Accounting fraud paper retracted for “misstatement”
The Accounting Review, a publication of the American Accounting Association, has retracted a 2010 paper, but the reason for the move is less than clear.
The article, “A Field Experiment Comparing the Outcomes of Three Fraud Brainstorming Procedures: Nominal Group, Round Robin, and Open Discussion,” was by James E. Hunton, an award-winning accountancy prof at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., and Anna Gold [updated 1/22/13 to update link], of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. It has been cited 24 times, according to Google Scholar.
According to the retraction notice:
The authors confirmed a misstatement in the article and were unable to provide supporting information requested by the editor and publisher. Accordingly, the article has been retracted.
That’s not altogether clear — was the misstatement an error? a blatant falsehood? — so we reached out to the review’s editor, John Harry Evans III, for comment. But what we got was something less than a, um, full accounting of the matter.
Evans told us that he wouldn’t say anything more about the paper, and that the notice:
sort of has to stand as stated.
Acknowledging that “best” in this case equals vague, Evans reiterated that
I think we described it in the way we felt was best.
The authors, for their part, stoutly disagree. We spoke with Hunton, who told us that the misstatement involved bad information provided to him and his coauthor by the firm that supplied the data for the study.
In a nutshell, the company misrepresented the number of U.S.-based offices it had: not 150, as the paper maintained (and as a reader had noticed might be on the high side, triggering an inquiry from the journal), but quite a bit less than that. In fact, the 150 figure came from combining U.S. offices with international outposts — an important difference, to be sure, but not one that necessarily would kill the paper.
So why not a correction?
That’s exactly the position we took. We clearly admitted there’s a misstatement
but the data were unaffected, Hunton said.
To our knowledge the study is unaffected by the description of the sample
The editors rejected that argument, insisting instead on a retraction. Hunton and Gold were told:
If you misunderstood this, how do I know that you didn’t misunderstand something else.
Compounding the problem, Hunton said, was the fact that the accounting firm refused to allow the researchers to share the data with the journal.
They said there was a confidentiality agreement. There were live client files involved and they wouldn’t share the raw data.
So, faced with the realization that they were going to lose their appeal, Hunton and Gold switched tacks and asked for a retraction.
I am very disappointed. We insisted upon a correction, and when that was rejected we said, the best thing to do is to voluntarily withdraw the article unless or until we could clear this up ion the future.
But Hunton said he was frustrated by the way the notice appeared, with its implication of misconduct.
This just wasn’t right. They should have stated the circumstances and made it very clear that we couldn’t provide the information based on a confidentiality agreement.
Update, 6:30 p.m. Eastern, 11/27/12: See a comment from Hunton and his co-author with more details.