Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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Monthly Archives: December 2017

Being social . . . .

Readership is up and I thank you for reading these musings!!!

In an attempt to be more user friendly I have added buttons to allow followers to receive updates by email.  Thanks for the suggestions from readers to do this!!!!

I also have made it easier to post blog content to social media, especially to LinkedIn and Twitter.

Problems in positivist field research evaluation

I have been noticing a real problem with evaluation of field research in accounting that accepts positivist view of the world (i.e. that there is something out there that we can find and reliability report on in such a way that it may lead to predictions about general behavior within a context).  This is due to editors of these pieces taking on the practice that I established at CAR of involving one interpretivistic researcher and one substantive area researcher in evaluating manuscripts.

The idea of the pairing of researchers as reviewers on positivist field research was good in the early days (in my biased view given I invented it and preached about it). Positivist field research had much to learn about research methods from interpretive researchers and reviewers.  While there is still things to learn, a great amount of positive transfer has occurred and some transfer has also gone back to interpretive research.

One flaw in this review practice is emerging across all journals that encourage field research, that flaw is requiring positivist field research in accounting to contribute to theory.  This, I think, can be attributed to the interpretive accounting field research community focusing more on a contribution to theory for studies within their domain (and while I think this is problematic I leave it to those researchers to back themselves out of the corner I think they are creating for themselves).  That transfer of norms is in my mind an inappropriate methodological importation (NOT methods) and unfortunately many editors of these papers come from interpretive backgrounds and are somewhat oblivious to the harm it creates.

In the next post will discuss the harm more explicitly and what needs to be done about it.

A contribution to theory . . .

Increasingly I am seeing claims in experimental papers about their “contribution to theory”, normally psychology.  I find this strange, except for when the contribution is about a boundary condition to psychology theories.

If we believe the accounting setting is worthy of study, then that means that there must be something unique about the human activities in the setting that causes us to doubt that psychology research can be simply transferred and applied to the setting.  Indeed, one of the critical points for psychology research in accounting came when Katherine Schipper, in a letter that is one of the most misunderstood missives in the history of accounting research, called for accounting researchers to stop simply transferring and applying psychology research (especially heuristics and biases research) to the accounting setting.  In essence, she was willing to accept that accountants and auditors are human and if you transfer and apply psyhcology theory to a setting where there is no countervailing force, auditors and accountants are going to act as humans.

But what is interesting about the accounting and auditing setting is that they are often implicitly designed to try and reduce/eliminate these biases (one cause of ineffectiveness) while recognizing where the heuristics work well (one cause of efficiency).  Of course,  by trial and error systems were put in place to achieve that goal.  As psychology based researchers we are attempting to see if that goal has been achieved (among others).

Hence, I find that most claims to contribute to psychology theory based on accounting specific research are problematic.  For if the accounting researcher is studying a setting where theory applied as tested can be generalized to all people, then by definition, the researcher is not studying a setting in the accounting context.  So when I read about contributions to psychology theory, it starts me thinking about whether this research is within the domain of accounting at all.  Of course, I am always open to an argument to the contrary but a “throwaway line” about contributions to psychology by itself is more of a “red flag” than anything else.

That is my take anyhow.

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