Medical hubris and arrogance leads to “iatrogenic” agony…


“There was a period of about three years (1987-1990), however, when it became fashionable for physicians to reduce the rather long MR imaging times by using anisotropically shaped (i.e., non-square) imaging pixels in studies of the spine. As it turned out, this resulted in a prominent dark line appearing within the spinal cord. The dark line was a Gibbs ringing artifact. Unfortunately clinicians, not aware of this kind of artifact—for not being conversant with the mathematics used to transform the instrument signal into an image—at times interpreted this artifact as a disease process: a fluid-filled lesion known as a “syrinx” requiring aggressive medical treatment. Ultimately, the artifact was detected and explained by an individual (Bronskill, McVeigh et al. 1988) whose knowledge bridged medicine and physics. Unfortunately, this did not happen until a great many patients had been misdiagnosed and treated. Once the nature of the artifact was recognized, and its implications appreciated, later researchers identified it too as the cause of misdiagnosis of different disorders, for example, spinal cord atrophy (Yousem, Janick et al. 1990).”

Baird, D. & Cohen, M.: 1999, ‘Why trade?’, Perspectives on Science, 7, no. 2, 231-254.

Translation – a bunch of cocky doctors think they are clever taking short-cuts (to be fair, probably under-pressure from cheapskate hospital administrators).  They fall in love with their images.  And then the false positives mean a bunch of people undergo spinal taps (mildly painful) and get told they have spinal cord atrophy.

It’s almost as if we are a species that has fallen for our own propaganda, and have forgotten all the Greek myths etc that warn about hubris.

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