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Problems in positivist field research evaluation
I have been noticing a real problem with evaluation of field research in accounting that accepts positivist view of the world (i.e. that there is something out there that we can find and reliability report on in such a way that it may lead to predictions about general behavior within a context). This is due to editors of these pieces taking on the practice that I established at CAR of involving one interpretivistic researcher and one substantive area researcher in evaluating manuscripts.
The idea of the pairing of researchers as reviewers on positivist field research was good in the early days (in my biased view given I invented it and preached about it). Positivist field research had much to learn about research methods from interpretive researchers and reviewers. While there is still things to learn, a great amount of positive transfer has occurred and some transfer has also gone back to interpretive research.
One flaw in this review practice is emerging across all journals that encourage field research, that flaw is requiring positivist field research in accounting to contribute to theory. This, I think, can be attributed to the interpretive accounting field research community focusing more on a contribution to theory for studies within their domain (and while I think this is problematic I leave it to those researchers to back themselves out of the corner I think they are creating for themselves). That transfer of norms is in my mind an inappropriate methodological importation (NOT methods) and unfortunately many editors of these papers come from interpretive backgrounds and are somewhat oblivious to the harm it creates.
In the next post will discuss the harm more explicitly and what needs to be done about it.
Is this academic research?
An author has six or seven ideas about what might cause a financial accounting phenomena to be observed in markets.
All the six or seven ideas can be argued to be captured by one proxy variable, ABC.
The author proceeds to show that ABC is related to some capital markets construct of interest.
The author goes on the road with the goal of determining which of the six or seven ideas should be focused on as the “story” that goes with the empirical finding of a relationship.
WAIT!!!! Is that not a form of data mining????
Unfortunately it appears today this is what passes for “successful” research in some areas of accounting. But you cannot tell this is what happened from the final journal article – indeed from reading the article one would think the paper based on this process was a fine case of positivist research at its best. Hypothesis development is presented as being done up front and proxies being picked based on that development.
I will explore what this means for us over the coming weeks as I think about this phenomena more.