Cellphone 'horn' study 'doesn't make a bit of sense'

One of the 'horns' featured in the study.
One of the 'horns' featured in the study. Photo credit: Scientific Reports

Doctors are casting doubt on recent reports young people are growing "horns" on the back of their skulls because they spend so much time looking down at their phones.

The reports were based on a research paper that "doesn't make a bit of sense", one neurosurgeon said, and another expert went as far to say it should never have been published.

The research was published last year, but hit the headlines this week after being mentioned in a BBC report. The central claim is that two-fifths of people between 18 and 30 have grown a horn-like bony lump at the back of their skull.

"The bump is a sign of sustained terrible posture, which can be corrected quite simply," co-author Mark Sayers said, his colleague David Shahar suggesting overuse of handheld technologies, such as mobile phones.

But critics say there are numerous flaws in the study. Writing on Medium, scientist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin said the study "doesn't hold water", pointing out it contains conflicting data, measures the growths on different people in different ways and mistakes some ordinary skull structures for horns.

"The 2018 paper... has such a major error that Scientific Reports clearly should never have published it," he concludes.

Time reports the study also didn't ask participants about their phone use, so no comparisons could be made between heavy and light users.

"It doesn't make a bit of sense to me," Dr David J Langer, chairman of neurosurgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told the New York Times.

"You're more likely to get degenerative disc disease or misalignment in your neck than a bone spur growing out of your skull," he said.

The Times also noted the subjects were experiencing enough pain to go to a chiropractor - so the results could not be extrapolated out to the wider public.

"I haven't seen any of these, and I do a lot of X-rays," said Dr Langer. "I hate being a naysayer off the bat, but it seems a little bit far-fetched. Head horns? Come on."