At Getting rid of the popular science tag, Shog9's (rather reasonable, in my opinion) was accepted. So here, I think we should standardise the definition of .

  • If the answers are technical, but the question was phrased in a pop-sci way, should it be tagged as popular science?

  • If the questioner asks for something evidently beyond their level (assuming they're a layman), should it be tagged a pop-sci?

  • If the question arose from a pop-sci text, e.g. one of Kaku's pop-sci books, but asks for a technical answer (e.g. Kaku says that it's possible to find the probability of X happening but as it was in the context of a pop-sci book, so he didn't elaborate any further. How is that done?" , should it be tagged as pop-sci?

  • Are questions about, say, "Which is the fastest way to cool a beaker of water?" to be tagged as pop-sci? Or is it just stuff like "How can a graviton escape a black hole?"?

From the comments:

These are just suggestions - the intent is for people to suggest a good definition in the answers, the community votes on these answers, and the most upvoted one after a reasonable amount of time has past will be the one we apply.

Note that whatever definition you come up with needs to be objective. Otherwise we're back where we've started on the tag. "Question was phrased in a pop sci way" is ambiguous.

  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Read Shog's answer again. Note that it prescribes strict action in the case of someone repeatedly abusing the tag. That means that we mods have to enforce it. How, pray tell me, do we enforce something which we find ambiguous? Look, I doubt this situation (where the community picks a bad tag definition) will arise, but if it does, I'm not going to just let it become policy if I'm going to be the one having to enforce it. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Aug 12 '13 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth Shog9 says:_... not all of them comply with the definition above - in particular, there are a few questions where the tag seems to have been added based on the perceived difficulty or "softness" of the question rather than any explicit desire on the part of the asker for a broadly-accessible answer (much less the existence of such an answer on the question). Some of these will need to be retagged again to avoid setting a bad example._ Mistagging, missing or inappropriate tags happen all the time and I think the community does quite a good job in catching errors and improving tags. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Aug 12 '13 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ I think Manishearth is referring to my answer on the other question, @Dilaton. Specifically, "BUT THAT ONLY WORKS IF FOLKS ARE CONSISTENT IN HOW THEY USE IT. [...] if the problem becomes widespread, the tag will be removed with no further discussion." $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 12 '13 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Shog9 ah, this could be. But as I understand you this is some kind of a worst case scenario and it would most probably happen, if there are too many edit wars involving this tag, or did I get this wrong? I mean just putting a wrong tag once, which gets then fixed by somebody else, is not already an abuse but just a mistake? $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Aug 12 '13 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: not necessarily even edit-wars (although that would be "worst-case"). Consider the scenario of a student asking a question using terminology that suggests a rudimentary understanding of the topic: if it becomes commonplace to retag these with the popsci tag (and there's some indication that this was happening at one point), then that's a problem even if the asker doesn't fight it - remember, these questions are often asked by folks who are new to the site and may not be familiar with the conventions used here or what they imply in terms of answers. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 12 '13 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ P.S.: I'm cleaning up the comments here, since this is getting long again. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 12 '13 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Shog9 sure, concerning the example and I quite liked your and Manishearths point of view that for such questions it is very legitimate to receive technical answers too, which may be useful for others than the OP :-). Maybe one could then also note in the definition that people who are exclusively interested in obtaining non-technical answers to the question can use popular-science for exactly that purpose ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Aug 12 '13 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ I think that's fine, although as I noted it's already fairly common for folks after such answers to state this need somewhere in their question. This is why it's important for usage to be consistent though: if I drop into the site and see that non-technical answers are common in this tag, its purpose becomes obvious. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 12 '13 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Shog9 there might be people who are intentionally looking for non-technical questions, such as Jim who enjoys answering them for fun or people who are browsing the site for non-technical explanations for some reason. For those it would be helpful if questions (and their answers) who deal with physics on a simplified level have the tag such that they can find them. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Aug 12 '13 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton I think this brings us back to where we've started -- different people want to use the tag for different purposes. We can't have popsci work both ways. :/ $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Aug 13 '13 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I absolutely dont know what you mean now, what is wrong with applying Shog9's definition for example? If the tag is applied consistently as for example suggested by Shog9, what problem should there be? $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Aug 13 '13 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton Nothing wrong with it :) I'm saying that your previous comment seemed to indicate that you wanted a change in the definition that would accommodate for people like Jim who may want questions that would be best served with a layman answer on their plate. My point was that making it work for everybodys needs is a hard/impossibe task, because everyone has different needs and we can't get a consistent tag definition with that. I may have misinterpeted your comment, though (I still am not sure what you meant -- were you agreeing with Shog's proposal or suggesting a tweak?) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Aug 13 '13 at 15:14

In my opinion, the best argument for even having this tag is that it's a fairly common and well-understood term:

Popular science, sometimes called literature of science, is interpretation of science intended for a general audience.

Deviating from that introduces ambiguity and creates the potential for confusion if the tag is applied to questions where answers are decidedly not written for a general audience. Why would any answers here be written for a general audience? Usually because that's what the asker asked for - "can someone give me a layman's explanation?", "how would I explain this to a 12 year old?", etc. Therefore, I recommend the following criteria:

Questions in this tag must be answered in a manner that can be understood by a general audience with at most a basic understanding of physics, mathematics and related sciences. Apply it to questions where the asker clearly requests such answers.

So for instance, these are clearly pop-sci questions:

...while these are probably not:

Note that a lot of questions have been retagged with in the past month or so, but not all of them comply with the definition above - in particular, there are a few questions where the tag seems to have been added based on the perceived difficulty or "softness" of the question rather than any explicit desire on the part of the asker for a broadly-accessible answer (much less the existence of such an answer on the question). Some of these will need to be retagged again to avoid setting a bad example.

  • $\begingroup$ As far as I can tell this was the original meaning of the tag, though the wiki could have been updated a bit. I mainly like this because trying to crystal-ball whether or not the OP wants a simple answer can be hard, and a question that seems to come from a layman may be better suited with a rather technical answer (which may not directly benefit the OP but may benefit others). $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Aug 12 '13 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, basing this on the perceived skill level of the asker is a dangerous path; there are a fair number of self-taught folks hanging around who don't always want their answers watered down even if they're struggling a bit because that's how they're learning. And I was pleasantly surprised to find several questions from folks who could understand a normal answer, but explicitly wanted a layman's explanation for their children or students. Most folks make it clear what sort of answer they're looking for, and there's no harm in asking if they don't. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 12 '13 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah. While not at the layman level, I recall that happening to me on this question. QMechanic's answer cleared up my confusion regarding the issue, and was in language I could understand. DavidZ's answer was waay more technical (One year later, I'm still not equipped to fully understand it, though I can appreciate it much more now), but I learned quite a bit from it anyway. And I bet that the answer is quite useful to others, too. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Aug 12 '13 at 18:44

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