No, Your Kid Isn't Growing Horns Because Of Cellphone Use

from the another-moral-techno-panic dept

This week, the Washington Post grabbed plenty of attention for a story that claimed that kids are actually growing "horns" because of cell phone use. The story, which leans on 2016 and 2018 research out of Australia, was cribbing off of this more nuanced piece by the BBC on how skeletal adaptation to modern living changes are kind of a thing. The Post's more inflammatory take was accompanied by a wide variety of other stories proclaiming that today's children are growing horns and bone spurs because they use their durn cellphones too much!

The Washington Post put it this way, with an accompanying, scary X-Ray pulled from the initial research:

"What we have not yet grasped is the way the tiny machines in front of us are remolding our skeletons, possibly altering not just the behaviors we exhibit but the bodies we inhabit. 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 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. In fact, technology isn't even mentioned in the source data:

"The researchers don’t mention technology or smartphones at all in their 2018 research, but they do make a statement in the discussion section of their 2016 paper. They make an educated guess that the prevalence of enthesophytes may have to do with “the increased use of hand-held technologies from early child-hood."

Their research does not prove that device use causes these bony appendages. They don’t even claim that device use and appendages are correlated. They simply make an educated guess in the discussion section, pointing to a topic for future research."

As journalist Caroline Haskins notes, the whole hysteria is reminiscent of the "smartphone pinky" scare that bubbled up a few years ago, which proclaimed that people's fingers were being "deformed" by the way they hold their electronic gadgets and smartphones. And it's tangentially related to the recent panic over the recent "Momo" hoax, which proclaimed that a viral game making the rounds on services like WhatsApp and YouTube involved a demonic-looking chicken lady goading young children into acts of violence or even suicide.

We love a good moral panic. And such panics often go viral because Americans are (if that hadn't been made clear in recent years) immeasurably susceptible to bullshit. But it's a problem made so much worse by a media that can't just focus on the amazing science and technology news and issues of the day, but instead quickly falls prey to nonsensical bullshit to generate additional ad revenue. And because the debunking stories see a quarter (or less) of the attention of the original inflammatory reports ("A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes," as the old saying goes), there's a huge chunk of the public walking around with fluff and nonsense in their heads where factual data should be.

Filed Under: horns, mobile phones, moral panic, technology


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  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 12:17pm

    Something something and they can't understand why they aren't making any money as they turn themselves into the World Weekly News.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2019 @ 12:22pm

    Doesn't look like a horn to me

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2019 @ 12:22pm

    They should have done a study on / had a moral panic about the bones of call center / phone pool -type of people before headsets came along. Like in the 40s and 50s up until 10 years ago even.

    Oh right. Back then it was "progress", now it's just whatever. Never mind.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Gary (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 12:27pm

    Science Reporting...

    Why are all newspapers so bad at science reporting?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Doubldeown, 20 Jun 2019 @ 12:28pm

    “No, Your Kid Isn't Growing Horns Because Of Cellphone Use”

    Seems to be stating its own fact not included in the research.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 12:29pm

    Re: Science Reporting...

    In increasing order of importance, headlines, readers, advertising.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Berenerd (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 12:31pm

    Presidential candidate speaking out about these dangers in 3..2..1..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2019 @ 12:57pm

    These people claiming kids are growing horns are crazy

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2019 @ 1:08pm

    Re:

    There is one guy that would ironically tweet about it. Maybe he will point at it and say "fake news"....nah

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Madd the Sane (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 1:15pm

    Re: Re: Science Reporting...

    I noticed news wasn't in the list. Purposeful omission, I'm guessing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Dank710 (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 1:19pm

    Clearly the mark of the beast lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2019 @ 1:39pm

    Re:

    Seems to be stating its own fact not included in the research.

    No, it's stating that the study doesn't prove that claim. The burden of proof is on the party making the claim.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 1:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Science Reporting...

    If news were important to newspapers they wouldn't act as public relations entities for politicians, governments, big corporations, or the unduly passionate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2019 @ 2:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Science Reporting...

    Gotta love those press releases acting like breaking news.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Optical Point (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 4:02pm

    Depends On Where It’s Located

    Is it on the sides of the head, on the front of the head, or are they referring to the one place where the sun don’t shine?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Optical Point (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 4:04pm

    Re:

    Probably they’re just your typical anti-technology justice warrior trying to make a name for themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Glenn, 20 Jun 2019 @ 4:37pm

    The posture description they gave in the article sounds exactly like what you would expect to see when someone is reading a book.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Mark, 20 Jun 2019 @ 5:05pm

    Nope, it's perfectly normal... everybody knows that kids are horny little devils.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2019 @ 5:08pm

    Re: silly

    Horns are temporary
    But doom is eternal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    Killercool (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 6:16pm

    Re: Re: silly

    I got about 10 hours out of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    christenson, 20 Jun 2019 @ 6:56pm

    Horn Covers lol

    So my, THAT is why I now need horn covers on my forehead?
    (my sound-deadening Peltor headphones on my forehead but not over my ears when I stop programming for a bit)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2019 @ 8:35pm

    French artist Orlan had horns surgically grafted onto her forehead - but it's called "art" so that's okay for some reason.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    allengarvin (profile), 20 Jun 2019 @ 10:30pm

    Grrr

    Dammit, I've been increasing my mobile usage the last 6 hours in an attempt to speed my horn growth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Pixelation, 20 Jun 2019 @ 10:39pm

    Kids are horny these days, blame it on the cellphones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Big Bill, 21 Jun 2019 @ 8:01am

    Re: Re:Science Reporting

    “No, Your Kid Isn't Growing Horns Because Of Cellphone Use” is a claim, presented without evidence.
    Saying that there's no actual evidence that cellphone use causes the "horns" is not the same thing as saying that they don't.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    crade (profile), 21 Jun 2019 @ 9:35am

    Re:

    Yep.. should be more along the lines of "Your Kid Is growing horns.. but don't worry, it might not be cellphones causing it".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2019 @ 9:51am

    Hail Satan! /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    Optical Point (profile), 21 Jun 2019 @ 3:14pm

    Re:

    Ok. That’s not the horn we’re talking about. That’s just wrong on a whole different level.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    mrtraver (profile), 21 Jun 2019 @ 9:23pm

    " ...Americans are (if that hadn't been made clear in recent years) immeasurably susceptible to bullshit."

    Well, we're not here to fuck spiders, mate!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    PaulT (profile), 22 Jun 2019 @ 1:31am

    Re: Science Reporting...

    Their audience doesn't understand science, so it has to be dumbed down by journalists who don't understand science. Then, editorial demands everything be sensationalised to increase readership.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    a d00d, 25 Jun 2019 @ 12:50am

    Re: Why are all newspapers so bad at science reporting?

    Because reporters are morons and/or the story is already written and/or the reporter simply doesn't care but was assigned this story anyway. (There are certainly more reasons that I can't think of ATM.) As a reportee a couple of times (story written about me or my organization) I have first-hand accounts that what was told to the reporter and what appeared in print were two different things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Daniel, 28 Jun 2019 @ 4:00am

    The authors of a peer-viewed study which was published in the Nature journal state, already in their abstract: "We hypothesize EEOP may be linked to sustained aberrant postures associated with the emergence and extensive use of hand-held contemporary technologies, such as smartphones and tablets. 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."

    On the other hand, an author from a medium called "techdirt" associates the study with the Momo hoax and bases his argumentation on the premise that "Americans are immeasurably susceptible to bullshit".

    Sorry to say so but it's 1 for Nature and 0 for techdirt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. icon
    PaulT (profile), 28 Jun 2019 @ 4:32am

    Re:

    "The authors of a peer-viewed study which was published in the Nature journal state"

    A study? So not the one referred to in the article? Since, unless you're arguing with the Vice report that explicitly states that smartphones are not mentioned at all in the study, it must not be the one that's being discussed by everyone else here.

    So, perhaps you have a link to it so ewe can confirm that it exists?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    danny, 3 Jul 2019 @ 7:47am

    you do not debunk this

    You haven't actually debunked that it is cellphones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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