Boom and bust in popular science

part of The role by scientific publications in science communication

The obvious thing to say about popular science publishing in the last twenty years is that there has been a lot of it! That is important in itself. But it also means it is hazardous to offer general comment. The British journalist and commentator Bryan Appleyard recently wrote in the Sunday Times that the “hard stuff” in science was no longer attracting so many readers. Books answering many small questions about the world, or evoking a sense of wonder, do better - he reckons - than those which offer large certainties based on a scientific, or scientistic view of the world. That type, Appleyard claims, dominated the field for years after Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, with its promise of a theory of everything.