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Tyranny of Noise

Excerpts from Robert Alex Baron, The Tyranny of Noise: The World’s Most Prevalent Pollution, Who Causes It, How It’s Hurting You, and How to Fight It (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1970).


“The fight for a quieter world becomes obscured when feelings about a noise are divorced from the noise itself. We are told that how we react to a given noise may be influenced by our attitude towards the noise source, our state of health and well-being, our personalities, education, income, previous exposure, ad nauseam. Does the transportation noise problem disappear if we all learn to love driving and flying, or the industries that make these activities possible? Would I have been less disturbed by the subway project if I appreciated what the TA [NY City Transit Authority] was doing for progress? Is a 90-decibel jackhammer really less of a noise because it takes place during the day, or because I’ve heard one before? It is relatively simple to measure the physical quality of the noise signal, its decibel level, frequency distribution, duration, number of occurrences per unit time, etc. It is virtually impossible to measure the significant human response to noise. Schemes for predicting complaints and evaluating annoyance responses are crude guidelines, their effectiveness questioned even by noise specialists.”

The Weighting Game, by Jim Botsford – the players, strategies and winnings:

“Loudness, perceived noise, ‘A’ or ‘D’ decibels concentrate on one small aspect of the human response to noise: conscious awareness of irritation. Ignored in the formulae are the effects of noise on sleep, on the emotions, and on the biological processes. … Because the prolonged barking of a dog disturbs sleep, we enact ordinances to compel dog owners to keep their pets quiet at night. These anti-barking codes do not specify the size of the dog, or the decibel level of the bark, or even the use of perceived barking dog noise decibels (PBDNdBs). It is accepted that sleep must be protected, and that barking disturbs sleep. Yet when it comes to jet planes or trucks, or air conditioners, all of which can and do disturb sleep, we are asked to wait for the perfect measurement.”

“The methods used to win acceptability for the intense noises of commerce and industry have not worked. Instead, it has become necessary to promote the ‘final’ solution: move the receiver away from the source. ‘To those who complain of [traffic noise] nuisance,’ states a leading acoustical consultant, ‘there is a reasonable reply. Move.’”

“If these men are so secure in their belief that noise is not a serious problem, except as they define it, why do they get so upset at their critics?”

Download original document: excerpts from “The Tyranny of Noise” [1]