ScienceSkepticism

Do Cell Phones Cause You to Grow Horns???

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Will using your cell phone make you grow HORNS out of your SKULL like HELLBOY? No. Don’t be ridiculous. It’s only one horn and it’s not even on the top of your head. And no one really knows if it’s because of your cell phone. It’s probably because you have bad posture. Basically this news, which started out sounding awesome, is in fact the least cool way to grow the least cool horn possible. Horn, singular. Boring.

Okay, let’s go over the facts. When I saw the headlines I was sure this was going to be due to some weird radiation thing. Cell phone radiation isn’t bad for you but I wouldn’t be shocked to see some dumbass spreading the conspiracy theory that it makes horns grow out of you head, but no, in this case the connection is that the researchers involved believe that it’s happening because of people looking down at their phones all day.

And yeah, it’s not actually a horn. It’s a protuberance no longer than an inch, and it’s located at the base of your skull, where your neck is. It’s totally internal, which again, not the type of horn you’re thinking of, though if it’s long enough you may be able to feel if you’ve got one, or even see it if you’re bald.

The researchers in question are chiropractors — and yes, that is a red flag — who fail to disclose exactly where they got their subjects from, though it’s safe to say that they probably got them from their own chiropractic clinic. Here’s another red flag: the lead chiropractor sells a $200 pillow that is meant to correct your posture. He also sells “digital posture analyses and on-site x-rays” to patients. Yep, just a field of red flags.

A serious conflict of interest, of course, doesn’t mean a study is worthless. What makes a study worthless is bad science, and it appears that this study also has that, as well. Critics like John Hawkes and Dr. Nsikan Akpan point out that the paper doesn’t detail its statistical model, which proves baffling when they claim that the protuberance in question is mostly seen in young males, but their own chart shows very clearly that women are nearly the same and older people show a huge uptick in occurrences. There’s no other table of results, leaving everyone confused as to how this even made it through peer review.

The biggest problem is the connection to cell phone usage. The paper in question didn’t consider cell phone usage. At all. There is absolutely no data, not even a cursory survey, on the subjects’ cell phone usage. We don’t know if there is any connection at all.

It’s true that when we use our bodies in weird ways, our bodies can adapt to those actions, even to the point of changing our skeletal structure, making bones bigger or smaller or growing new bone where there was none before. But we don’t know if the reason for this particular phenomenon is because of cell phones or just bad posture in general. Maybe this growth is becoming more common, and maybe our posture is getting worse overall, and maybe those things are related, but this study honestly does not tell us any of that.

Oh, and one more thing: this growth doesn’t actually seem to actually have any negative impact on people. It’s just…there. It’s not a big deal.

Of course, that didn’t stop outlets like the Washington Post from picking it up and running with it with zero fact checking, leading everyone’s parents freaking out over how much their kids are using their phones. It’s fear-mongering the ignorant — I can imagine more than one parent reading the headline, panicking, and taking away their teenager’s cell phone. “Don’t use that, it’ll turn you into a demon! Here, go read this book. In the exact same position you would have read the same book on your cell phone.”

So obviously don’t worry about this, but maybe do worry a little about your posture. My posture while researching this has never been better. It’s like reminding someone that their tongue exists. Once you start thinking about it you can’t help but do something about it. So maybe do think a little bit about your posture, because while a bone protuberance won’t hurt you, bad posture can cause a load of other issues that can negatively affect your body for years to come.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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