Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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Monthly Archives: November 2017

Is this academic research?

An author has six or seven ideas about what might cause a financial accounting phenomena to be observed in markets.

All the six or seven ideas can be argued to be captured by one proxy variable, ABC.

The author proceeds to show that ABC is related to some capital markets construct of interest.

The author goes on the road with the goal of determining which of the six or seven ideas should be focused on as the “story” that goes with the empirical finding of a relationship.

WAIT!!!!  Is that not a form of data mining????

Unfortunately it appears today this is what passes for “successful” research in some areas of accounting. But you cannot tell this is what happened from the final journal article – indeed from reading the article one would think the paper based on this process was a fine case of positivist research at its best. Hypothesis development is presented as being done up front and proxies being picked based on that development.

I will explore what this means for us over the coming weeks as I think about this phenomena more.

The last frontier – field research in the American Three

I have been waiting for a decade to write this post!!!!  After a number of close calls that lead to rejection, an American Three accounting journal, The Accounting Review, has accepted the first qualitative field study to be published in a least forty years.  While AOS, CAR, AJPT, JMAR, BRIA, AAAJ, CPA, MAR and a host of others have long accepted qualitative field research, the closest the American Three have come to accepting it are mixed methods survey and interview papers from the Graham and Harvey school.  Well three days ago that ended with the acceptance of :

Bills, Kenneth L. and Hayne, Christie and Stein, Sarah E., A Field Study on Small Accounting Firm Membership in Associations and Networks: Implications for Audit Quality (November 6, 2017). The Accounting Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Besides being great for these young researchers and being about a topic that has received little study in accounting research (small audit firms although Ken Bills has recently began to shed some light using archival methods), I am especially pleased.  Not the least of which is that Christie Hayne is a graduate of the Queen’s Smith doctoral program in accounting (and a former student of mine).

Further, it is an interesting development on two fronts, for the first time in a long while (if ever) TAR is breaking ground in  accepting a new American journals research method.  After all, TAR did reject an obscure piece by Ball and Brown, major analytical papers and many other innovative papers the first time around.  Second, it provides legitimacy in the eyes of many US researchers for a research method that many have wanted to try but have been reluctant to due to the fact it had no track record in the American Three.

Rites and doctoral defenses

One of the great joys of being in the research game is seeing PhD students successfully defend their thesis.  Number 9 defended today and number 10 is coming right along!!!!  But each student represents a story and a journey, one that often has false starts and dead ends, but one that for the most part has been successfully completed.

Some outside of academia (and indeed some inside) say we are intent on replicating ourselves.  Perhaps some do but I can safely say – not I.  For better or worse I have mentored two archival students (one audit and one financial reporting), four experimental students (three psychology and one experimental economics), and three field study students (two interpretive and one positivist).  These students who I have had the pleasure to work with over the past 18 years have been a source of pleasure and pride.  Indeed, I have had the pleasure of meeting the new PhD who was mentored by one of my former students!

We as faculty members sometimes forget the great privilege it is to share these journeys!!!  Just a thought for today.

The new faculty game . . . . .

We are coming up to the annual right of passage for doctoral students – the hiring interview – or as I like to think of it amateur hour with accounting faculty playing like they know something about HR and talent acquistion.  It amazes me every year the nature and type of questions I hear that accounting faculty have asked job market candidates.  Indeed it is a wonder to me that there are not more lawsuits against U’s who send out unprepared interviewers to carry out job interviews at the European Talent hunt and the Miami Beach camp.  I think the only reason to date there have not been any public lawsuits is the richness of the accounting job market so that everyone gets a job most years and hence has no reason to sue those schools who sent totally ill-suited folks to carry out interviews.

Almost annually I hear of doctoral students being asked about martial status, when an applicant is going to have children, sexual orientiation, political orientation, religious orientation (asking if you are saved is not kosher) etc etc etc.  These questions are not only invasive but in most countries and states illegal to ask during a job interview.  Furthermore, most of the time they are asked by folks that do not know that they are doing something wrong by asking the question – ignorance is not a bliss.

Any U that is sending off interviewers should ensure that a careful game plan is put together and that the interviewers have a clear understanding of what is and is not permitted to be asked.  After all, do you really want your institution to be the first one publically shamed????????




the gmat and PhD education

One of the things I am most amazed of is the importance of the GMAT to entrance decisions at many doctoral programs.  The GMAT is just another version of a standardized IQ test, one that can be gamed significantly if you practice, practice, practice . . . . . . . My proof, I got an 85% percentile hung over and a 97% sober.

I was also the “runt” of the litter in my PhD class at Michigan with that measure in mind.  Now you take the publication records of my classmates (indeed consider the two years before and two years after my entry where I continued to be the runt of the GMAT scores in the group) you will find only one of those 25 (at that time Michigan took 4-5 students a year) who research output is comparable to mine.

I am not certain that GMAT tells you a lot about the characteristics of what it takes to be a good researcher. Sure you have to be bright and the closer you are in brightness to the top 1% the better the raw material might be.  And the GMAT score, after taking it two or three times will give you a good measure of raw intelligence.  But there is also institutional knowledge, drive, ambition, curiosity,  the ability to deal with rejection etc that all come into play in carrying out original research.  Surely a four year undergraduate degree and any masters degree should tell you a lot more about academic potential than a standardized test.

Yet year after year I hear the same fallacies (i.e. “You need strong math skills and a high GMAT to be a successful PhD accounting student.”) perpetuated in PhD student selection decisions so as to make them almost self-fulfilling.  It ain’t so . . . .



Protecting your research

Last post was about discovering your research has been plagiarized in a predatory publisher – today is potential approaches to deal with it.

If your work is published, you need to work with your journal’s editor and publisher to have them take action, especially if you have transferred copyright to them.  They have a duty to protect your copyrighted work and if you remind them of that enough, they will take action, although not nearly as fast as you want them to.

If you have retained copyright (i.e. open access publishing) or your work is still in working paper form, it is up to you to protect your intellectual property.  This means being able to document the fact that the work is yours (e.g., conferences, repositories like SSRN, research grant information, original data etc).

Then it means learning how to protect your creation – that calls for professional advise.  In some universities the Office of Research Services (or whatever your U’s intellectual property office is called) will be ready and able to help you.  In other cases, it means finding an appropriate attorney (i.e. legal counsel) to help you defend your claim.

Now remember, this is all predicated on the paper being plagiarized in a Predatory Publisher – any decent journal will follow COPE’s (Committee on Publication Ethics) guidelines to deal with allegations of plagiarism.  In latter blog posts I will talk about what “decent” journals do!!!

The rest of the story . . . . .

Some folks have asked me why I was picking on AIS and/or the UW Conference in last week’s posts?  Whoops, that was not my intention on either score. So just in case a wider readership thought that my comments were too unkind, let me elaborate on the good side.

First, the Conference was excellent – amazing gathering of faculty and practitioners that I wish more conferences had.  Very well organized (by staff who I had known years ago and thought were among the most competent staff I had ever worked with – you know who I mean).  Compared to the early years of the Conference there was a lot of synergy between  the panels of professionals/academics and academic papers presented between panels.

Second, The professional development sessions at the day before the conference were great.  Learned a lot about information visualization and cybersecurity.

Third, as for the AIS research – two of the three papers I got to see were great.  Indeed, one of them I urged to be sent to a much better journal than it currently was at.  No doubt that editor will not be happy with me.

So there you have it, the rest of the story. . . . . .



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