Examination of magnetic resonance imaging wins Outstanding Publication award

Kelly Joyce’s book, Magnetic Appeal: MRI and the Myth of Transparency, comes with a prestigious award and compelling accounts from the field.

The book was awarded the 2010 Eliot Freidson Outstanding Publication of the Medical Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association.

“I really wanted to tell the story in such a way that would not lose the complicatedness of the tale but would let people read it,” she said. “I think what makes the book come alive are the stories from the technologists and radiologists—what they’re saying when they’re talking frankly about their jobs and what their technology can do.”

Joyce unearths several other curiosities in Magnetic Appeal, including the interesting fact that early MRI scans produced in hospitals were in color. It was only when medical professionals informed manufacturers that they did not have color printers, and that they could make more effective use of grayscale images (because they showed gradations between healthy and non-healthy tissue in the human body that color didn’t reveal) that color was removed.

Tasty as such factoids are, Magnetic Appeal succeeds because of the hard work Joyce put in during research she conducted from 1999-2006. She studied MRI units in three different places, observing how technologists made the images and how radiologists and physicians interpreted them.

“One of the things I argue in the book is that part of the reason we love MRIs is that it creates pictures,” said Joyce, an associate professor of sociology at William & Mary. “As a culture, if we see a picture of the body, we think it’s real and true and that it’s equivalent to the body.”

Joyce hastens to say that MRI “is a wonderful technology, and it really has an important place in medicine. It helps the doctor and clinicians diagnose diseases where they normally would have had to do surgery.”

That said, the results of an MRI are only as accurate as the human being operating the machine and the human being interpreting the scans. “You still need that human in the office thinking of how to put all of the pieces together that they gather about the body,” Joyce said. i