15 June 2007 at 10:56 am Leave a comment

| Peter Klein |

Accounting research, like that in other social sciences, has become increasingly quantitative. Mainstream empirical research in accounting is mostly “accountics” — accounting plus econometrics. Not everyone is convinced this is a good idea:

In her Presidential Message to the American Accounting Association (AAA) in August, 2005, Judy Rayburn discussed the issue of the relatively low citation rate of accounting research compared to citation rates for research in finance, management, and marketing. Rayburn concluded that the low citation rate for accounting research was due to a lack of diversity in topics and research methods. In this paper, we provide a review of the AAA’s flagship journal, The Accounting Review (TAR), following its 80 years of publication and describe why some recent AAA leaders believe that significant changes should be made to the journal’s publication and editorial policies. At issue is whether scholarly accounting research is overly focused on mathematical analysis and empirical research, or “accountics” as it has sometimes been called, at the expense of research that benefits the general practice of accountancy and discovery research on more interesting topics. We conclude from our review of TAR that after mostly publishing research about accounting practices for the first 40 years, a sweeping change in editorial policy occurred in the 1960s and 1970s that narrowly defined scholarly research in accounting as that which employs accountics.

This is from a working paper by Jean Heck and Robert Jensen. One consequence of the focus on accountics, they argue, is that accounting researchers know less and less about accounting (e.g., accounting standards, practices, history, policy). Of course, the same criticism is often directed against contemporary research in business economics, management, and other disciplines. Scholars know much about formal modeling and quantitative methods, but little about the economy or the firm.

I’m reminded of a passage in Ariel Rubinstein’s “Dilemmas of an Economic Theorist,” which we discussed previously:

I don’t care about stock market prices and I’m not sure I know what “equities” are. I am reluctant to give policy advice to the government, and I am not happy with the idea that I may be acting in the interest of fanatic profit maximizers. . . . Nevertheless, after many years in the profession, I still get excited when formal abstract models are successfully constructed and meaning emerges from the manipulation of symbols.

Perhaps accountants, too, are attracted to puzzles, not problems.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science, Teaching.

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