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.

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