Imagine, for a moment, that there's a rock concert in your town tonight. A sold-out concert involving a really hot band of which you're the world's biggest fan.
Now imagine that we can get you in, and get you great seats, too, on one condition: You have to wear earplugs! Little, unobtrusive ones that won't cancel out the music entirely, just soften it.
A medical resident at the University of Minnesota recently made such an offer to 32 of his students, in the name of science.
In fact, he told them, half of them would be the control group, against whom the earplug-wearing students would be compared. They would get in to heavy-metal, pop, and rockabilly concerts free and wouldn't have to wear earplugs at all.
Two students immediately declined to participate in the study, and another agreed but didn't show up. They said it would just be too embarrassing to be seen wearing earplugs.
As you might guess, the scientist, David Opperman, tested the hearing of both the plug wearers and the control group before and right after the concerts. And as you might guess again, he found that 64% of those who wore no earplugs suffered significant temporary hearing loss. In fact, so loud is today's music that about one-fourth of the students who did wear earplugs had degraded hearing as well.
Some of the participants who did wear them said earplugs actually improved the sound of the bands by making the words more audible and the notes less screeching. No wonder, as Dr. Opperman pointed out, that many, if not most, of the band members themselves were wearing plugs!
Of course, as the Chicago Tribune newspaper account of these experiments pointed out, his summations to this class on this subject -- even more so than other college lectures -- no doubt fell on deaf ears.