The Wall Street Journal today mentioned a conference session for which I am both a co-organizer and speaker. The WSJ article has an interview with Stefan Heller, a professor at Stanford University who is one of the invited speakers in the session, on the damage to hearing caused by such popular products as the iPod—a topic that I’ve posted at length on before. Dr. Heller’s research is on the use of embryonic stem cells to restore hearing to those with sensorineural hearing loss. The WSJ article simply discusses the potential for damage from current audio products and the fact that people don’t know that they are causing damage to their hearing until it’s too late:
WSJ: Can you actually kill some cells just from listening to a single CD on an iPod at top volume?
Heller: There probably are some people that can turn the volume of their iPods up to the limit and never have a problem. But other people might do it once and wipe out their high frequencies. And once that damage is done, it will get progressively worse. But you can only know which group you are in after you've lost your hearing.
The conference at which both Dr. Heller and I are speaking is the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the organization that publishes Science Magazine, which is possibly the most cited scientific publication in the world. The meeting is in San Francisco from Feb 15–19, 2007. The theme of the conference this year is Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being, and the session that I am co-organizing with Dr. Steven Greenberg is titled Hearing Health—The Looming Crisis and What Can Be Done. (For you loomers out there who found this post after googling “Loom”: Welcome. Please link to me on your Looming site.) Looks like the conference will be an interesting one, see the bottom of this post for a sampling of session titles.
I believe that we’re going to be reading a lot more about prevalence of hearing damage and attempts at hearing conservation over the next few years. A small startup is addressing these issues with their recently launched iHearSafe earbuds that have hearing protection built right into them. This accessory to the iPod and other audio products appears to be designed with a more rigorous approach to hearing conservation than the iPod firmware upgrade last year that purported to address similar concerns about hearing conservation. As further evidence, over 150 scientists and intellectuals responded to web magazine Edge’s new year’s inquiry, “What are you optimistic about? Why?” and among such responses as Nathan Myhrvold’s “The Power of Educated People to Make Important Innovations,” Jared Diamond’s “Good Choices Sometimes Prevail,” and Steven Pinker’s “The Decline of Violence” was David Myer’s optimism towards benefit from hearing aids.
Back to the AAAS meeting: I’ll be speaking at the Hearing Health session about the application of hearing science to hearing technology. Due to an AAAS embargo on releasing presentation material before the session, I won’t be posting my talk or providing details from it until after the conference. This is done to ensure that the conference receives maximum press coverage, I suppose.
The program at the conference is extensive and incredibly diverse. As an example, below are listed the symposia that will occur on Friday at 8:30am:
- Achieving and Sustaining a Diverse Science Work Force
- Addiction and the Brain: Are We Hard-Wired To Abuse Drugs?
- Research Competitiveness Strategies of Small Countries
- Communicating Climate Change: Strategies for Effective Engagement
- Science, Society, and Shared Cyberinfrastructure: Discovery on the Grid
- Smart Prosthetics: Interfaces to the Nervous System Help Restore Independence
- The New Mars: Habitability of a Neighbor World
- Tinkerers and Tipping Points: Invention and Diffusion of Marine Conservation Technology
- The Crime Drop and Beyond: Explaining U.S. Crime Trends
- Dynamics of Extinction
- Achieving Sustainable Water Supplies in the Drought-Plagued West
- National Innovation Strategies in the East Asian Region
- Mixed Health Messages: Observational Versus Randomized Trials
- Education in Developing Countries and the Global Science Web
- Food Safety and Health: Whom Can You Trust?
- Numbers and Nerves: Affect and Meaning in Risk Information
- Teaching Sustainable Engineering
- Anti-Evolutionism in Europe: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid, or Not?
See you there.