A study done by a couple of PhDs in Austrialia is getting a lot of media interest recently, here’s a write up in the Washington post, and it’s also been added to our “Cell phones will make everyone a hunchback”-thread.
I’m perhaps being overly skeptical and prejudiced when I note that the first author is a chiropractor and fresh PhD in biomechanics and that their top reference for the patterns they identify being new and unusual being a paper from 1875. But I haven’t found it analysed by any real experts in x-rays and skull anatomy yet. Is it actually a bad paper, or am I being prejudiced?
I’m not a osteologist, so to me it seems at least plausible that changes in how we use our bodies can change small details. Bones grow denser with physical exertion for instance, no genetic changes required. And bone spurs forming is a real thing, even if it’s not established that it happens at the back of the skull. (No political commentary intended or solicited.)
And tendons and the points where they connect to the skeleton do change based on use.
What I’d like to know is if what they are seeing on these x-rays is:
[li]There at all. Inexpert analysis could make up stuff.[/li][li]Is there, but is normal variation, because no one has bothered to do a survey like this before, and is cartilage.[/li][li]Is there, but is normal variation, because no one has bothered to do a survey like this before, and is actual bone.[/li][li]Is there, and correlates with staring down into your phone, but is actually cartilage.[/li][li]Is there, and correlates with staring down into your phone, and is actual bone.[/li][/ul]
The original article isn’t asserting genetic changes; it asserts that external occipital protuberances (bony growths at the base of the skull) are becoming much more common, and posits that this is because of people hunching over their phone all the time.
The notion that the human body changes in response to the activities in which it engages is not at all controversial; osteologists have generated a considerable body of work on musculoskeletal markers that denote patterns of repeated behavior. For example, there’s been some research on linking Native American skeletal remains to the arrival of the horse on the Great Plains, on the (reasonably-well-accepted) theory that the leg and thigh bones in particular can indicate who spent a lot of time on horseback versus walking, while other researchers have looked at the remains recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose to attempt to identify which were sailors, which were archers, etc.
Growing extra bone (hypertrophy) to provide extra support/attachment for the muscles is well-documented. Tipping the head forward all the time to look at your phone would tend to strengthen the muscles of the neck, and additional bone growth in the vicinity is plausible. Whether the article in question proves its case is a little murkier.
Presumably the same thing would be present in monks who spent decades hunched over copying out books. Or any of the countless cottage industry type jobs* that kept peasants hunched over in their hovels.
*I want to say making buttons, or pins? Can’t for the life of me remember a specific job.
I’m not sure of the relevance to the paper, but you seem to be confusing germline genetic change with somatic change. The former doesn’t happen, at least not in the sense of the heritability of acquired characteristics that Lysenko claimed, Lamarckism. But mutation of the genes of somatic cells certainly does occur, causing cancer and other abnormal growth - and can be caused by radiation. I’m not suggesting that there’s any evidence for cell phone radiation having any effect, but in principle it could.