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.

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