Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

Early Efforts of the U.S. Public Accounting Profession to Investigate the Use of Statistical Sampling

Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

Early Efforts of the U.S. Public Accounting Profession to Investigate the Use of Statistical Sampling

Article excerpt


Abstract: The study suggests that the AICPA's efforts to investigate the use of statistical sampling appear to have been catalyzed by the confluence of the growing dissatisfaction with the traditional approach to sampling and the widespread recognition of the benefits of statistical sampling which were being realized in other professions and in industry. The fact that large corporations had begun to use statistical sampling in accounting and auditing lent additional urgency to the need to address the issue. In addition, some doubted the tenability of traditional sampling if challenged in court by a statistician..

The study also examines the research efforts of the AICPA which include case studies, legal opinions, a review of the mathematical underpinning of statistical sampling, and the initiation of an interdisciplinary collaborative effort with the American Statistical Association. The research suggests that from the very beginning, the AICPA was most cognizant of the legal implications of statistical sampling and that the legal opinions obtained played a key role in the profession's eventual acceptance of this new technology. The study also indicates that the AICPA's research led it to reexamine basic auditing concepts and challenge existing standards.

The national CPA firms shared information regarding their individual in-house experimentation with statistical sampling which suggests that a spirit of collegial cooperation existed rather than competition-related secrecy. Lastly, the research demonstrates the importance of individual leadership in the profession's efforts to adopt new technology; here, the study provides a glimpse of two Accounting Hall of Fame members, Robert M. Trueblood and Oscar Gellein, and the first recipient of the Distinguished Service in Auditing Award, Kenneth W. Stringer, making one of their many professional contributions. The study suggests that without the strong leadership provided by these three individuals, the profession's adoption of this technology would have taken significantly longer.


The American Institute's committee on statistical sampling which is exploring the possible usefulness of statistical sampling techniques in accounting and audits by independent certified public accountants, desires to obtain information as to experimentation with these techniques that may have been carried out by our readers. In particular, the committee is interested in information regarding experiments that have been conducted by smaller accounting firms or individual practitioners in their audits of small businesses. It would also be interested in having information as to any use that has been made of statistical sampling in the accounting or internal control procedures.

If any of our readers has information of this kind . . . [Journal of Accountancy, July 1957]


The purpose of this study is twofold. The study first seeks to provide an overview of the issues and conditions that provided the impetus for the U.S. public accounting profession's efforts to investigate the use of statistical sampling. Second, the study attempts to provide insight into the initial research efforts taken by the AICPA to determine the feasibility of using statistical sampling to improve the practice of accounting and auditing. Such insight may increase our understanding of the manner in which the accounting profession reacts to emerging issues and problems.

Specifically, the study first examines the issues and conditions which led to the formation of the AICPA Committee on Statistical Sampling (AICPA-CSS). Second, the study focuses upon the AICPA's initial efforts to educate itself in a discipline in which it had little or no educational background. Insights provided by the interdisciplinary aspect of these educational efforts appear especially useful to the profession as it seeks to adapt to the ongoing fusion of traditional accounting, information systems, and computer science. …

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