Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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Monthly Archives: February 2018

Reviving reviews

As our knowledge base increases, so does the need for the scholarship of integration and synthesis.  Reviews by method are key for novice researchers and those returning to active scholarship after a period of time off for whatever reason.  Reviews by subject matter are key for textbook writers (at least those that are evidenced based rather than standards based), regulators, standard setters and practitioners.

But standards for reviews must improve and editors need to enforce those standards.  I recently saw a paper rejected by one journal and published in another, with all the problems that lead to its rejection in the first journal still present in the second.  The biggest problem, you could not replicate the review based on the authors’ description.  Maybe they did a thorough search of the literature maybe not.  We simply cannot tell.  They did not disclose what journals they included (or more importantly excluded albeit you could guess based on the journal cited), how did they search to find the articles (i.e. what were the inclusion/exclusion criteria), what was the population of articles they found and how did they narrow it down to what was included in the review.  And that was simply the start of the problems.

Now if you are interested in a “biased” literature review based on the “great man” theory of selection of literature – these are the reviews for you.  However, in most other academic disciplines they would get laughed out of the community and any journal that published such an “unscientific” review would be regarded with disdain.

The bottom line is there are standards for reviews just as there are standards for almost everything else.  Editors need to obtain competence in this area just as in any others.  Being a journal editor should not be solely a “learning on the job,”  new editors need to be mentored and given feedback.  They have to know it is okay to ask for help from their more experienced brethren.  To do any less is to devalue the research that is being reviewed!!!!

Reviews by method – limits your audience

At BRIA, we love methods based reviews of the literature!  Be the topic auditing, accounting information systems, financial accounting, managerial accounting or tax, we review them all!!!

However, (with rare exceptions) the focus on method as the basis for selection of articles to review also limits the audience to researchers or those who want to be researchers (i.e. research based students).  Regulators, standard setters and practitioners are rarely and rightfully not interested in what a single method has to say about a topic.  They want evidence from all research methods that have relevant insights to their problem.  So methods based reviews, almost by necessity, has to be tailored to other researchers.

What are the rare exceptions?  Where the issue of interest is method bound.  These are increasingly difficult to find as accounting researchers expand the set of methods that they employ.  For example, fraud brainstorming could be considered a psychology based experimental topic but what about experimental markets, field studies, interview studies.. . . .   Studies focused on market efficiency would historically be considered to be from those based solely on archival markets data. But what about experimental markets, simulation studies, questionnaire studies etc.

My message is simple, if you want influence your fellow researchers, do a methods based review.  BRIA is a natural home for those reviews in our domain.

However,  if you want to influence regulators, standard setters and practitioners, ensure your team can carry out a review of all the literature in an area – not just a subset!

Professor Nic Dopuch has “left the building”

One of the pioneers of positivist accounting research (not positive accounting research) has passed away in early February. Dr. Dopuch was a pioneer accounting researcher who was loved (and hated) for moving accounting research out of its armchair phase and into the evidence collection and evaluation phase.  See his obit on the AAA page.

It is tough for one in the Radical Centre to evaluate his influence.  He opened the doors to being an evidence based professoriate and in his early days he let “one thousand flowers bloom” in is editorship of Journal of Accounting Research. After all Anthony Hopwood, Joel Dempski, Gerry Feltham, Ray Ball, Philip Brown among many others made their early marks under his editorship.

However, later in his career he became increasingly focused on boundary protecting and declaring methods and methodologies as not being within the pale of accounting research in North America.  The one area that I can highlight readily is the insidious effects of Gondes and Dopuch (1974) that for the most part ended, for almost 25 years, any serious examination of financial accounting from other than a markets perspective.

At the same time he was a revolutionary coming to his PhD in the last days of normative accounting research, fathering many new streams of research including capital markets, experimental economics, behavioral auditing, tax among many others.  He promoted women academics on a scale that was unknown to most in his generation.  His mentoring was legendary. As an individual he was a courteous gentleman of the old school of the likes we will likely see no more.

Rest in peace Nic.

It should not be this hard . . . . .

One of my frequent correspondents pointed out to me the strange case of the incredibly unchanging tables with the description of the variables changing greatly!  While it is not a journal I am overly familiar with, Econ Journal Watch, published a commentary by Alex Young on Bird and Karolyi’s 2017 Accounting Review piece documenting how the specification as described in the text had changed from the 2015 working paper but the tables were identical (to coefficients three decimal places).

There are two serious issues here (1) why did it take the Accounting Review Senior Editor over six months to reply to Young’s initial questions – indeed it appears that Professor Barth only replied in light of the fact that Econ Journal Watch was publishing the Young commentary. (2) why did Bird and Karolyi NOT respect the academic process and reply substantively to Young’s questions?  Do we have a culture of ignoring requests for clarification of our work?  Their non-response comment in Econ Journal Watch is exactly a reflection of an extremely poor culture that is open to debate!

Then there is the really substantive question – did the Accounting Review review process, blow it again?  At the heart of the issue is not the table presentation, but the implication that Young claims to have documented, that further testing does not support the interpretation given the results.  More than anything this latter point is at the heart of the problem – if egregious conclusions were drawn in the original study how can we claim to have a self-correcting literature if no one engages in this discussion – just to get the facts on the table, let alone figure out what the facts mean????

Clearly, “he haunts us still”. . . . . . .

JH I mean.


Day 2 – research at NFC

The NFC is both exciting and exhausting from a senior faculty member perspective. Three breakout sessions plus a research fair plus interactions socially.  Hence, the quiet week on the blog front.

A big shout out to JMAR Senior Editor Karen Sedatole who was the main voice (okay the only voice) for research diversity on the formal program.  Indeed, she raised a name that I suspect was virtually unknown to most of the US junior faculty present, Anthony Hopwood.  Mind you I think Anthony would have had a very dry chuckle in his way about his face appearing on US Mount Rushmore (if you are not American look up what types of faces are on Mount Rushmore – heck even many Americans probably could not tell you – sigh.).  Karen made the point that intellectually we allow agency theory to dominant the discourse in accounting when agency theory is such a small part of mainstream economic thinking let alone psychology and sociological thinking.  Great graphics made the point.  And she told us what she was going to say, said it and reminded us of what she said – no passing reference here but truly putting herself on the line in favor of intellectual diversity in accounting research.  A tough thing to do in front of an audience of 71% archival and 58% financial accounting researchers.

Mind you, I was not totally surprised because I know Karen is a charter member of the Radical Centre.  However, I was surprised to hear her reveal that to the world, at least the world as represented by junior faculty.  Well done Karen!!!!

Day 1- teaching

In a real change in emphasis from my last trip here, the first full day at the AAA NFC was devoted to teaching and service! For a while I thought I was at the conference on teaching and learning. But I realized as our breakout group on teaching went long by 15 minutes over it hour length, that was a good thing.

Even in a group dominated by reduced teaching loads 3/0 or 2/1 everyone had a story or question! It reminds me that as a senior academic we may not give our junior colleagues enough support in that area. It suggests department heads and other administrators need to do more than talk about the rhetoric about supporting good teaching! It was a wee bit humbling for this researcher who loves to teach to realize that we may not be so good at letting others know about our passion for teaching and that we did not come to be in the classroom fully formed.

Food for thought!

Evening 1 at US New Faculty Consortium

Wow what a difference a few years makes.  The NFC is now much more responsive to the entire population of schools that new faculty teach at in the USA.  Teaching loads vary from the minority at 3/0/0 and 2/0/0 to 3/3 and above with the mode and mean being the 2/2 load.

Mind you, based on the new faculty who were sent this year, diversity in US research is still a long way off. 71% are archival researchers and 58% are financial accounting even though less than 50% teach financial accounting.  Experimental research is still hanging in there at above its long term average at 25% (20% is long term).  But few case studies, field studies, surveys, and no history, . . . . . Dah, . . . . . .Does that not suggest that the production of PhD’s in the USA is more than a bit narrow in focus and not focused on the market realities.

The practice speaker was asked, how can we better influence practice. His response do a better job at studying human behavior of preparers, auditors etc.  Experiments, case studies, field studies, surveys and even history would provide some insights but with an audience of 71% archival researchers . . . . . .


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