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Epidemiol Perspect Innov. 2007 Sep 26;4:9.

Estimating uncertainty in observational studies of associations between continuous variables: example of methylmercury and neuropsychological testing in children.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, USA.



We suggest that the need to account for systematic error may explain the apparent lack of agreement among studies of maternal dietary methylmercury exposure and neuropsychological testing outcomes in children, a topic of ongoing debate.


These sensitivity analyses address the possible role of systematic error on reported associations between low-level prenatal exposure to methylmercury and neuropsychological test results in two well known, but apparently conflicting cohort studies: the Faroe Islands Study (FIS) and the Seychelles Child Development Study (SCDS). We estimated the potential impact of confounding, selection bias, and information bias on reported results in these studies using the Boston Naming Test (BNT) score as the outcome variable.


Our findings indicate that, assuming various degrees of bias (in either direction) the corrected regression coefficients largely overlap. Thus, the reported effects in the two studies are not necessarily different from each other.


Based on our sensitivity analysis results, it is not possible to draw definitive conclusions about the presence or absence of neurodevelopmental effects due to in utero methylmercury exposure at levels reported in the FIS and SCDS.

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