Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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No, top tier association journals do not have topics they favour

I guess it bears repeating as I get asked this at almost every time I open the floor for doctoral students and junior faculty member questions – association journals in accounting do NOT have favorite topics.

Journals tend to publish a reasonably representative sample of what is submitted to them – even the American 3 as I like to call them.  TAR does this in accordance with its mandate and JAR/ JAE do it by author self selection not to submit papers.

You may say well there are very few of this or that published in this or that journal.  Well how many submissions were received on this or that topic??  You see, we can observe the numerator but not the denominator.  Well, I can tell you I have seen the denominator at more than one journal and in context it sure makes the numerator look impressive.

The sad part is that there is a huge amount of self censorship in our business.  Nobody likes rejection but the old saying holds, a journal cannot publish papers on topic X using method Y if no one submits such papers.  Indeed, before one can declare a bias at least 15 papers on XY need to be rejected given a 10 % acceptance rate and allowing for sampling bounce.  Likely this under estimates sampling bounce!

From high in the mountains of Virginia . . 


In the field in Florida

i have spent a great eleven weeks at UF in Gainesville!  9 incredible assistant professors who are very diverse ( by American standards)!  9 very bright and eager to learn doctoral students!  

The experience of teaching these students made it clear to me that there is no wonder the American academic accounting establishment does not want field research methods taught to their doctoral students.  they might actually do some interesting field research to complement the more traditional US methods they learn!  Unbelievable how open these “best and brightest” students were to learning about field research and how much they got into it – AND as overload class!  Mind you the free pizza lunches might have helped!

Anyhow of to Queen’s with a little meet and greet at VT University in Blacksburg along the way!  

The “added” senior co-author

The joy of being in Florida is that I get a lot of US centric questions that I never get to hear in Canada or in the rest of the ROW!

While adding a senior co-author to a nearly finished manuscript has been around for quite a while (unfortunately in my mind) especially in the financial archival area, I am hearing that it is spreading to not only other archival realms but to other paradigms.  This I think is troublesome on many grounds – first it leads to vita inflation for the senior authors;  second it sends a very bad signal to more junior academics that merit of ideas can be trumped or at least supplemented by the name of the author (especially problematic one would think in non-blind review journals like JAR); third it suggests that all co-authors are not equal yet I rarely see the senior author who has been added late to the paper out of alphabetical order (indicating equal effort).

The solution is simple in my mind – have a clear statement, like much of the science literature has (and increasingly other areas of social science especially psychology), where the exact contribution of the author to the paper, including whether they were there at the beginning of the paper’s production or were added later, should be made clear.

Certainly there are valid reasons to add a co-author after the project has started.  The need to access certain specialized data that was not part of the original plan, the need to add certain statistical expertise that was not envisioned as being needed by the original co-authors, the need to add additional experiments and hence access to new subjects that a co-author can provide, or the need to do some field research to understand a finding and the original authors are not comfortable with doing the field work that is needed even in a limited manner.

Personally, I do not recall ever joining a project after the empirical work was commenced.  Nor have I ever added a co-author to one of my projects after the empirical work has commenced.  I have added co-authors after the original idea was developed as I needed folks with special skills, special access etc   Indeed, the only time I have joined projects after the analysis has been done is with former doctoral students who are having difficult times publishing their thesis papers.  There, the added work beyond all the supervisory work at the beginning, makes it relatively easy for me to justify joining the project.  After all I have shepherded it through many steps and provided numerous thoughts along the way.  Getting deeper into writing the paper is just the last straw that in my mind breaks the camels back and leads to co-authorship.  But this is a questions for another day – when do dissertation papers result in co-authorships with supervisors?  While the US answer historically has been clear – not so much in the ROW.  More later on this point.

Role of intuition in research

making leaps of logic and connecting disparate observations together is the stock in trade of any researcher who is not a ” gap filler”.  Yet some researchers focus so narrowly on that leap that they end up doing less than enlightening research as they did not step back and put that leap/insight or burning intuition into a broader setting!

Is the leap you made the key in the setting or is there another allied area where you can make more impact?  Is the setting addressable by theory or do you have to fly blindly into the research if you stay committed to the project?

In other words follow your intuition but do not be ruled by it!  Use these leaps as a starting place not an ending place.  And above all else know when to put an idea on the back burner until there is a time when conditions for success are better rather than running with a half- baked idea that people always remember for the uncooked part not the baked part!

EBAA – the answer is not an individual standard setter who is an academic

One of the solutions to date to try and help improve the input of academic research on standard setting is the appointment of an academic member of the standard setting body be it FASB, AASB, etc.

Yet given the amount of research, the differences in research methods, the complexity of making analogies from research that might be related and informative but is not directly on point, it is impossible for any academic member of a standard setting board to be able to bring all relevant research into standard setting.

So while a nice idea, and maybe even a necessary condition, the appointment of an academic member (even the most brilliant of academic minds) is not going to solve the issue of moving standard setting to being at least partially based on the evidence that is available in the vast set of research on various auditing and accounting topics.  Hence, even well intentioned standard setting bodies who pick the best available minds are not going to get someone who is able to synthesize all the research that might bear on a topic.  Yet sometimes I have seen that such bodies do not even get this far as they search for someone that can fill the position in form (i.e. they are an academic at a suitable university with some publications but exhibit an interest in standard setting and practice rather than research).  PLEASE note that I have a specific Canadian instance  (actually several) in mind here, nothing international or US based albeit no doubt they exist!  So while a hats off to this idea, we now have almost 25 years of experience with academies on standard setting boards around the world and that has proven to be insufficient to bring on a consistent basis the best research consensus to bear on accounting and auditing standard setting.

Evidence based accounting standard setting

After 45 plus years of financial accounting and auditing research one might think that we would be more systematic about conveying the broad consensus about research findings to those who set standards.

Yet while there are individual anecdotes about the influence of research on standard setting, as a research community we have not yet dealt with the fundamental communication problem of how do we package research results in as an objective manner as possible to inform standard setters.

Further, we have not as of yet developed the skills of standard setters to be able to understand what such a communication says, even if one were made.  Instead we have a culture where standard setting staff looks for individual research studies that will inform what they are doing.  Given the limits of  any one research study, they are bound to be frustrated as they cannot find “the answer.”  Of course they cannot because no one study is going to solve a problem and it certainly is not going to provide the consensus of the evidence.

Years ago (over 25) medicine had similar problems with “expert consensus” being employed  instead of the research evidence in determining treatment protocols and standards of care.    What they found in medicine was shocking – consensus leading to deaths of thousands of patients through the suggestion of inappropriate or ineffective or indeed detrimental treatment (for a more recent example see JAMA. 2000 Jul 26;284(4):483-5.).

“Expert consensus” readily translates into our world of accounting and auditing as standard setters. Fortunately, we do not cause death in accounting and auditing when standards are not based on the best available evidence – albeit we may cause “death” by misadventure in corporations and others that suffer from misclassification as being credit unworthy or failing to detect detectable fraud among other causes.

From time to time I will be turning to this theme as I truly believe we need to consider the “evidence based movement” and what it can tell us about how we can communicate better and how to teach recipients of the communications to understand what is communicated.  NOTE:  This is not the start of another “it is all our fault” polemics like we have had in the past from various “leaders” in academic accounting (e.g. Kaplan 2011).  Just like in medicine (where among accounting researchers there is the myth that doctors read original research) we have to give thought as to how to convey this information and how to educate the recipient about how to receive it.  After all, communication takes two parties who want to talk to each other.


Field research – evaluating the quality

i do not normally promote my own research on this site, rather it is for opinions and observations about the state of research in accounting in general.

However, Jeff Cohen commissioned a piece that we have put out for widespread comment on SSRN about evaluating field research in auditing, that with a few thoughtful substitutions can generalize to most field research in accounting.

Given the perspective of this blog it should not surprise you that we focus on what unites field researchers across positivist and interpretive paradigms – not what divides us!  Living in a country that has long dealt with the effects of two solitudes (albeit much better than Belgium has, but I digress) we try to given a fair and complete reading about the pints where these two solitudes can come together.

Second we were attempting to be very practical rather than discussing how many angels ( and Devils) can dance on the head of a pin. So do not go looking for five syllable words for the sake of showing off our vocabulary.  I guarantee you that at least one of the co-authors knows what they all mean!  In typical Canadian fashion we used complex language when necessary but not necessarily complex language.

For more see SSRN abstract and paper. Link coming soon.




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