Junk science

That Story About Kids Growing Horns Because of Smartphones Is Fake News

Researchers made no effort to link the two.


Here was the headline on a recent Washington Post story: "Horns are growing on young people's skulls. Phone use is to blame, research suggests."

It's a sensational claim. It's also misleading. Contrary to what was reported, the research does not show a link between increased smartphone usage and horn-like appendages on kids' skulls.

From the Post:

New research in biomechanics suggests that young people are developing hornlike spikes at the back of their skulls—bone spurs caused by the forward tilt of the head, which shifts weight from the spine to the muscles at the back of the head, causing bone growth in the connecting tendons and ligaments. The weight transfer that causes the buildup can be compared to the way the skin thickens into a callus as a response to pressure or abrasion.

The result is a hook or hornlike feature jutting out from the skull, just above the neck.

In academic papers, a pair of researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, argues that the prevalence of the bone growth in younger adults points to shifting body posture brought about by the use of modern technology. They say smartphones and other handheld devices are contorting the human form, requiring users to bend their heads forward to make sense of what's happening on the miniature screens.

Not so fast, as Techdirt points out:

The problem is that while the research did find that human skeletons are shifting and changing in the modern era due to postural and other behaviors, they weren't able to prove that cellphones were the culprit. There's a wide variety of modern human behaviors that could influence skeletal shifts, from watching television and reading books to terrible posture resulting from a lack of meaningful exercise. Only a few reporters could be bothered to note that at no point did the researchers directly, actually link the "horns" to cellphone use.

I perused the studies in question. At most, researchers offered educated guesses that new technology has something to do with the skull horns. The underlying research, however, does not prove any such connection. It doesn't even attempt to prove it.

Related: "From Momo to Hate Crimes, Skittles Parties, and Sex Trafficking, Fake News Is Clearly a Problem."