Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

A study has concluded that monkeys can do math. (Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison)
A study has concluded that monkeys can do math. (Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison)


It’s not a good idea to monkey around with your tax return Add to ...

A study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that monkeys can do math.

“We trained rhesus monkeys to associate 26 distinct symbols with 0 to 25 drops of reward, and then tested how they combine, or add, symbolically represented reward magnitude,” the abstract for the study by a group of Harvard and Yale researchers explained.

The monkeys did the math and then they did it again when the symbols were swapped for a novel set – proving they had not merely memorized corresponding figures and rewards, and I e-mailed the study to everyone who has ever said, “Tabatha, why do you have a monkey for an accountant?”

Admittedly, tax season is more stressful with a monkey accountant, and this year was no different. My accountant, Gerald, a macaque (CPA), called me into his office shortly after I dropped off my paperwork.

“You’ve been throwing out receipts again, Tabatha,” Gerald said from behind the pile of my envelopes on his desk. “There can’t be more than a week’s worth of bananas in here.”

“Are bananas even a current expense deductible, Gerald?” I asked meekly. “I thought we went through this last year. In my house, bananas are more of a depreciating asset. No matter how hard I try and organize my life, I always seem to be out of my house for the three hours my bananas are edible.”

Gerald glared at me with his little red monkey face, picked up another envelope and said, “Okay, then what’s with all the cabs? You know, Tabatha, if you’d just leave for your meetings earlier, grab a vine and swing there, you’d save a fortune …”

He bared his teeth and threw a stapler at me, as he often does.

“If I didn’t pay you, I’d save myself a fortune,” I muttered, ducking.

“You could save money by filing your own HST,” Gerald said. “It’s pretty basic …”

“If I file my own HST, Gerald, I’m going to jail,” I said. “I’ll make some math error for which I’ll be incarcerated in a special jail they have for dyscalculia-plagued HST misfilers where everyone’s given a mandatory sentence of 27 months and it takes all the inmates five years to figure out they’ve served it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Tabatha,” said Gerald, leaping onto his desk, pausing to throw a stapler at me before swinging on the lamp overhead.

“It’s true!” I said. “The guards run the HST prison on military time – the prisoners are lost after midday. Dinner’s at 1800 hours and everyone’s hungry most of the time. They tap messages to each other on the bars at midnight saying, ‘Guys, hang in there. Six more hours till supper time.’ And than in the morning they can be heard wailing, ‘What the hell! Guard! Guard! It went back to zero! How did that happen?’ ”

But Gerald had found tasty seeds in the lampshade and was warbling in delight, so not listening.

I took a picture of him with my iPhone, as I often do because he’s a monkey! He spat a seed at me, same reason, I like to think, then sprang back to his desk. “Hey! There was a banana up there,” he said, with apparent contingency fruit in hand.

“Let me ask you something, Gerald,” I said. “Will you deduct that banana? I can never decide when a meal’s a business expense.”

“Rule of thumb: I say if there’s no grooming involved, it’s business. You’re a writer, you research – but you meet a guy, you pick bugs off each other, it’s personal. You meet a guy, you pick the Griffin Prize short list apart, it’s business.”

We’re very different species, but much of Gerald’s counsel feels sound – and we both swim.

“You’ve been swapping out the symbols again, Tabatha,” said Gerald, pointing at my admittedly messily labelled envelope with his banana, then throwing a stapler at me. “We math monkeys tire of being doubted. I do know what I’m doing.”

“Study I read said monkeys only got the math right 50 per cent of the time,” I said, nervously. “And why do you have so many staplers?”

“Staplers are deductible,” said Gerald, glancing threateningly at the large three-hole punch on his desk and then at me. “And maybe the math monkeys didn’t always want a sugary ‘reward.’ Monkey gets a desk job, he’s gotta start watching his weight.”

“What if I’m audited?” I said. “I worry, you know?”

“I’ll bite them for you, kid,” said Gerald, fishing another banana, and a stapler, out of a drawer with his ever-so-competent monkey hands. “Now, let’s get you filed by May 5th.”

Report Typo/Error

Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular