Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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Monthly Archives: June 2019

The beat goes on . . . .

The movie Yesterday made me think a little about Alternative Realities, which under some versions of Physic’s String Theory are more than possible so this is not the ravings of a mad man. What if we woke up in the mid-1970’s and Gondes and Dopuch 1974 had never been written? Instead of being held back for 25 or more years behavioural financial accounting research would have developed, well in advance of behavioural finance. Instead of accounting researchers slowly moving to catch up, financial accounting behavioural research would have lead the way! Just Imagine . . .

So from sunny Kingston, the beat goes on. I am taking a brief sabbatical (July 1 to December 31) to allow me to catch up on research, to continue to provide high quality service to BRIA authors and to understand deeper the data analytics revolution and blockchain developments on accounting and auditing. I continue to enjoy the privilege of being the Smith Chair of Accounting and Auditing at the Smith School of Business, one of the most innovative business schools in the world. Kingston is lovelier than usual in the summer s drop in if you are in the ‘hood! Looking forward to many more years at Queen’s University at Kingston, founded by Royal Charter in 1843! ( so says the official website)

Happy Canada Day (July 1) to my country and condolences to all Americans who wish they were in Canada as they celebrate their separation from the “land of peace order and good government” on their Independence Day (July 4)! 😇

It’s been a long time . . . .

For those authors who have to wait until their paper appears on paper for it to count, the American Accounting Association has been having a tough time delivering this past year.

What seems to have happened is no Plan B was in place when their publisher/printer ran into the financial wall last June! From there on in it was all hands on deck to try to get Journal issues out. The latest late issue being the May TAR issue; coming out in mid-June.

This has resulted in lots of carry on issues with the section journals, when you cannot get the big guy out the door on a timely manner! Manuscripts are taking a long time to get to early views, a long time to proof stage and so on!

I get lots of complaints about this but most authors are understanding once they hear about the problem. (Not so understanding about the lack of a Plan B but they realize that is on the AAA Executive, not the pubs folks, the section leadership and those of us on the cutting edge, the Senior Editors).

But it would be nice if someone at the AAA Exec level owned up to the problem, took responsibility, and communicated clearly when we can spect the backlog to be caught up on!

In the mean time we Editors carry on . . . . . .

A rose among the thorns!

The American Accounting Association announced its annual orgy of awards (sorry but I liked the alliteration) last week. At the Association level, as usual, almost all the research awards were for capital markets archival research. They were well deserved without a doubt, indeed I have cited some of them extensively, but it makes us look like finance junior with all the focus on market reaction.

But as I read the list for a second time I noted the Wildman Medal had been awarded to Emily E. Griffith, University of Wisconsin-Madison, J. S. Hammersley, The University of Georgia and K. Kadous, Emory University for

“Audits of Complex Estimates as Verification of Management Numbers: How Institutional Pressures Shape Practice.” Contemporary Accounting Research, Fall 2015, Volume 32, No. 3, pp. 833-863.

I find it interesting that over the years the Wildman Medal has been awarded to field research and field researchers as one looks back over the history of the award! Funny what practice thinks is influential research compared to what gets the more conventional notable, Distinguished and seminal awards!

What’s not to like?????

In 1991 I wandered into the field for the first time since I had left practice four years earlier. Not a single mention of doing field research had been made in my doctoral program at Michigan (and that was when Michigan was considered a broad focus accounting PhD program not like today). But I had attended Norman MacIntosh’s summer camps at Queen’s whilst I was allegedly on ” vacation” from Michigan for three of the five summers I was a student! There it was taken for granted that field research was a legitimate research method, albeit nearly impossible to publish in North American journals except when it involved transforming the data into numbers and running a lot of regressions on it! ( A tip of the hat to Ken Merchant and a few brave other folks in management accounting)

Today ( okay effective 2020) we have at The Accounting Review a new Senior Editor who has actually published a field research paper in Accounting and Finance! Yes Robert Knechel, that great archival, experimental and theoretical audit researcher, has also been involved in field research!

Then turning to Canada, the CAAA has appointed Alan Webb as incoming Editor in Chief of Contemporary Accounting Research. Alan has done experiential research with Mike Gibbins and I, and done field experiments in actual organizations in addition to the managerial experimental work he is best known for!

I have to say that no one would have believed me in 1991-92 when I said all this was possible!

Reflections on travelling for research

It was about this time of year in 2005 when I started to travel beyond the bounds of North America ( I remember it well because Monday was celebrated as the Queen’s Birthday in Australia ( except in the state of Queensland – go figure) and that is the day I arrived in Sydney in ’05).

I was a true non- international traveller! I substituted by bringing the world to Kingston. Australians, Brits, Germans, Singaporeans, Koreans, Chinese, and French were all welcomed to Kingston.

However, as I got into my true international travel phase, just a decade ago, I realized that there was much to learn by visiting folks in situ. Seeing how they interacted with their colleagues, the resource base of the institution, the nature of their domestic doctoral students all provided me with insights. Often I was able to meet with auditors and regulators on those trips and these enriched my understanding further. These are insights that I would not have gleaned in Kingston or by going only for academic conferences then on vacation.

So I urge scholars, especially younger ones, to NOT do as I did and stay inside the local academic cocoon, especially the American one. Get out and see the world and the variety of scholarship in it. Move outside “your comfort zone.” I regret only having done it late in my career, but it has enriched my understanding of ” the language of business”. It is never to late!

Full disclosure – a note for empirical researchers

As an editor I am somewhat worried by the trend to selective reporting of results in academic papers. No I do not mean papers that report analyses in footnotes or supplementary form, but papers that only refer to “strong” results. How is this done?

1. Having two or three potential dependent variables and reporting only one. Of course only the reviewer can tell there are two or three as the paper does not disclose it. That assumes the reviewer gets the full instrument to review.

2. Substitute a measured variable for one of the manipulated variables but does not consistently do so across all manipulated variables. I have no problem with mixed designs, however if you are going to manipulate and measure, disclose both so the reader can judge. I frequently plan ex ante studies that manipulate and measure independent variables. But when I measure I use multiple items that represent the independent variable, report confirmatory and exploratory factor analyses, do not mix measured and manipulated measures (unless reviewers and editors make me and then I also disclose the results if done consistently).

3. Reducing sample without given clear rationales as to why and reporting results ONLY on reduced sample. Report what happens if you include everyone. Where there is judgment involved with some sample reductions, report with and without. ( e.g. a task takes ten minutes to read yet the respondent not only read the task but answered the questions in four minutes, exclude for certain. But what about the person that did it in 9 minutes?)

4. Selectively using high powered statistical methods and only reporting the ones that work. If a result is method dependent the reader should know.

For archival researchers an similar set of problems can be found. Years ago I heard Pat O’Brien consistently ask the question in workshop after workshop, what happens to your results if you do not take out 2% of the extreme observations ( the practice of winsorizing top 1% and bottom 1% of samples)? No analysis of whether these are truly outliers, just delete. At least footnote report the full sample.

The state of accounting research in Canada

Overall I was very pleased with both the diversity and quality of the accounting research on display at the CAAA Annual Conference. From my sampling it appears that there is a strong managerial accounting set of researchers in Canada, both financial economics and experimental based, good to world class capital markets research, and some very good to excellent audit and tax research. In many ways what I saw at the CAAA, after being away for six or seven years, mirrored what I saw in Australia and New Zealand after a similar absence. A strong increase in the average quality quality of the academic research on offer!

The next generation of Canadian doctoral students appears to be at least as diverse as the last one. We saw strong quantitative ( lead by the crew at Rotman and their students), experimental ( lead by Waterloo and their alumni) and qualitative ( lead by Queen’s and Queen’s Alumni). But the key was the diversity of the hotel me grown research, both in subject matter and method/methodology.

Overall, I am impressed with the increase in the quality of academic accounting research around the globe. And I continue to note how much more diverse the body of research is outside the AAA, especially after considering much of the AAA’s diversity comes from the international crowd, and much of the sameness we see abroad comes from the USA!

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