Reliability of molecular imaging diagnostics

Synthese (S23):5701-5717 (2021)
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Abstract

Advanced medical imaging, such as CT, fMRI and PET, has undergone enormous progress in recent years, both in accuracy and utilization. Such techniques often bring with them an illusion of immediacy, the idea that the body and its diseases can be directly inspected. In this paper we target this illusion and address the issue of the reliability of advanced imaging tests as knowledge procedures, taking positron emission tomography in oncology as paradigmatic case study. After individuating a suitable notion of reliability, we argue that PET is a highly theory-laden and non-immediate knowledge procedure, in spite of the photographic-like quality of the images it delivers; the diagnostic conclusions based on the interpretation of PET images are population-dependent; PET images require interpretation, which is inherently observer-dependent and therefore variable. We conclude with a three-step methodological proposal for enhancing the reliability of advanced medical imaging.

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Elisabetta Lalumera
University of Bologna

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