Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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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!

CAAA Day 1

Your chronicler had an overwhelming first day at the CAAA Annual Conference. He was permitted to address the assembled multitudes at lunch which included him giving a very poor impression of “I’m backkkkkk!!!”

The point of the permitted address was to introduce Yves Gendron as the winner of the 2019 Haim Falk Award for Distinguished Accounting Thought! As one of the youngest to have known Haim in his prime, as CAR founding Editor, I could say with great certainty Haim would have approved. Maybe not understood some of Yves papers but understood many of them ( after all Haim published the first qualitative paper in CAR). Haim would definitely understood Yves approach to mentoring doctoral students/junior faculty and his devotion to editorial work!

In his acceptance speech Yves made three points.

1. Addressing those from la Francophonie at the lunch, he reminded them to contribute to French language accounting journals in addition to publishing in English! ( and did so en francais).

2. He talked about the secret of his success was being passionate! While he was trained in behavioural methods they verged to the experimental and positivist world view. Yves was passionate about lived experiences of accountants and others in the governance milieu leading him to pursue an unlikely path in North America as a qualitative researcher. A path only take by two brave souls before him – the rest were imports from Europe. As he said it could have been a grand failure but here he was getting one of the most prestigious accounting research awards in the world.

3. He talked about the importance of mentoring doctoral students and junior scholars! It is clear that this has driven Yves in many of his choices.

Bravo for ” let petit gars de Rimouski ” ( for the geographically challenged, Rimouski is a relatively isolated fishing and lumbering community in the Gaspe Bay region of Quebec Canada)!

CAAA PD day

After seven years it seems strange to be back at the CAAA Annual Conference. Readers of my former blog careditorsteve know the reason for my long absence.

The Craft of Accounting Research (CAAA) seems to be in good hands with the next generation, Hai Lu and Khim Kelly ( both former co-authors of mine).

The Canadian accounting profession is playing with things called enabling competencies (a.k.a. Soft skills, JADE, EQ)) but the most recent update of the competency map almost ignores the big data revolution and data analytics. Well I guess we can all be kind and understanding as the profession implodes due to lack of relevance. The minor changes to the key technical competencies last year to twerk towards some analytics knowledge and the focus on enabling competencies this year are most worrisome. Fiddle and Rome come to mind.

Nonetheless it was great to start to reconnect with a large cross-section of Canadian academia! But tomorrow the rubber meets the road and I will get my first read in a decade on the quality of research produced in Canada!

An intellectual snob ( or slob)?

One thing new attendees at academic conferences often get swayed by is the title of sessions or the titles of papers within sessions. One piece of advice I offer is rely n brand name for most of your choices.

Certainly, you will not be able to stop yourself from going to that sexy session that sounds right up your intellectual alley. But, do not choose all your sessions that way.

The simple rule, stick to brand name schools that the authors come from. If your choice of sessions features Northwest Dakota State versus Michigan State, Harvard, Queen’s or Toronto it is easy for me to choose what session I might get learn more about research in – no matter what type of research they are presenting.

And go to the research sessions as a young scholar. There will be plenty of time for panel discussions and education sessions later in your career. Indeed, the only panels I would ever go to was ones that focused on methods or theories. I would certainly skip the what’s hot in research sessions as by the time you graduate they will be quite old and cold.

Finally, avoid editors panels unless you are seeking entertainment value. Those folks can tell good stories but if you are in a d3cent PHD program with a responsible experienced supervisor you have better things to do with those 80 minutes of your life.

Free advice, and remember you get what you pay for!

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