It was a story that blew up in the media this week in a big way: A study out of Australia had shown that, somehow, horns were growing out of the heads of teenagers, a phenomenon that was possibly attributed to cell phone overuse.
The story, reported by The Washington Post and picked up all over the world, was based on the work of a pair of health science researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and most accounts of the story ran a picture of an X-ray that purportedly showed the “horns,” which don’t in any way resemble external horns.
Now, the story’s accuracy has been questioned.
“The study has a number of considerable flaws,” anthropologist William Harcourt-Smith, of Lehman College, told Business Insider this week. “The way the media are using the word ‘horns’ is appalling.”
Furthermore, one of the authors of the study told the publication that the word “horns” was not used in the actual study and was sensationalized by the media, although he did tell the Post that the protuberance “looks like a bird’s beak, a horn, a hook.”
The co-author also told Business Insider that he and his partner have “not ever drawn direct links between the presence of EEOP [enlarged external occipital protuberance] and mobile technology use.”
Vice, in a report about the horns story, described it as “a dumb tech moral panic.”
The study found, in 2016 research, that 41 percent of a group of 13-to-16-year-old boys had developed something called enthesophytes, which it defines as “bits of bone that grow due to some combination of chemical, genetic, environmental, or use factors.”
However, the 2016 research does not attribute the growths to cell phone usage, and only make an “educated guess,” in the paper’s discussion section, that cell phones might be responsible. A paper by the same researchers, in 2018, examined only four boys and did not include any references to cell phones or other tech.
In addition to that, enthesophytes are neither particularly rare, nor are they dangerous.
These studies, according to Vice, follow past panics over cell phones causing cancer, as well as others about “smartphone pinky,” which was written about in PopSci back in 2016.
The original reports about the “horns,” however, led to a lot of jokes about biblical prophecies, the apocalypse and other end-times calamaties.
“Saw that clickbait headline about kids growing horns from cell phones this morning in my hotel room pre-coffee,” Twitter user Ian Knabe said Thursday. “My first thought was ‘hell yeah, i’m buying a bunch of extra phones and I’ll be in some crazy metal band in no time.'”