Positive Accounting Theory and Science

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Positive Accounting Theory and Science

Md Humayun Kabir Senior Lecturer Faculty of Business Auckland University of Technology Auckland, New Zealand Phone: 09 921 9999 E-mail: humayun.kabir@aut.ac.nz

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Earlier versions of this paper benefited from comments from Lee Parker of the University of South Australia, William Maguire of Manukau Business School, Keith Hooper of Auckland University of Technology, Divesh Sharma of Florida International University, Ainul Islam of Massey University and Santi Narayan Ghosh of the University of Dhaka.

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1027382

Positive Accounting Theory and Science
Abstract
This paper examines the development of positive accounting theory (PAT) and compares it with three standard accounts of science- Popper (1959), Kuhn (1996) and Lakatos (1970). PAT has been one of the most influential accounting research programs during the last four decades. One important comparison to which Watts and Zimmerman (1986) have appealed to popularize and legitimize their approach is that their view of accounting theory is the same as that in science. Thus, it is important to examine how far accounting could have been studied in the mould of science and how the development of PAT compares with the three standard accounts of science. Such a comparison will enhance our understanding of how PAT progressed over the last decades and what methodological gaps remain. This paper shows that there are some limits to the study of accounting in the mould of natural science. Furthermore, the methodological position conforms to none of the standard accounts of science. Rather it contains elements of all three. Finally, it identifies some methodological gaps in PAT. Keywords: Positive Accounting Theory, Science, Methodology, Philosophy of Science, Methodological Controversies discussed in Chapters 8-14 of W & Z (1986). At the same time, W & Z (1986: 1) also say that their book seeks to explain the economics-based empirical literature in accounting and their book describes, in addition to accounting choice studies, capital market-based accounting research. W & Z (1986: 37) further say that Ball and Brown’s 1968 paper initially popularized positive research in accounting. This seems to suggest that PAT includes both capital market-based accounting research and research in accounting choices. This paper takes PAT to include both research programs. This usage is consistent with W & Z’s (1986: 8) assertion that they use the term “positive” to differentiate it from “prescriptive”. PAT has been one of the most influential accounting research programs during the last four decades. It has spawned a lot of empirical research on the association between accounting numbers and stock prices and returns, and determinants of accounting choices by management. It has spawned a number of accounting journals, among which the Journal of Accounting and Economics is the most prominent. Brinn et al. (1996), in a survey of UK academics’ perceptions of journal quality, found that the top four accounting journals are: Journal of Accounting and Economics, Journal of Accounting Research, the Accounting Review, and Accounting, Organizations and Society. Articles published in the top three journals are predominantly in the positive tradition. The sheer number of articles in these two paradigms published in major accounting journals and the dominance of PAT in PhD programs in U. S. and other universities testify to the dominant position of PAT. In fact, the emergence of empirical accounting research as the dominant research approach can be attributed to PAT. Thus, judged by the number of research articles, the number and dominance of the journals it spawned, and the dominance of

1. Introduction
This paper examines the development of positive accounting theory (hereinafter PAT) and compares it with three standard...
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