Cellphone causing horns to grow on young people's skulls? Old research gives rise to new debate

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Jun 21, 2019, 12.54 PM(IST)

Representative image. Photograph:( Others )

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The researchers and users have asked people not to panic and wait for better designed and better reported studies

A report in some of the major publications is enough to frighten people. Washington Post, Fortune and other publications have published a news report which says a hornlike feature is jutting out from the skull of young people who use mobile phones.

The news report is based on a 2018 study by David Shahar and Mark Sayers from University of Sushine Coast in Australia. The study, published in journal Nature, says that prominent exostosis projecting from the occipital squama more substantial and prevalent in young adult than older age groups. The occipital bone is the main bone of the lower part of the skull (squama). It is an expansion on their 2016 study.

"We hypothesise EEOP (Enlarged External Occipital Protuberance) may be linked to sustained aberrant postures associated with the emergence and extensive use of hand-held contemporary technologies, such as smartphones and tablets," they say in their study. The EEOP refers to bony projections rising from the site where ligament or tendon attaches to a bone. The researchers further point out in their study, "Our findings raise a concern about the future musculoskeletal health of the young adult population and reinforce the need for prevention intervention through posture improvement education."

But the interpretation has given rise to a storm. John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist, a deplored the coverage of the study. "Deplorable that the @washingtonpost is spreading the nonsense that 'Horns are growing on young people's skulls'. There is an interesting story here, and part of it is about journalists' gullibility and moral panics," he said on Twitter.

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"It would be super interesting if this result were true, but there are many warning flags with this study," he further said in another tweet.

Another pathbiologist tweeted this study's methods/results don't match its main takeaways.

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Other Twitter users too demanded proper explanation.

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The researchers and Twitter users have asked people not to panic and wait for better designed and better reported studies.