Balancing the role of priors in multi-observer segmentation evaluation

Yaoyao Zhu, Xiaolei Huang, Wei Wang, Daniel Lopresti, Rodney Long, Sameer Antani, Zhiyun Xue, George Thoma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Comparison of a group of multiple observer segmentations is known to be a challenging problem. A good segmentation evaluation method would allow different segmentations not only to be compared, but to be combined to generate a "true" segmentation with higher consensus. Numerous multi-observer segmentation evaluation approaches have been proposed in the literature, and STAPLE in particular probabilistically estimates the true segmentation by optimal combination of observed segmentations and a prior model of the truth. An Expectation-Maximization (EM) algorithm, STAPLE's convergence to the desired local minima depends on good initializations for the truth prior and the observer-performance prior. However, accurate modeling of the initial truth prior is nontrivial. Moreover, among the two priors, the truth prior always dominates so that in certain scenarios when meaningful observer-performance priors are available, STAPLE can not take advantage of that information. In this paper, we propose a Bayesian decision formulation of the problem that permits the two types of prior knowledge to be integrated in a complementary manner in four cases with differing application purposes: (1) with known truth prior; (2) with observer prior; (3) with neither truth prior nor observer prior; and (4) with both truth prior and observer prior. The third and fourth cases are not discussed (or effectively ignored) by STAPLE, and in our research we propose a new method to combine multiple-observer segmentations based on the maximum a posterior (MAP) principle, which respects the observer prior regardless of the availability of the truth prior. Based on the four scenarios, we have developed a web-based software application that implements the flexible segmentation evaluation framework for digitized uterine cervix images. Experiment results show that our framework has flexibility in effectively integrating different priors for multi-observer segmentation evaluation and it also generates results comparing favorably to those by the STAPLE algorithm and the Majority Vote Rule.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-207
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Signal Processing Systems
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Apr 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Signal Processing
  • Information Systems
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Hardware and Architecture


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