ICBEN 2014

06.17.2014 | HMMH |

by Nick Miller

I attended the recent (June 2014) conference held by the International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN) in Nara Japan. The presentations were all about the possible bad effects of noise on humans. Overall, it’s a confabulation of people who are engaged in rigorous scientific exploration of how noise might produce ill effects, and by and large everyone is quite circumspect about any tentative conclusions suggested by their work. But let the press get ahold of the summary information, and you can get headlines like: “Is the noise of modern life making you ill? It can trigger heart disease, blood pressure and weight gain – even when you’re asleep.”

But researchers on the same team can come to different opinions such as: “Yes noise probably does cause heart problems,” and “No, noise probably doesn’t cause heart problems.”

So what gives? What gives in my opinion is that research results usually show just slight probabilities of adverse effect, and I’m inclined to think personal leanings (some might say prejudices) influence the interpretations of results. I’m not saying that there’s anything political or ideological here, only that different people draw different conclusions from the same results. I think, and I believe I read this somewhere – probably something David Brooks wrote (how’s that for a reference?) – that people make their decisions emotionally and then look for supporting evidence.

Reflect for a minute on some of your strongly held opinions and dig deeply to see if there really is any logical basis for them. As far as the effects of noise are concerned, I’ve detected two basic prejudices at work: “Noise is guilty and you have to prove it’s not.” “Noise is innocent until proven guilty.” Which is yours?

Nara, Japan

Around conference area

Nara, Japan