So what stimulated this little four blog post odyssey on RCC? As my regular readers know I scan the literature broadly and in the May 2015 issue of the European Accounting Review I found a “note of concern.” Notes of concern are to be used when there is suspicion that there has been a serious breach of substance of the academic integrity of the article and that for a variety of reasons the editors cannot conclude that the paper needs to be retracted. In other words – reader is put on notice to be concerned about the integrity of the underlying science and be wary about citing these results.
After reading the EAR’s note of concern, all that I knew for certain was that the Editor of EAR was upset with the authors’ lack of disclosure of a related study. The note contained speculation about what might of happened if the study had been disclosed during the editorial process (a clear NO NO!!! in the COPE guidelines). It makes no comments about attempts to reach the authors, whether the authors responded or not etc. All of these are clear departures from COPE’s best practices.
So off I go to read the papers in depth. Luckily it is a subject matter that I can claim expertise in (the BSC in the tradition of Lipe and Salterio 2000, 2002 and Libby Salterio and Webb 2004 (TAR, AOS and TAR respectively) and about which I had done a literature review in 2012). As the previous blog analyses show, when you get to the substantive level these are different papers but when you look at the surface features, there is a lot of self-plagiarism at work. However, self-plagiarism at this level does not change the fact that the two papers make substantively different contributions to the literature. One cannot deduce the effects that the main independent variables will have relying only on one study: role differences, accountability/dilution effects and timeline presence and absence etc. The science is not compromised but the editorial process might have been.
So what should have been done? A correction should have been issued that stated that the two paper are related and should have referred to each other. The cross references should have been provided. Indeed, even the issue of extensive self-plagiarism could have been noted as long as it was clear that there are substantive differences in the papers. But as far as I can tell the published evidence does not suggest that there is any concern about the academic integrity of the scientific record nor that one should be wary of citing either article. If that is not the case, then the EAR Editor and the EAA Publication Committee have a duty to disclose substantially more detail in their note of concern. As I am an expert reader in this area and I cannot tell based on the articles published and the “note of concern” that there is any reason that either article should not be cited then what would the non- expert reader do. Retractions and concern are a signal to be wary of the science! That is what retraction and notes of concern are all about – ensuring the integrity of the academic record not bolstering the editorial processes of journals!
As an academic community we have to get better at this. So far we have been like a group of clowns – the TAR original retraction but no reference from the AAA to Bentley U to insure it was investigated, the delayed CAR retractions, the long running ‘star chamber’ process at the AAA with respect to all the Hunton publications, JAR’s protracted processes on the same issue and now to the mix we add the EAR‘s potential misuse of a notice of concern.
I do not have all the answers but boy I do know we are capable of doing better than this!!!!!!