I think I've come across various articles here and there that analyze or research various aspects of WOW on a much more scholarly/academic basis. But I'm not quite sure I realized just how big this is. First, did you know there are journals just devoted to this? For example:
"Games and Culture publishes innovative theoretical and empirical research about games and culture within the context of interactive media. The journal serves as a premiere outlet for groundbreaking and germinal work in the field of game studies. The journal's scope includes the sociocultural, political, and economic dimensions of gaming from a wide variety of perspectives, including textual analysis, political economy, cultural studies, ethnography, critical race studies, gender studies, media studies, public policy, international relations, and communication studies."
Holy crap that was a lot of big words. Brain... tired now. Germinal? Is that some variation of the word germane? No, but seriously, take a look at the articles in their most recent January 2010 issue.
I somehow came across the personal site of Dmitri Williams, who does a lot of research specifically within MMOs. Checking out his list of published articles, there are articles on pretty much every topic you could think of including social dynamics of guilds, the impact of voice communication, sex/gender roles, role playing, and economics.
As an biology major in undergrad who also spent a couple years working in labs doing scientific research, I had to read a ton of academic articles. I might have been a bit more interested if they were gaming related!