05:35 GMT15 July 2020
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    Have the US mainstream media just spread another panic-inducing technology-related hoax? The worst part is that the scientists have never said for certain the things the journalists attributed to them as a “scientific fact.”

    Using smartphones a lot can make you grow a horn-like structure on your skull, The Washington Post said in a story Thursday, citing a study by Dr. David Shahar and Mark Sayers at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia.

    The somewhat bizarre story, saying that young people who use smartphones a lot grow bone appendages at the back of their heads, was also broadcast by NBC and Newsweek.

    Actually, the study was briefly mentioned in a BBC report on 13 June.

    It’s unsurprising the story got such big coverage, because X-ray photos provided by the media are terrifying.

    ​According to a hypothesis provided by the scientists, the skull appendage is basically your body’s way to compensate for the distribution of weight due to the constant look-down pose as we gaze into smartphone screens all the time.

    “We hypothesize 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.”

    However, several tech-oriented websites found The Washington Post’s report to be rather misleading and panic-inducing.

    For example, Gizmodo, in its article “No, Using a Cellphone Isn't Causing You to Grow a Horn,” points out that the above mentioned quote is only a hypothesis, which means it’s only an educated speculation until scientifically proven.

    To prove a hypothesis, scientists at least need to compare a large enough target group of subjects (smartphone-using people) to an equally large control group (in this case – people who don’t use smartphones at all or use them to a significantly smaller degree), which  was never been done.

    According to scientific criteria for credibility, the team’s findings must be replicated by other teams before it becomes scientific knowledge, Gizmodo says. Up until then, it would be only one team’s findings.

    The edition also points out that the scientists found that only 35-40 percent of subjects had bone growths. Besides, many people in the subject group already were in enough pain to visit a chiropractor, which suggests they could have developed their condition at a different time and due to different factors.

    Gizmodo’s warnings were echoed by Vice, who called The Washington Post report a “Dumb Tech Moral Panic,” comparing it to other similar panic-inducing discussions, like the “smartphone pinky”. In the latter case, smartphone use was said to be the cause of a pinky bone curve, which was later proven to be due to natural factors.

    ​They also compared the alarmist article to the Momo phenomenon, an alleged social media account that tells children to hurt themselves, sparking panic among parents over what children can see on the Internet. Due to a lack of evidence, Momo is now considered a hoax.

    To drive the point home, Vice specifically underscores that nowhere in their works did the scientists actually claim that the skull appendages are for certain linked with smartphone use. Instead, they only made an educated guess in a discussion section, creating a possible topic for future research. It was the mainstream media who turned their guess into a “scientific fact.”

    Instead, the Vice report says, parents should be more concerned about Internet services posing as kid-friendly, such as YouTube Kids, because such services are inherently built to gain from ads and would benefit from having your children stuck to smartphone screens at all times.


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    hoax, study, skull, Smartphones
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