Musings on Accounting Research by Steve
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The discussant afterthought

One of the things that “bugs” (i.e., annoys) me is the lack of attention given to assignment of discussants at Association/section/segment conferences. Of course, that assumes there is a discussant given the fact that in order to promote attendance some conferences have significant portions of their conference schedule without discussants. That is a subject for another day – does access result in equality/equity or dilution of scholarly conference purpose?

Why does this discussant issue bug me? For graduates of non-elite Ph.D. Programs conferences are one of the main options open to them to get feedback on their work prior to journal submission. But the conference paper volume often leads to rushed short reviews, at best, from conference reviewers. That means the only source of real feedback for the young scholar is the discussant.

Yet by the time organizers get to assigning discussants they (the organizers) are exhausted! They have dealt with large volume of papers, dealt with reviewers that promise and do not deliver, tried to combine papers into sessions that make sense, and now they need to solicit/assign/obtain discussants. No wonder it is done in a rushed manner with little thought to the quality of feedback to the scholar. Just get the schedule filled to meet the printing deadline for the conference program!

A few years ago I took part in a ‘secret’ experiment. I was asked by the “scientific/conference committee” to step in and assign discussants as they were exhausted and out of time. There were sixty papers on the program and a pool of volunteer discussants to assign plus the ability to twist arms of presenting authors to discuss papers even if they had not volunteered. The Conference organizers were praised by attendees for having the best match of feedback and discussant quality match at the Conference in years.

Why? I was a fresh face with some energy and while it was a very long day of matching subjects to cells it was probably one of the most productive days I have had in terms of helping scholars get feedback! Imagine, improving the quality of feedback on 60 papers with one (hard) days work! Senior academics rarely can make that impact for so little investment in time!

The point of this is not to highlight how great I am (although those whose dislike me will read it that way) but to highlight that the process can be improved. Is this the definitive way forward, heck no! But it illustrates that the status quo does not have to be!!! hopefully food for thought!

Now for the biggy – open access journals

Unlike conventional subscription journals, open access journals work on the business model that does not rely on paywalls! Conventional journals offer open access options and hence are moving into a hybrid model where with paying an APC your article can be open access while others are behind the paywall! Of course, as I pointed out earlier, most academics do not realize a paywall exists unless they are carrying out literature searches away from the campus without signing into their campus connection first!

At present it is hard to find a viable open access journal in accounting that is not focused on country specific content. While this development has helped many of our colleagues in developing economies, it has not made a real dent in the overall business model of the publishing industry as it relates to accounting. Indeed, when I last checked the Directory of Open Access Journals there were only nineteen that included accounting in their title and three with auditing.

So what does an open access journal look like? The granddaddy of them all is PLOS One (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/). I first came across this journal a few years ago as it hosted many articles on replication research. It seems the open access folks were early on this issue!

The economic model is simple. Peer review for internal validity only, NO judgments about degree of incremental contribution, novelty etc. Article Processing Charge of $1595 that includes what appears to be good to excellent copy editing and other back of house activities. the reasons the PLOS APC is low compared to open access charges in hybrid conventional journals include: PLOS is a not for profit publisher, it only does on line publishing, it covers an incredible breathe of areas, no need to invest in paywall technology as PLOS only does open access, internal validity is only substantive publishing criteria acceptance requirement thus acceptance rates of 35 to 50% are reported.

mind you PLOS has developed a suite of higher status niche journals where novelty and incremental contribution are more the focus! In these journals the APC begins to approach the $3000 level of conventional journals that offer open access!

Open access – the article publication charge/fee

In a previous post I introduced the concept of open access publishing. Today, I talk about the most common model that is available to accounting researchers – the article publication charge (APC).

After peer review and editorial acceptance the business side of the publisher takes over. The open access option offers to make your article freely accessible from the day it is published to any reader, no subscription needed by the reader. All you the author has to do is to pay a fee!

The fees are hard to find for some journals. I spent 15 minutes looking for the APC charge on the AAA website. CAR can be found on the Wiley APC charge page as can Accounting and Finance! Elesiver’s page has AOS and jAE’s APC. But like TAR one has a hard time finding JAR’s open access pricing!

Apparently there are in principle two versions, the ” GOLD” level – open access immediately or the GREEN level – open access after one year. However for the top accounting journals, where I could find them at all, it appears to be GOLD or nothing!

Two final words on this model. In accounting the APC fees seem to be in the $2500 to $3500 US$ for GOLD open access. Second do not confuse legitimate open access payments and indeed open access journals, with the predatory journals that charge similar or lower fees but without rigorous peer review, editorial oversight, copyediting etc. Predatory journals are pure profit machines that provide no value added but change anything from $400 to four figures to publish in journals nobody reads and will hurt your career if spotted by a diligent cv reader!

What does “general interest” mean?

One of the strange notions that I think about is how TAR, JAR and CAR all think of themselves as ” general interest” accounting journals.

Of “general interest” to who or whom I wonder?

Most accounting faculty do not consult them, they are not easy to transfer to regulators and standard setters, and thank goodness few practitioners attempt to read individual articles with the lack of context we give our students to read and access research.

So what does “general interest” mean?

Of interest to accounting faculty at doctoral granting universities, doctoral students to the extent faculty at those schools permit them to regard such journals as general, and the handfuls of research active faculty at nondoctoral granting schools who still love to keep up with the grand game!

Not very profound, eh?

Open access publishing – quo vadis?

In the biomedical and physical sciences the ” open access” journals set has a large market share of publishing. Understanding this phenomena is somewhat difficult as there are many approaches to open access publishing. Over several blog entries I want to share some ideas about this as it is still relatively rare in social science research.

First, we in academia need to understand that most of us live in the world where the university library pays for our access to the vast majority of the published research literature. In other words we live our lives on the other side of the paywall barrier. Indeed, for many of us, the only inconvenience is if we are literature searching from home, we have to sign into our university account first! However, for the non- university based person paywalls are a fact of life, with per article charges of $30 or more!

Open access is based on the premise that knowledge should be readily available to the world, especially if it is created by authors at public universities or at least that research that is based on research funds from government granting agencies. All of the major accounting journals live behind a paywall, where for at least a year, often for a lifetime, those who do not “subscribe” ( I.e. work at a university) cannot access more than the article abstract without paying a fee.

The basic idea of open access is that the cost of publishing should shift from the users (I.e. subscribers) to the producers ( I.e. the researchers). In the next post, the most common open access model.

We do it to ourselves

Just spent time going through the outliers on the submission-review-decision round trip at BRiA. Our overall times are excellent 60-70 days. But I believe that we should be able to get nearly 100% done in 100 days.

So I examined the handful of outliers. The one thing that stood out was reviewers who took much longer than they committed to. Yep, in three cases the editor or I agreed to a longer time to get a “preferred” reviewer. But in the other cases it was all on the reviewers.

So of my outliers three could be attributed to editor choice but 6 were reviewers not delivering – up to three months after the promised date.

So the basic reason for long lags is clear, it is our community. The unfortunate aspect is that some authors then consciously “retaliate” by deliberately being late with their next review. Really!!!

“Tit for tat” may be a dominant game strategy but only when the opponent is the same or you can build a reputation publicly! Neither works in the double blind review world but has huge externalities.

PhD teaching as a calling

After a 50 year effort we are finally getting close to a market equilibrium in the supply and demand for doctoral graduates of accounting programs. However, there can be quite the diversity in the PhD experience that supervisors provide. There are several types of supervisors and as long as they are matched to the right type of student good things can happen.

1. Efficient economic man approach to supervision. Take the student as they are, give them the option to develop underlying theories and tools. Leave the student to determine extent of contributions they will make as long as it meets the minimal threshold of contribution to knowledge.

Comment: is great for a highly self motivated self aware student who has a good grasp of the demands of the research and teaching world and can set their own level of aspiration.

2. The mentor challenger approach to supervision. Assumes if the student is interested in obtaining a PhD that they want to do the best they can given their abilities. Realizes that most accounting doctoral students are unaware of the career trade offs between research and teaching. Recognizes that real understanding of that difference is unlikely to occur before two or three years into the program. Hence, challenges students to be the best researcher they can be while acquiring the basic competency in teaching/course design.

Comment: is great for the student that enters a PhD with a relatively unformed sense of their research capability and is attracted mainly by the profession or the teaching dimension of being a professor.

3. The get what I can get out of the student approach to supervision. The focus of this supervisor is to get as much Research Assistant and Teaching Assistant work from the student and if the students learns about research and teaching from doing so, all the better. Efficient economic man supervisor putting their own short term interests first.

Comment: can work for a student that is willing to make deals, learn by watching and observing the successes and failures of the supervisor, and can cope with the self interested learning environment where their needs always come second. Students with a strong sense of self determination can make this environment work especially if the supervisor is a successful researcher/teacher.

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