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Tinnitus and the deafening problem of noise pollution
Hearing-related problems are on the rise.
- Noise pollution should be considered a public-health crisis, according to experts that study the problem.
- Between 15-20 percent of humans will suffer from tinnitus during their lives.
- Carbon is not the only catalyst for environmental degradation; entire ecosystems are being destroyed by noise.
Roughly one out of every five humans will suffer from tinnitus at some point in their lives. Though this ringing in the ears isn't a condition, but a symptom—of an ear injury or age-related hearing loss—the problem is widespread. A range of treatments, from symptom-relieving supplements to sound wave therapy, are being sold in a growing market. But the causes aren't being addressed nearly as ambitiously.
At least one major cause, that is: noise pollution. A recent New Yorker article suggests noise pollution is a candidate for the "next big public-health crisis," though it's in stiff competition with smartphone addiction, opioids, and the physical and mental health consequences of student debt. According to the CDC, hearing loss is the third-most common physical condition affecting adults (after hypertension and arthritis). Twelve percent of the working population experiences hearing difficulty in some capacity.
Twenty-two million workers are exposed to hazardous noise every year in America. In the manufacturing sector, which accounts for 13 percent of the national workforce, occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related ailment. One of out every nine recorded illnesses are due to excessive noise.
Then factor in neighborhoods. David Owen, whose forthcoming book addresses the growing problem of hearing loss, highlights a Paris-based study that discovered people that live in heavy transportation paths experience higher incidences of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleeping problems, birth-related problems, heart problems, and an inability to pay attention at work. Living in a noisy area also has a profound impact on longevity.
Why Noise Pollution Is More Dangerous Than We Think | The Backstory | The New Yorker
Cities are wonderful places, but they produce chronic physical problems. In The Great Animal Orchestra, soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause notes that urban noise levels in America increased by 12 percent between 1996 and 2005, with over one-third of citizens complaining about noise levels.
Intrusive sounds affect us far beyond the inconsiderate motorcyclist and construction workers jackhammering sidewalks. Krause writes that what we hear is profoundly affected by what we see; in dense urban areas, we're assaulted by imagery on a daily basis. We might grow to believe filtering background noise is easy, yet the interference of ambient (and not quite ambient, but outright offensive) sounds disrupt our attentional capacities and nervous system.
Trying to filter unwanted sounds creates a chemical spike in our bodies. Glucocorticoid enzyme levels rise by as much as 40 percent when we're separating noise from signal, resulting in fatigue and stress. As Krause writes, "even moderate noise in a workplace caused measurable exhaustion, blood pressure elevation, and negative attitudinal shifts after only a few days of exposure."
We become accustomed to these elevations—sort of—yet the chronic interference damages our health. For example, increased blood pressure and stress hormones from noise pollution have led to an uptick in heart attacks in people assualted by higher decibels on a regular basis.
We're not only destroying our own health, but that of the planet. Consider the ocean. Krause writes that social vocalizations enforce group cohesion across species. Toothed whales send out what marine biologists term a "big bang," a "highly focused eruptive beam" that stuns prey so that whales expend less energy chasing food. Snapping shrimp emit sound so quickly that target fish are rendered incapacitated, another adaptation that makes hunting easier.
Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
These sonic adaptations are targeted attempts to survive in the animal kingdom. Yet human intervention is unique, and not in a progressive manner. A Canadian organization notes that underwater noise pollution is threatening the existence of species of whales that evolved in quieter oceans. Our impact thwarts their navigational abilities, injuring or killing entire populations of marine life and disrupting mating calls. Turns out there are many ways to destroy a population. Carbon is not the only catalyst for environmental degradation.
Noise damages our ears at 85 decibels; most concerts are downright deafening, climbing to 110-120 decibels. Even restaurants now match or surpass that level. Architecture and design critic, Kate Wagner, wonders how public spaces designed for eating have allowed so much noise to ruin our dining experiences.
What's good for an establishment's bottom line—increased noise forces quicker turnover and higher alcohol consumption—is adding to the problem. During various meal times in Baltimore and New York City, she measured noise levels: "80 decibels in a dimly lit wine bar at dinnertime; 86 decibels at a high-end food court during brunch; 90 decibels at a brewpub in a rehabbed fire station during Friday happy hour."
Is the antidote a $500 sound therapy machine? A relaxation app designed to combat tinnitus? Expensive (and often unproven) herbal treatments? At the moment, there is no cure for noise-related hearing loss. Owen writes that regulations could be enforced to reduce manufacturing and shipping noise, but that requires governmental intervention. In America such enforcement doesn't appear to be very high on the list.
In certain situations, governments are adding to the problem. That's the assessment of a Washington community fighting noise pollution created by fighter jets, for one. As with many technological advancements, the private sector is contributing in its own way. For example, the creation of electric vehicles, especially Mack trucks and other industrial-scale vehicles, though that too comes with its own problems. Ever since mobility services expanded beyond the horse and buggy we've created as many problems as we've solved.
While an inconvenient truth, humans are simply mismatched for the environment we've created. In our ascension to apex predator—especially post-Industrial Revolution—we've become especially adept at destroying ourselves and other species (except jellyfish). Carbon emissions receive top billing in climate change discussions, yet many other factors are chipping away at the fabric of existence. So little signal left, so much noise ruining the soundscape.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think.
Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.