Sunday, September 23, 2012

Group of monkeys locked in a room finally figures out what donations are tax receiptable

Part of the team that cracked the code


It took them fifty years, but a group of monkeys locked in a room have finally been able to make sense of the US tax code’s provisions for charitable receipting, say scientists at the University of Southern North Dakota.

In a landmark study published in the Journal of Made-up Science the scientists found that after 52 years of work lab monkeys were able to correctly determine which donations deserved to receive a tax receipt and which did not.

“This is a major breakthrough. Many scientists have argued that tax receipting cannot be taught – that only those with a special genetic make-up could grasp the differences between what is tax receiptable and what is not,” explained lead scientist Dr. Bulgur Snidely. “And some have even postulated that there is in fact no way that any human can figure it out. This research with the monkeys locked in a room for 52 years shows that it can be done.”

The research program started in 1960 when, as a young PHD student, Snidely wrote a paper on how tax receipting could be learned and suggested using monkeys locked in a room to explore his theories. A dozen small monkeys were purchased and placed in a locked test room with a daily ration of bananas, some pencils and paper and a copy of the IRS tax code and then left alone. Every quarter, the monkeys would be asked to write a multiple choice question on tax receipting. Results were then analyzed for accuracy and any evidence of mental illness. 

After 52 years of incorrect results, the monkeys finally came up with a mostly correct set of responses. The three remaining monkeys got every question right except two about gifts of stock shares and donations of artistic works. Scientists are confident that in another decade or so the monkeys will be able to master these as well.

“I was always optimistic that the monkeys would be able to solve this problem. Even after several of the monkeys died and a few went insane I knew the rest would be able to figure it out. It was just amazing to watch them work,” said Snidely.

The monkeys were able to master gala fundraising event tax receipting about ten years after the project started but took more than two decades more to understand the rules surrounding gifts of cash and cash equivalents. About ten years ago the monkeys learned to write English and sent a note to the scientists asking for a more varied diet of fruit and to stop the experiment.

“When I saw that they had scrawled a note in English saying ‘stop killing us’ I knew that we were on the right track. Frustration and mental breakdowns are common among humans who have to deal with these issues. When I saw the same thing in the monkeys I realized we had reached a new plateau,” said Snidely.

More notes from the monkeys followed. Increasingly sophisticated in their writing skills, they eventually came up with a ten page protest letter which they sent to researchers and to the local SPCA. After agreeing to up the daily food ration to include banana liqueur, the monkeys spent the last three years really concentrating on getting the answers correct.

“This research shows there is hope for the charity sector. Donations can be properly tax receipted. If monkeys locked in a room for 50 years can do it, so can they,” said Snidely.

Already, several major US charities have announced that they plan to lock their gift processing staff in a room and feed them bananas until their tax receipting improves.