Debunked: The absurd story about smartphones causing kids to sprout horns


Enlarge / Horns and bull, a succinct summary of this news. (credit: Getty | Tim Graham)

The Washington Post on Thursday published a story suggesting that the use of mobile devices is causing young people to sprout horns from their skulls. But a look at the scientific data behind the story finds that such a splashy takeaway is tenuous at best—and atrocious reporting at worst.

The Post’s story was primarily based on a study published back in February 2018 by two Australian researchers. It earned fresh attention last week after being mentioned in a BBC feature on how modern life is supposedly transforming the human skeleton. The study was published in Nature’s open-source journal Scientific Reports, which is supposedly peer-reviewed. But the study has significant limitations and flaws and the Post breezed over them for a sensationalized story.

Perhaps the most striking problems are that the study makes no mention of horns and does not include any data whatsoever on mobile devices usage by its participants who, according to the Post, are growing alleged horns. Also troubling is that the study authors don’t report much of the data and some of the results blatantly conflict with each other.

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