ASA pushing for better sociology Wikipedia entries

This news came out earlier this week in the American Sociological Association’s Footnotes: the ASA is hoping sociologists and sociology students will help improve Wikipedia pages pertaining to sociology.

In an essay on the association’s online newsletter (scheduled to be included in the next edition of its print newsletter), Wright this week announced the Sociology in Wikipedia Initiative: a formal call to sociologists to help improve and expand Wikipedia entries that might benefit from their expertise and consider assigning their students to do the same.

“Wikipedia has become an important global public good,” Wright writes in the essay. “Since it is a reference source for sociologically relevant ideas and knowledge that is widely used by both the general public and students, it is important that the quality of sociology entries be as high as possible. This will only happen if sociologists themselves contribute to this public good.”

Not only might Wikipedia benefit from contributions by students steeped in academic research methods, but the exercise might help students learn how to read the crowd-sourced encyclopedia in the proper context, said Wright.

“What better way to get students to understand that it’s actual people like them who have written this stuff, than for them to write this stuff?” he said.

Is this “public sociology” at work? I don’t mind this call as it would help ensure that Wikipedia has accurate and in-depth sociology information rather than just a bare bones outline. Actually, I’ve thought the sociology Wikipedia entries weren’t that bad already, particularly compared to other disciplines. For example, the statistics pages on Wikipedia are technically correct but it is very difficult for a layperson to understand what is going on.

But how many sociology faculty will spend much time with this since there aren’t many professional incentives? Even publishing in online journals as opposed to more traditional print journals is not well-regarded so what’s the point of helping improve Wikipedia entries? This may seem like a move toward embracing technology and toward a younger generation of sociologists but the discipline has a long way to go.

At least a few leaders of major academic groups are admitting that they use Wikipedia as a source. Not too long, admitting this would not have been good for one’s status. How far away are we from Wikipedia being an acceptable source?

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