challenge the scatterbrains

So during our visit day a prospective student and scatterplot reader proposed a challenge to our fellow sociologists. I won’t out said person here unless they want to reveal themselves. But here’s the idea: sociology posts on wikipedia are enormously popular (thousands of visits a day) but tend to be quite terrible. So, folks should improve them. That means you! As an incentive, a special prize will be awarded to anyone who re-writes (or writes) the best wikipedia sociology entry. Before and after accounts will be required. The panel of judges is to be determined (likely, yours truly). The prize will be awarded at the annual scatterplot gathering (which the ASA has wisely decided to coordinate its meeting around). To quote from the originator of this idea (I edited the quote to suit my needs):

A few sociology wikipedia articles are OK: the main Sociology entry is decent (though a part of it is stubbed), and some subfields like Social Networks have good pages.  However, most are in serious need of work: see, for example, sociology of science, urban sociology, or Medical sociology.  There is really no shortage of poor articles to pick from — a list of sociology subfields for inspiration can be found here and of general sociology topics here.  Come to think of it, that list of sociology subfields could itself use some work.

In order for this to be productive, the article should follow the rules for a wikipedia article: encyclopedic tone, ==Article sections==, [[hypertext links to other wiki articles]] and, preferably <ref> properly cited references </ref>. (oh, and illustrations are always nice, too!)

If you find numbers inspiring, the main Sociology article got between 2800 and 5800 hits every single day in February.  I am guessing that makes it the single most read article about sociology anywhere.

Get to it. And I promise that the special prize will be really special.

7 thoughts on “challenge the scatterbrains”

  1. I’m not sure Fabio would approve of this as a productive use of my time. Hmmm, now that I think of it, maybe I’ll create an entry for Grad Skool Rulz.


  2. following on the heels of Kieran’s comment – i found it amusing that the Social Networks entry was among those mentioned as a positive example.

    That one’s been a battle ground for redefining what “social networks” is and is not for sometime. And as a result every once in a while has been pointed to as a prime example of how much misinformation Wikipedia has the potential to proliferate (within Social Network listserves). Eventually the social networks entry seems to have settled somewhat (in no small part because a couple of relatively senior folks in the research community have actually taken on the task of policing it personally), and now the entry typically looks pretty good.

    (Aside – I feel like i recently saw a presentation somewhere on examining arriving at consensus in the Wikipedia article production process, but for the life of me i can’t recall where that was.)

    Anywho, the dynamics of (especially popular) Wikipedia entries and the amount of revert/re-edit/re-write that goes on in the whole enterprise definitely makes the task of “(re-)writing an entry” part seem amusingly simple (to me at least).


  3. I’m the said prospective grad student. Wikipedia entries do take constant vigilance to keep running. The Social Networks one is unlucky because people keep on editing it as if it was about social networking websites, and this happens really often — at least once a week. However, there are enough editors watching over it now that it’s been kept at bay, as you point out.

    Most other sociology articles don’t have that problem. If you look at the edit history for the sociology of science one, you’ll see that no one has touched it since October. The problem with those pages isn’t malicious/poor editing, but a near complete lack of good writing. That’s why I think something like this challenge can be useful. I also don’t think a full rewrite of a high-content page would be nearly as easy, as you point out, or perhaps even a good idea. And yes, you indeed risk having your work reverted, but it’s also not that likely for the same reason — nobody is fighting over these pages.

    So — Hooray! Go edit up some sociology! ;)

    (p.s. Wiki optimism is a 21st century version of being an encyclopedia salesman)


  4. typo above: “I also don’t think a full rewrite of a high-content page **WOULDN’T** be nearly as easy, as you point out, or perhaps even a good idea”


  5. I recall a syllabus I saw at some point – and I have no idea when or where – that required the students in the course to edit a sociology entry relevant to the course as part of their grade. I think I also recall a similar project where an intro to sociology wikibook was edited as a final project for a course. I think it was this one:

    I guess I’m suggesting that all the professors/instructors on here farm it out and make their undergrads do it?


  6. ikindoflikesociology… That could have been my syllabus. I’m the primary author of the Introduction to Sociology wikibook you linked to. (a friend sent me a link to this discussion this morning)

    I did attempt to have my students contribute to both Wikipedia and my Wikibook. They were undergraduate students at a, um, not very good satellite campus of a pretty good university. As a result, I kind of concluded that having undergraduate students contribute was a bad idea. Maybe graduate students would be a better choice, though leading experts would be preferred.

    Also, on the wikibook front, the book is usable, but in need of some work. I haven’t been allowed to use it at my new position (we have a mandatory intro. book that I hate, but I’ll do just about anything in the pursuit of tenure). That said, I’m going to start using it more this summer and hope to make some headway cleaning it up and updating it. However, if any of you on here would like to help out, I’d be very appreciative! :)


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