Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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Monthly Archives: November 2018

Dear Ross (Michigan Business School)

At this time of the year I get many letters soliciting support for various worthy causes. Most of them I do not respond to as I have a plan for charitable giving based on a sectoral analysis of education, religious, poverty reduction and fine arts/music. (Another example of why I am a true accountant – whose else would plan like that???)

One of the hardest letters to ignore is that from the accounting group at Michigan. Yes I am a proud alumnus of that institution BUT they cut all institutional ties to breadth in accounting research long ago. I was the last Behavioural researcher out the door, way back in 1993! Indeed, from a surface level examination they do nothing but hard core financial empirical research with a little financial economics management accounting research thrown in. Further, their new hires all seem to come from a self-referential group of Chicago, MIT and the like – schools that have no tolerance for diversity in accounting thought.

So folks, I put my money where my mouth is, and until Ross shows more openness to research breadth I continue with the harder path of “just say NO”!!! That’s the way I see it!

Now that we have the neuroscience evidence

Back when I was a lad, the most common refrain heard from financial economics folks in accounting or Auditing was if ” you could see in the brain” that X or Y psychology effect was demonstrated, they would be more willing to accept experimental research in accounting. One would assume that would mean that they would be willing to hire psychology based faculty and support psychology based accounting research.

Well today we have the evidence, and have had it for well over a decade! While the odd psychology based theory has been found to be implausible by cognitive neuroscience research, the overwhelming finding is that those pen and pencil lab based psychology research results have stood the test of “seeing into the brain”.

So, why do we not see accounting areas at Chicago, Wharton, Stanford et al hiring top behavioural accounting researchers and supporting PhD students in those areas???? Hmmm, either they lied when they said brain evidence would convince them or they do not keep up with the research literature that demonstrates it. And these are our American “elite” universities?????

Wither Behavioural and Social Tax research?

One of the enduring mysteries to me is the relative dearth of social and behavioural tax research with an accounting and auditing focus. Is it really the fault of B2 (Bryan and Brian) who in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s were the “stars” of the North American behavioural tax world and have been relatively quiet since?

Yes, I know there are a large number in of what I call ” normal science” behavioural tax researchers that are working hard to turn the dial! But what Social and Behavioural Tax lacks are the intellectual thought leaders at major research schools that help set an agenda for the research area. These also produce the next generation of such researchers and hence this situation if a double threat as the current crop of researchers does not replicate.

Yet I cannot think of an area related to accounting that behavioural and social research would not be so a appropriate for! From decisions about corporate tax evasion, the slippery slope from planning to fraud, to bettering compliance, roles of tax professionals, and more all are potentially in the mix.

Instead from we have is research from behavioural economists, behavioural finance types, sociologists, and generic JDM researchers attempting to investigate an area where they have no domain specific knowledge but can gather the low hanging fruit due to lack of competition. If you do not believe me, use google scholar and search on terms like ” behavioural tax” ” tax experiments” and the like.

So while I applaud the hard work of our corps of hard working behavioural tax researchers we really need young researchers at top schools to consider working in this field. And that’s the way I see it!

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