts to wield the authority of science, sometimes even on social and political issues, but in a manner different from professional science. Many science-related controversies are discussed in popular science books and publications, such as the long-running debates over biological determinism and the biological components of intelligence, stirred by popular books such as "The Mismeasure of Man" and "The Bell Curve". [Murdo William McRae, "Introduction: Science in Culture" in "The Literature of Science", pp 1-3, 10-11]

The purpose of scientific literature is to inform and persuade peers as to the validity of observations and conclusions and the forensic efficacy of methods. Popular science attempts to inform and convince scientific outsiders (sometimes along with scientists in other fields) of the significance of data and conclusions and to celebrate the results through epideictic rhetoric. Statements in scientific literature are often qualified and tentative, emphasizing that new observations and results are consistent with and similar to established knowledge wherein qualified scientists are assumed to recognize the relevance. By contrast, popular science emphasizes uniqueness and generality, taking a tone of factual authority absent from the scientific literature. Comparisons between original scientific reports and derivative science journalism and popular science typically reveal at least some level of distortion and oversimplification which can often be quite dramatic, even with politically neutral scientific topics. [Jeanne Fahnestock, "Accommodating Science: The Rhetorical Life of Scientific Facts" in "The Literature of Science", pp 17-36]

Popular science literature is often written by non-scientists who may have a limited understanding of the subject they are interpreting and it can be difficult for non-experts to identify misleading popular science, which may also blur the boundaries between formal science and pseudoscience.

Common threads

Some common traits of popular science productions include:
*Bridging the is-ought gap
*Entertainment value or personal relevance to the audience
*Emphasis on uniqueness and radicalness
*Exploring ideas overlooked by specialists or falling outside of established disciplines
*Generalized, simplified science concepts
*Presented for an audience with little or no science background, hence explaining general concepts more thoroughly
*Synthesis of new ideas that cross multiple fields and offer new applications in other academic specialties
*Use of metaphors and analogies to explain difficult and/or abstract scientific concepts
*Very limited mathematical formulas or complicating details

Notable popularizers of science

*Amir Aczel, author and mathematician
*Isaac Asimov, author and biochemist
*David Attenborough, broadcaster and naturalist
*Johnny Ball, broadcaster and maths addict
*David Bellamy, broadcaster, author and botanist
*David Bodanis, author
*Bill Bryson, author
*Fritjof Capra, physicist and author
*Brian Clegg, author
* Jack Cohen, reproductive biologist
*Paul Davies, physicist, author and broadcaster
*Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author
*Jared Diamond, evolutionary biologist, physiologist, biogeographer and author
*Sir Arthur Eddington, astrophysicist
*Peter Fairley, journalist and broadcaster
*Michael Faraday, scientist and lecturer
*Richard Feynman, physicist and author
*George Gamow, physicist and cosmologist
*Martin Gardner, mathematician and author
*Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and science historian
*Brian Greene, physicist
*John Gribbin, astronomer and author
*Heinz Haber, physicist and author
*Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and author
*Bas Haring, philosopher and author
*Don Herbert, aka Mr. Wizard, broadcaster
*Douglas Hofstadter, computer scientist, cognitive scientist and author
*Jay Ingram, broadcaster and author
* Steve Jones, evolutionary biologist and author
*Horace Freeland Judson, historian of molecular biology and author
*Olivia Judson, evolutionary biologist, broadcaster and author
*Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and author
*Lawrence Krauss, physicist and author
*Karl Kruszelnicki, aka Dr Karl, broadcaster
*Richard Lewontin, evolutionary biologist, geneticist and author
*Chris Lintott, astrophysicist
* Robert A. J. Matthews, physicist, mathematician, computer scientist and journalist
*Bob McDonald, CBC journalist
*Desmond Morris, zoologist, ethologist and author.
*Fulvio Melia, physicist, astrophysicist and author
*Julius Sumner Miller, broadcaster
* Sir Patrick Moore, amateur astronomer and broadcaster
*Tor Nørretranders, author
*Bill Nye, broadcaster and mechanical engineer
*Steven Pinker, experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist and author
*Robert Pollack, biologist and author
*Fred Pearce, journalist at New Scientist
*Magnus Pyke, author
*V. S. Ramachandran, neuroscientist, cognitive scientist and author
*Matt Ridley, zoologist, journalist and author
*Steven Rose, biologist, neurobiologist, broadcaster and author
*Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author
*Carl Sagan, astronomer, astrobiologist, broadcaster and author
*Kirsten Sanford, neurophysiologist and broadcaster
*Simon Singh, physicist, mathematician and author
*Ian Stewart, mathematician and author
*David Suzuki, broadcaster and environmental activist
*Colin Tudge, biologist and author
*Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and author
*Kevin Warwick, biomedical scientist, roboticist and author
*Robert Winston, scientist and broadcaster
*Lewis Wolpert, developmental biologist, author and broadcaster
*Yakov I. Perelman, author
*Jayant Narlikar, Cosmologist and author

ome sources of popular science

*The Best American Science and Nature Writing - Book series
*The Best American Science Writing - Book series
*BBC Horizon - TV series
*Medicine Magazine - Medical and health articles for a general audience
*Cosmos Magazine - Australian magazine
*Diffusion Science Radio Show - Science radio program and podcast
*Discover (magazine)
*Discovery Channel - Cable/satellite television channel
* [http://www.mkaku.org/radioprograms.htm Explorations in Science] - Michio Kaku radio program
*Exploratorium - Museum in San Francisco
*Frontiers of Science - Comic strip
*HowStuffWorks - Website
*Mr Science Show - Radio show and podcast from China Radio International
*National Geographic Channel (UK)
*New Scientist - Magazine
*Nova - Television show on PBS
*Popular Science - Magazine
* [http://www.popsci.com PopSci.com] - Website
* [http://www.popularscience.co.uk Popular Science] - Website on books and authors
*Popular Science Historic Film Series - Film shorts
* [http://www.reasonedcognition.com/ Reasoned Cognition] - Web comic
* [http://www.talkradionetwork.com/pg/jsp/general/host.jsp?chartID=3&position=10 Science Fantastic] - Michio Kaku radio program
*Science Friday - US radio show on NPR
*Scientific American - Magazine
*Smithsonian (magazine) - Published by the Smithsonian Institution
*This Week in Science - US radio show and podcast

Notes and references

*McRae, Murdo William (editor). "The Literature of Science: Perspectives on Popular Scientific Writing". The University of Georgia Press: Athens, 1993. ISBN 0-8203-1506-0

See also

*List of popular science books on evolution
*Science by press conference
*Science outreach

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