International benchmarking competitions have become fundamental for the comparative performance assessment of image analysis methods. However, little attention has been given to investigating what can be learnt from these competitions. Do they really generate scientific progress? What are common and successful participation strategies? What makes a solution superior to a competing method? To address this gap in the literature, we performed a multi-center study with all 80 competitions that were conducted in the scope of IEEE ISBI 2021 and MICCAI 2021. Statistical analyses performed based on comprehensive descriptions of the submitted algorithms linked to their rank as well as the underlying participation strategies revealed common characteristics of winning solutions. These typically include the use of multi-task learning (63%) and/or multi-stage pipelines (61%), and a focus on augmentation (100%), image preprocessing (97%), data curation (79%), and postprocessing (66%). The "typical" lead of a winning team is a computer scientist with a doctoral degree, five years of experience in biomedical image analysis, and four years of experience in deep learning. Two core general development strategies stood out for highly-ranked teams: the reflection of the metrics in the method design and the focus on analyzing and handling failure cases. According to the organizers, 43% of the winning algorithms exceeded the state of the art but only 11% completely solved the respective domain problem. The insights of our study could help researchers (1) improve algorithm development strategies when approaching new problems, and (2) focus on open research questions revealed by this work.
Validation metrics are key for the reliable tracking of scientific progress and for bridging the current chasm between artificial intelligence (AI) research and its translation into practice. However, increasing evidence shows that particularly in image analysis, metrics are often chosen inadequately in relation to the underlying research problem. This could be attributed to a lack of accessibility of metric-related knowledge: While taking into account the individual strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of validation metrics is a critical prerequisite to making educated choices, the relevant knowledge is currently scattered and poorly accessible to individual researchers. Based on a multi-stage Delphi process conducted by a multidisciplinary expert consortium as well as extensive community feedback, the present work provides the first reliable and comprehensive common point of access to information on pitfalls related to validation metrics in image analysis. Focusing on biomedical image analysis but with the potential of transfer to other fields, the addressed pitfalls generalize across application domains and are categorized according to a newly created, domain-agnostic taxonomy. To facilitate comprehension, illustrations and specific examples accompany each pitfall. As a structured body of information accessible to researchers of all levels of expertise, this work enhances global comprehension of a key topic in image analysis validation.
Biomedical image analysis algorithm validation depends on high-quality annotation of reference datasets, for which labeling instructions are key. Despite their importance, their optimization remains largely unexplored. Here, we present the first systematic study of labeling instructions and their impact on annotation quality in the field. Through comprehensive examination of professional practice and international competitions registered at the MICCAI Society, we uncovered a discrepancy between annotators' needs for labeling instructions and their current quality and availability. Based on an analysis of 14,040 images annotated by 156 annotators from four professional companies and 708 Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) crowdworkers using instructions with different information density levels, we further found that including exemplary images significantly boosts annotation performance compared to text-only descriptions, while solely extending text descriptions does not. Finally, professional annotators constantly outperform MTurk crowdworkers. Our study raises awareness for the need of quality standards in biomedical image analysis labeling instructions.
The field of automatic biomedical image analysis crucially depends on robust and meaningful performance metrics for algorithm validation. Current metric usage, however, is often ill-informed and does not reflect the underlying domain interest. Here, we present a comprehensive framework that guides researchers towards choosing performance metrics in a problem-aware manner. Specifically, we focus on biomedical image analysis problems that can be interpreted as a classification task at image, object or pixel level. The framework first compiles domain interest-, target structure-, data set- and algorithm output-related properties of a given problem into a problem fingerprint, while also mapping it to the appropriate problem category, namely image-level classification, semantic segmentation, instance segmentation, or object detection. It then guides users through the process of selecting and applying a set of appropriate validation metrics while making them aware of potential pitfalls related to individual choices. In this paper, we describe the current status of the Metrics Reloaded recommendation framework, with the goal of obtaining constructive feedback from the image analysis community. The current version has been developed within an international consortium of more than 60 image analysis experts and will be made openly available as a user-friendly toolkit after community-driven optimization.
While the importance of automatic image analysis is increasing at an enormous pace, recent meta-research revealed major flaws with respect to algorithm validation. Specifically, performance metrics are key for objective, transparent and comparative performance assessment, but relatively little attention has been given to the practical pitfalls when using specific metrics for a given image analysis task. A common mission of several international initiatives is therefore to provide researchers with guidelines and tools to choose the performance metrics in a problem-aware manner. This dynamically updated document has the purpose to illustrate important limitations of performance metrics commonly applied in the field of image analysis. The current version is based on a Delphi process on metrics conducted by an international consortium of image analysis experts.