Musings on Accounting Research by Steve
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Management accountants – partying like it is 1999

There is no doubt that the management accounting section is one of, if not the best, run section of the AAA. And JMAR, despite its problems with MAR, is moving up as well given it is now produced three times a year!

However, when it comes to communicating research to practitioners, the management accountants have caught up with the Audit Section, at least where the Audit Section was in 1999! Back in the heady days around Y2K ( young’uns look it up) the fast talking man from Boston College ( who bookended his career at Northeastern – coming and going), Arnie Wright, convinced the Journal of Accountancy to buy into research! The J of A is the captive Journal of the AICPA ( back in the day when the I stood for Institute not International). What Dr. Wright had done was classic, he convinced the AICPA to give him one page of the magazine per issue where he curated “Practice Summaries” mainly, but not exclusively, drawn from AJPT articles! ( Full disclosure – I encouraged this, loudly supported it, and thought it would show the usefulness of academic research to practitioners!)

Fast forward 20 years! The Management Accounting Section is celebrating the commencement of a series of two page articles in Strategic Finance, the captive journal of the IMA ( where the I still stands proudly for Institute)! Once again, it it’s devoted to practitioner friendly versions of academic management accounting articles. While they allow for the possibility that someone might write a literature summary, they like the Audit Section are initially focusing on single article practitioner translations!

Yet we all know one research article is not the basis for making decisions, don’t we??? Indeed, even Einstein’s greatest research did not warrant that!

In the end, this single article focused translation series, like the auditing Practice Summaries in Journal of Accountancy, will be evaluated by the editors after two or three years, be found to be the least valued section of Strategic Finance by the readers, and dropped from the magazine! Indeed, according to rumour, the Practice Summaries were the least read regular column in J of A in the three years they were run!

Remember the chicken and the egg from last Monday? We continue to show we are farmers concerned with the unit produced, not businesspeople focused on selling to a market of consumers. And likely we again will end up with egg on our face!

Scheduling at AAA – internationals last?

As I scanned the last afternoon’s program of the AAA Annual Gabfest I noticed an interesting and potentially disturbing trend. Across many of the sections’ program tracks there was a what appears to be a much greater than chance that most if not all the slots were filled with international based authors’ papers and had either US doctoral students or international based faculty as discussants. Indeed at the last coffee break of the conference it looked like a replacement for the recently cut “international reception”. Could there be implicit or explicit bias at work here??? Given the political culture of the USA with America First, it should not be surprising.

Speaking of the International Reception being cut, it was a painless way for the AAA to reduce conference costs. After all international members are very unlikely to complain as we are guests of your association, despite the fact that we seem to do a disproportionate amount of the heavy lifting in some sections. When I started coming to the AAA as a Canadian based assistant professor in 1993, at first I found the idea of an international reception to be a bit strange, especially in the days before 911 and more recently President Orange Hair. However in the last decade I found it an important and useful networking event rather than trying to find international colleagues among the assembled minions.

In the end there is nothing wrong with either of these moves in light of the USA first political culture in the US. But do NOT pretend that the AAA is an international organization any longer, it is a US national association that accepts international members.

Readable results

On day three of the AAA Annual gabfest I have a suggestion to offer to some authors!

Spend more time of your results slides! I mean this from at least two points of view:

1. Make results slides readable! Do not cut and paste from your paper’s tables! If results are to be seen, the set them up in readable font! It is not by accident that the default font on most templates is set at 24 pt! And NO – an apology for unreadable results presentation is NOT enough. It suggests either ignorance or lack of regard for your Audience!

2. We do not need to see slide after slide that proves you can read! You got into and/or graduated from a doctoral program! If you do not know the literature it will quickly become apparent when you present your method, design and contribution! And NO, the purpose of presenting is not to show you can do a biased towards your hypothesis literature review! Tell us what is new and how you learned it.

Finally, if you have hypotheses, present them. Saw one presenter who showed unreadable results slides annotated with hypothesis numbers but nary an hypothesis presented in the presentation!

Over expansion over ambition overspending

This is the year of the “over” at the AAA. A lot of chickens are coming home to roost. My analysis is that it is a bit of a perfect storm. In no particular order:

Long-term contracts for food and beverage at conferences ended making conferences a losing money big time propositions. Issues with the journal production process and the bankruptcy of our publishing house, Edwards, probably did not help on the cost front.

The over reliance on the windfall that was digitalization of the AAA journals and the agreement with EBSCO that resulted in a large revenue windfall was used to subsidize membership fees for ten years by limiting the fee increases to $5 a year (do some math on that one versus the base membership fee of about 275 a decade ago – no where near inflation which would have suggested a wee bit more).

The over ambitious agenda of the AAA leadership around and leading up to the 100th anniversary and a lot of investment in activities that did not have a revenue stream associated with them.

Likely there are more but no time for a forensic audit!

Of the three, I pick the middle one as likely the biggest problem. The digitalization revenues were not split with the section journals, that is, the sections only got print revenues while still being charged with journal production costs! This was an added central bonus that masked the problems for a few more years. However the AAA is not alone in facing this, the CAAA did the exact same thing but on a smaller scale and the chickens came home to roost there two years ago!

Practical relevance in research

I had an “a ha” moment today in attempting to explain why the individual research paper is NOT the unit to focus on for practice relevant knowledge.

If you know anyone who has back yard chickens ( normally hens) they will tell you in great gory detail about the inconsistency in egg laying among their hens. Some days they do not lay an egg and some days several! Let’s assume the same applies to commercial egg operations! The key point is that this is not relevant to the consumer of eggs. When they go to the grocery store they purchase eggs in boxes of six or twelve.

In other words the production function of individual hens and consumer purchase for consumption have little to do with each other except at farmers markets and speciality grocery stores (and my neighbour who goes without eggs for breakfast if no hen lays eggs that day).

We need to stop thinking that practical relevance is a product of a single academic article. Practical relevance is demonstrated by knowledge transfer to practitioners that synthesizes a body of relevant research articles for a practical problem. We all know in theory that one article does not generalize, so why do we find it so hard to see that the generalizability of research to practice is not in units of individual academic papers????

I think that it is due to those involved being producers, where every egg counts, rather than consumers that want to buy a half a dozen!

Ah, July . .

. . This is the month Canada ( at least English speaking Canada) goes on vacation! As evidenced by my blog activity I have done so too, without planning it!

Mind you BRIA is up to date as a Senior Editor can make it! So is everything else including beaucoup de tenure and promotion letters!

I continue to be puzzled by the inexact nature of the process that results in two opposite events – those worrying extensively about tenure when there is no need to worry and those going up for tenure when they are not even close! For the former type, the only cost is to the individual and their support system. That is great, no doubt but it pales to the costs of the latter. There you have external reviewers, P&T Committee members, deans and associate deans and higher level officials all having to labor over a negative decision. This in addition to the individual who while clueless early on gradually realizes things are not right!

So, I have drawn up a list of clues for the clueless. Think carefully about these.

1. What did the most recent positive decision case look like in your area/department? (Not the weakest case in the recent history of the department but the most recent – the led anchor and adjust heuristic applies here).

2. What are the implicit standards at peer schools, at schools that are part of your Plan B? ( I have talked about the importance of a good Plan B on this blog before) The further you are away from the former and the closer you are to the latter, the more likely you are to have problems.

3. As accountants in North America, expect the number to be six! Six “what” is a variable, but accountants are focused on one publication a year! Other parts of the world do not appear to be fixated as much on six pubs but I suspect there is some convergence towards. ( for the rare reader from the Uber top tier school that number tends to be moving towards eight but the fall from such a school is relatively soft albeit hard for the individual and their support system).

4. Be realistic about “what” counts! While you know your paper in BRIA belongs in TAR, the rest of the world sees a paper in BRIA. If only TAR’s and equivalents count at your school, don’t believe for a second you are going to ” sell” BRIA as an equivalent!

5. Remember that a voluntary change in university is always seen better than a forced change! Most folks will give you full marks for reading the writing on the wall correctly! This can only enhance you position when you finally do go up!

The beat goes on . . . .

The movie Yesterday made me think a little about Alternative Realities, which under some versions of Physic’s String Theory are more than possible so this is not the ravings of a mad man. What if we woke up in the mid-1970’s and Gondes and Dopuch 1974 had never been written? Instead of being held back for 25 or more years behavioural financial accounting research would have developed, well in advance of behavioural finance. Instead of accounting researchers slowly moving to catch up, financial accounting behavioural research would have lead the way! Just Imagine . . .

So from sunny Kingston, the beat goes on. I am taking a brief sabbatical (July 1 to December 31) to allow me to catch up on research, to continue to provide high quality service to BRIA authors and to understand deeper the data analytics revolution and blockchain developments on accounting and auditing. I continue to enjoy the privilege of being the Smith Chair of Accounting and Auditing at the Smith School of Business, one of the most innovative business schools in the world. Kingston is lovelier than usual in the summer s drop in if you are in the ‘hood! Looking forward to many more years at Queen’s University at Kingston, founded by Royal Charter in 1843! ( so says the official website)

Happy Canada Day (July 1) to my country and condolences to all Americans who wish they were in Canada as they celebrate their separation from the “land of peace order and good government” on their Independence Day (July 4)! 😇

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