Musings on Accounting Research by Steve
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Nudging academic researchers

While the BYU boys are playing with ROAR (one of the most obvious and unhelpful research activities I have seen in recent years) what if we adapted behavioural nudges ideas from Richard Thaler ( Nobel prize winner) to the defaults in expectations for accounting research.

What if it was expected that every assistant professor going up for tenure at every research school was expected to take part in writing a research synthesis of interest to standard setters and/or professional bodies as part of the tenure expectations? Don’t laugh so hard as it is the expectation at many medical schools that their junior researchers should have been involved in one Cochrane collaborative research synthesis to show they are of high enough quality to be included in a knowledge translation research synthesis group! It is another way of highlighting you are an stablished enough scholar that colleagues value you involvement in knowledge transfer activities.

Why a synthesis focus – to get knowledge transfer activities away from the non-value added focus approach on individual papers. Papers and journal articles are the building blocks of academic knowledge and great for transfer of knowledge in the community of scholars. They are likely the worst vehicle for knowledge transfer to non academics. A synthesis focuses on questions of interest for practitioners, forces academic partnerships across methods silos all with the aim of producing comprehensive evidence (NOT the answer) for practitioners.

What if being included on a synthesis team was a new default expectation in addition to X published papers in Y set of journals. Or better yet as a valued substitute for one of those papers! This default solves in one fell swoop the issue of incentives to do synthesis work in accounting and auditing! For more on what a research synthesis is (and importantly is not) see blog post of Nov 7 or go directly to:

Video link:

Honouring academic accountants who are professionals!

Tonight I get to do something I thoroughly enjoy – watching yet another of my co-authors receive the highest recognition that professional accountants in Canada (the bet hedging accounting body newly renamed as Chartered Professional Accountants (the old CA plus a P to entice Management and General accountants to join in). Over the past decade I have watched first Alan Webb, then Theresa Libby and tonight Susan McCracken being awarded the “fellow” designation. All three were present the night I received my “fellowship” and now once again the team is totally on board!

20 years ago it was rare for an academic accountant to be so honoured (unless they became Institute president). You could have counted them on one hand those who held a PHD, a professorship and a fellowship! It is great to see the accounting profession recognizing the value of accounting educators.

I hope this happens around the world given the vital role we play as custodians of the future of the profession!

Congrats again to Susan McCracken, PHD, FCPA, FCA!

What to get the PHD student and assistant professor . .

As we come up on many faith traditions holidays that are marked by gifts and indeed those who partake in the secular traditions around gift exchanges, you may wonder what to given an accounting PHD student or an assistant professor!

My editor based suggestions include:

1. Gift coupons for a reputable English editor that understands academic writing practices. Lots of them!

2. A private tutor to teach the recipient English grammar and writing. 8 to10 lessons work wonders. Did it myself!

3. Sophisticated software that critics business english especially the placement of s at-end of words.

4. For the non English speaking doctoral student potentially English elocution lessons. It is amazing how much improvement can be obtained by 8 or 10 private lessons ( I have paid for same for some of my doctoral students and they were worth every penny on the job market).

5. For young native English speakers I wish there was an app that could be purchased that would sap you every time you substitute a five dollar word that you ” think” you know the meaning of for a simpler word that you actually know the meaning of. No this is not a dig at interpretivist researchers but on the tendency of young assistant professors of all stripes to try to “look smart” by using big words! Unfortunately this is not yet available but friends and loved ones could do this and make a joke out of it by presenting lottery ticket every time you called them on it. Hence lots and lots of 1 euro or dollar lottery tickets would be needed by the friend or loved one!!!!

There you go, suggestions from an editor for the perfect holiday present (and potentially a good test of your friendship or love). I call that truly a gift that can keep on giving!

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!

The longest year

Many of the PHD students I have mentored over the years seem to be up for promotion and tenure this year. The level of uncertainty surrounding this process seems to be high and the timelines very long. Surely we can come up with a fair system that can run a lot faster. These days at U’s fairness seems to be confused with how many meetings and how long of times processes take.

One of the issues I see is that the bar is so close to being met in many cases but it not clearly crossed. I think this reflects the higher quality of doctoral education that is occurring around the world. Hence, we are seeing more knife-edge cases than ever before.

So far the only safety valve in accounting is that there is still a good secondary market for seasoned assistant professors. Furthermore with the creeping creditentialism more and more institutions require a PHD. And that’s the way it appears to be!

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