people often make the distinction between "popular" science, and science published in specialist journal articles. If you go to the extremes, then the distinction is clear: A documentary by David Attonborough on wildlife is clearly popular science, and a journal article in Nature about "Mechanisms for the Decrease of Brain Serotonin" is clearly not.

But somewhere in the middle, the boundary starts to blur, and I am looking for words to more accurately talk about this "middle ground" between popular science writing and science writing for scientists.

  • For example, what I have in mind is that a book like "The selfish gene" by Richard Dawkins, is readable by a general audience and has become quite popular among interested non-scientists (does not contain specialist jargon, or complex math that requires long preparatory study), but nevertheless, Dawkins introduced original ideas and an original perspective on genetics and evolution. Even experienced evolutionary biologists could learn from reading his book.

  • Another example (but a different type) is "Thinking fast and slow" by Kahnman & Tversky. This book is readable by a general audience, but it is also not very far from a kind of introductory textbook on behavioral economics.

My question is: I'm looking for words that allow you to refer to these kinds of books that are not hardcore science journal articles, but also not really purely popular science. Any words that are related to this are welcome, even if they don't exactly capture these examples.

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    These are books for a general audience, what are called trade books in the publishing business in the United States. Unlike a journal article they don't provide previously unavailable findings (or rarely do so), but present what is known already. – Xanne May 11 '18 at 18:15
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    "Popular" and "real" science should not be used as opposing terms or opposities. What's popular (of wide interest to the general public) may and often is real, or a report of "real" science. (Some "real" science uses fake data.) – Xanne May 11 '18 at 18:34
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    To add to @Xanne 's comment - the difference isn't in the science. The difference lies in the how it is packaged for consumption. E. O. Wilson's The Ants and Rickett's Wildflowers of the United States are no-compromise scientific works readily available to the public. – Phil Sweet May 11 '18 at 18:36
  • Attenborough – Michael Harvey May 11 '18 at 19:42
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    There is an old joke, not entirely frivolous. "Every equation you include halves you audience." – GEdgar May 11 '18 at 21:20

As Xanne points out in a comment, there is no polarity between real science and popular science. (In fact, if science is not real, then probably it does not qualify as science.) Popular science is usualy a digest of very real and often important science, sifted so as to be comprehensible, of interest, and perhaps even useful to general public.

If there is a yardstick that applies to the quality I believe you have in mind, it might be termed accessibility. As you say, there is no sharp boundary and it is good to keep in mind the intended readership.

On the accessibility scale, people will sometimes use terms such as accessible to the motivated reader/a layman/nonspecialists to suggest a borderline case.

Also, popular science tends to be painted as a broader picture, covering not only an actual new contribution, but also its wider context (often assumed known to specialists in the area, so left out), or perhaps focusing solely on a broad picture without aspiring to saying anything strictly new. The borderline cases might strive for this broad picture while also supplying details and evidence (this makes them longer). So one might encounter descriptions such as detailed account.


If the intended audience includes regular people (non-scientists), then it's "popular science".

Books like "The Selfish Gene" are firmly in that category (Not to belittle "The Selfish Gene" -- it's a fantastic book. I read it in high school)

There are two kinds of middle ground:

  • Students. Books written for them are "textbooks"
  • Scientists who are not too familiar with some specific topic. Articles written for them are called "review" (There are also journals that have the word "review" in their names. This may often be a historical accident)

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