This photograph is in the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Researchers in many fields are staring at a profound, world-wide “natural experiment” in enforced quiet that affects every living thing. So we’ve been wondering for weeks now: who’s actually studying this? Turns out people in seismology, earth sciences, and geology were the first to notice their instruments were picking up interesting things. But what about biologists? What about medical and public health researchers? What about acoustical scientists? What an opportunity to learn for all of them!

The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, JASA, published monthly since 1928 by the American Institute of Physics, has now issued a
call for papers about acoustical phenomena and their effects during this “quiet period.”

This is very exciting, because natural experiments are a rare gift for researchers. There were actually two prior—though short-lived—quiet periods during the last two decades: in 2001 for a brief period after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when most transportation shut down, and in 2008, when the global “financial pandemic” briefly shuttered financial markets and much of the world economy. A few very interesting studies on noise effects (for instance on whales—we reported on that work) occurred by chance during the 9/11 aftermath. But there was no time to plan and execute careful studies, so both opportunities were largely missed.

This time is different. Let’s hope the editors of JASA find that lots of researchers are digging into this. Those who are keenly interested in the effects of noise and sound on life here on earth hope much will be gleaned from this rare occasion—the first time since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago that we’ve been thrust back in time and can see what “natural quiet” sounds like and how it affects all of us.

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