"Magicians exploit certain cognitive processes to create their own illusions, so the idea is whether these same cognitive processes are being exploited in accounting."

Before becoming a scholar of international business and finance, Skip McGoun earned his bachelor's degree in biology, served in the Navy, traveled the world and worked in Alaska for a credit union. After earning his doctorate, McGoun settled in at Bucknell 25 years ago, but his adventures continue as he relates principles of finance to subjects as unlikely as theatre and automobiles.

"Finance is typically seen as a traditional field of study, a rational activity," says McGoun, "but it doesn't bear a resemblance to the sciences of my undergraduate studies." Rather than applying equations and formulas to business and finance, McGoun says he considers finance to be a popular culture phenomenon. "Finance today is really a reaction to what's happening in our culture, and not rational by any stretch."

His most recent area of research explores similarities between accounting and magic. "Magicians exploit certain cognitive processes to create their own illusions, so the idea is whether these same cognitive processes are being exploited in accounting. I'm not saying that this occurs deliberately," asserts McGoun, "but people are subject to the same issues in accounting as they are watching a magic show."

Working with fellow Bucknell professor Stacy Mastrolia and Polish colleague Piotr Zielonka -- who's also an amateur magician -- McGoun has put theories on paper, but he says he has many avenues yet to explore. "To a certain extent, our work can tie into existing accounting research, and perhaps explain some of the effects that we've already observed," says McGoun.

McGoun's questioning nature has also led to collaboration with other academics who apply interdisciplinary thought to philosophies of finance. In 1992 he organized and launched Alternative Perspectives on Finance, which developed into a series of conferences held every two years through 2006. The first was held in Lewisburg before moving to locations throughout Europe. His collaborations have also led to summer teaching positions at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, the University of Montenegro and the University of Donja Gorica, also in Montenegro.

"What could be better?" says McGoun. "I get to travel all summer and return to a fresh batch of students at Bucknell every fall."

Posted March 28, 2012

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