Reason to believe

May 29, 2002

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.comPoliticians sometimes twist words. I think they don't want to lie, but telling the truth doesn't quite make it. So they invent

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.com

Politicians sometimes twist words. I think they don't want to lie, but telling the truth doesn't quite make it. So they invent definitions.

Vendors, I fear, are falling prey to the same temptations. It began when advances became "revolutionary" products and then "breakthroughs." It got worse when 0.7T open MRIs became high-field scanners; a cylindrical magnet became an open; and the same CT hardware began producing "unmatched" volume acquisition under one label and an "unprecedented" 16 slices under another.

Then GE took the cake. On May 8, GE "unveiled new ultrasound technology that displays clinical images of the human body, allowing physicians and patients to see revolutionary '4D' images." The press release headline called this technology (the Voluson 730) an "ultrasound breakthrough."

There was just one problem. Medison had introduced the Voluson 730 a year and a half earlier, at the 2000 RSNA meeting. Its core 4D technology was upgraded by Philips three months ago, when the Dutch company, through an alliance with Medison, merged the 4D scanhead with its own high-definition imaging (HDI) platform to create the HDI 4000.

How then could the Voluson 730 be GE's new breakthrough? I called a GE spokesperson, who explained it to me. GE was not directing its message to the trade press, I was told, but to the lay press, many of whom hadn't heard of the Voluson 730.

"Just because it's not new to you, Greg, doesn't mean it's not new to other people," he said.

I wondered. Could he be right? Is a product new if people don't know about it? I remembered the argument about trees falling in a forest: do they make any noise if no one is there to hear them? I started getting lightheaded. Then I caught myself. Of course trees make noise when they fall. It doesn't matter whether anyone hears them. By the same token, a product may be new to a person, but it's only new if it didn't exist before.

I don't know many people who would argue with that. Definitions are, in fact, expressions of common understanding. Alter them unilaterally and people will be misled. The credibility of the speaker will be lost. And, once lost, credibility is not easily regained.

Look no further than Bill Clinton, who smoked marijuana without inhaling it, experienced sex without having it, and questioned the meaning of "is." I doubt vendors want to follow in those footsteps.