The Fallacy: Hearing Loss Among Musicians

My lunch today began as it does on any normal day, with me perusing the New York Times to stay informed on current events (pretentious? maybe just slightly), when I came upon this lovely piece of literature: Really? The Claim: Musicians Have A Greater Risk Of Hearing Loss. Now before I get ahead of myself and express my general disgust for this piece, I should really explain the background of the article. I’ll just post the abstract below to save some time:

This study intended to evaluate classical musicians’ risk of hearing loss. We studied 63 musicians from four Helsinki classical orchestras. We measured their hearing loss with an audiometer, found their prior amount of exposure to sound and some individual susceptibility factors with a questionnaire, measured their present sound exposure with dosimeters, and tested their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, then compared their hearing loss to ISO 1999-1990’s predictions. The musicians’ hearing loss distribution corresponded to that of the general population, but highly exposed musicians had greater hearing loss at frequencies over 3 kHz than less-exposed ones. Their individual susceptibility factors were low. Music deteriorates hearing, but by less than what ISO 1999-1990 predicted. The low number of individual susceptibility factors explained the difference, but only reduced hearing loss and not the prevalence of tinnitus. 

Essentially, the FIOH study found that in Classical musicians, there were minimal differences in the hearing loss between those in the general populous and those performing regularly with orchestras. Sounds completely plausible.

This is about the part where I almost had a stroke…

Somehow, Ms. O’Connor, misinterprets the findings of the FIOH study to apply to musicians of all styles, either because of her general ignorance towards different genres of music or her lack of credible/accurate research into the subject (I’d place my bet on a complete misinterpretation of the subject, but then where’s the rant?). In logic, we’d refer to this as a Hasty Generalization, and boy is it one hell of a GENERALIZATION! I have no words to describe my bewilderment. I expected much more from a Times columnist. Not only is there insufficient evidence to support Ms. O’Connor’s claims, but her brief excursion into the musical world is undoubtably not sufficient to the disprove hundreds of thousands of documented cases of musicians suffering from hearing loss.

Back to what happened with me.

I fell out of my chair, spit out my food, flung objects around my room, and cursed Ms. O’Connor’s name. How the hell could someone even attempt to claim such a thing? It’s absurd. It’s obscene. And for that matter, it’s a fallacy.

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