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Scientific Progress Goes “Boink”

Write-Off: The Tax Blog

There is a very interesting and useful paper on the design of tax returns that suggests that based on psychology research, we should redesign the tax return so that the location of the signature of the taxpayer is adjusted to elicit more honest behavior from the taxpayer. I was aware of this paper some time ago, and, have proposed a field experiment that would redesign the tax return for a state I was communicating with, but, institutional barriers didn’t allow what would have been a fascinating field experiment to happen. Luckily. Why luckily?

The original article on which the tax redesign idea came from is based on an article called “Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end.” Because of my brief experience with thinking about redesigning tax returns, I was interested with something someone sent me yesterday, a paper entitled “Signing at the beginning versus at the end does not decrease dishonesty”. This paper, with some of the same coauthors that wrote the first paper, failed to replicate many of the initial results, and the authors wanted people to know about their failure to be able to replicate the paper. Some of the failure stems from having been provided with fraudulent fabricated data.

I have recently become very interested in research and activities that might have some actual effects on real-world outcomes. Most accounting research has no impact in the real world. One problem with engaging in activities that matters is that if what you do matters, and, you do it poorly, it can create trouble, lead to worse policy, etc. This little episode made this reality pretty clear.

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