The emperor's clothes description of a new epidemic related to diagnostic imaging

Acta Neurol Belg. 2003 Sep;103(3):140-3.


In 1835, Hans Christian Andersen published "The Emperor's New Clothes", one of the 164 fairy tales that earned him worldwide fame. A little more than 25 years ago, drawing inspiration from that tale, F. Gross reported the existence of an ailment capable of affecting multiple systems, "the Emperor's clothes syndrome". This syndrome primarily affects students and physicians for whom career success is of paramount importance. Based on actual experience, we are describing a new epidemic of this ailment, for which the radiological image is the principal vector. We wish to draw attention to the danger of basing a diagnosis solely on diagnostic testing. In an age dominated by technology, we would like to emphasize that anamnesis and clinical examination are still the cornerstones of diagnosis. Any clinical or radiological information, any laboratory phenomenon is subject to variable interpretation by different observers. We also suggest that there are statistical methods for evaluating the reliability of a clinical test.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Central Nervous System / diagnostic imaging*
  • Central Nervous System / pathology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnostic Errors*
  • False Negative Reactions
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Humans
  • Neurosurgery
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Radiography / standards*