Popular science is science that is designed to appeal to the general public, rather than just the initiated. The key aim of those who try and promote popular science is to make the sciences accessible. This means that there will be a deliberate attempt to describe science in a way that is easier to understand than it would be if it was presented by one academic to another.
One important aspect of popular science is still that facts remain important, but that they are presented in a way that are easy to digest. In recent years television has spawned a number of highly intelligent presenters, including Brian Cox, who, while obviously very knowledgeable about their subject, present it in an enthusiastic and down to earth way. Popular science may be seen as an attempt to become part of popular culture in a vulgar way by some academics, but it’s undoubtedly been a method of presenting science that has helped to fuel greater interest.
Stephen Hawking is one intellectual who has benefited from writing in a way that is designed to appeal more to the masses than just to academics. His ‘A Brief History of Time’ book sold millions worldwide, and it would not have done so if it had been purely aimed at academics and fellow intellectuals. Hawking’s reputation has hardly suffered either, with his respect within the scientific community very much still intact.
Popular science has helped to give people a greater understanding of the world above us, and indeed the universe as a whole. There had been, rightly or wrongly, a perception that science deliberately tried to exclude non-academics and non-intellectuals from gaining knowledge, and that it should be something left for the educated classes.
One of the things that most appeals about popular science is that it can actually be both informative and entertaining at the same time. There will probably always be critics who see popular science as dumbing down, but if it helps to breed a greater interest in science then society will surely only benefit.